Person of Interest: s01 e01 – Pilot

A change of speed, a change of style for Tuesday mornings.

Person of Interest was a five season series appearing on CBS from 2011 to 2016, intially starring Michael Emerson (fresh from playing Ben Linus in Lost), Jim Caviezel (previously Jesus in The Passion of the Christ and Number 6 in the remake of The Prisoner, though I don’t hold that against him), together with Taraji P Henson and Kevin Chapman. It was conceived by Jonathan Nolan, brother of the Film Director Christopher Nolan, who wrote the pilot episode, and was one of the series’ Executive Producers, as was J.J. Abrams.

I’ve watched Person of Interest twice, bingewatching it in 2016, as the series was running to a close, and then again as I bought the DVD boxsets. I had watched a single episode previously on Channel 5, who broadcast it in the UK, but I couldn’t recognise which one when I resaw it: it did nothing for me then. When I finally downloaded season 1 on spec, I was hooked so hard I was regularly watching four episodes a night.

This rewatch will proceed at the leisurely pace of one a week, in the Tuesday morning slot, and will, I hope, be of interest, especially to those yet to experience the series.

So what is PoI about? It’s the Pilot’s job to establish the parameters of the world we are entering, and to suggest that there is more to the show than is displayed in the Pilot, and Nolan does a bang-up job on this.

We start with a brief scene of delight, in the sun: two lovers, in bed, kissing and touching, obviously happy. Though we don’t yet know it, this scene is a flashback. Over the first two series, there will be a lot of flashbacks. We cut, via a shot from a surveillance camera, to the same man: bushy haired, bearded, dressed in rags, a homeless drunkard on the subway, about to be hassled by some stupid, arrogant kids. Except that he’s a viciously efficient fighter, splattering them all across the carriage.

Cut to the Police station. The homeless guy and the punks have been hauled in and are being checked out by Detective Carter. She recognises the drunkard’s moves as being Spec Ops or something incredibly similar, and sympathises with the guy about the dofficulties of transitioning back to civilian life. He barely responds, won’t give a name. Whilst she’s having his fingerprints checked, and turning up evidence relating to multiple murders and outstanding warrants, involving multiple countries, he’s getting bailed out by a high power lawyer.

At the behest of a man he doesn’t know, who he meets under one of New York’s famous bridges (I’m sorry, I don’t recognise which). The man gives his name as Mr Finch. He calls the drunkard Mr Reece, appears to know a startling amount of intelligence about him, enough to shock Reece, who for the past two months has been trying to drink himself to death and who is ready to go on to quicker and more effective methods of achieving that end.  Mr Finch believes that Mr Reece is in need of a purpose, and that he can give him one.

For Mr Finch has a list. A list of people who, in a very short time, are about to be involved in things dirty and ugly, mostly murder. Murders can be kept from happening if you know about thn in time. Mr Finch does. He wants to employ Mr Reece to prevent those murders.

Thus we have the set-up for what, over its first two seasons, is a complex and high-concept procedural. Each week, the show will identify a Person of Interest, someone who, within a short time, will be either a victim or, more rarely, a perpetrator. Finch and Reece will investigate, and intervene to stop that killing from happening.

The high concept twist is, of course, the idea of reliable intelligence that a murder is about to take place, which takes the programme into the realms of science fiction. In every other respect, it’s grounded and contemporary, set in modern day New York, using a technology apprpriate to the day. Person of Interest will be, in its first two seasons, about the Number of the Week.

Yes, Number. Finch (not his real name) is played by Emerson, and he is his usual stunningly good self. He’s a little man, physically, who walks with a stiff leg and ca only turn his head by turning his shoulders. He’s an intensely prvate, intensely rich man. Reece (Caviezel) initially refuses to work for him, diagnosing him as a bored rich man, and the Number he is calling Reece’s attention to an ex-wife, or a stranger he’s stalking.

It’s cynical, but it’s perfectly possible, which forces Finch to go to greater lengths to comvince Reece of his bona fides, by making Reece witness to a murder he instinctively tries to prevent but which he can’t, because it happened three years ago. Something is driving Finch, something we can only wonder about at this stage, something that matters to him. To know a murder is about to take place. To be unable to stop the loss of life. It’s in Reece as well. Indeed, the very idea may well be in all of us to one extent or another: who, knowing adeath is about to take place, would not wantto act if we could prevent it?

That’s the universal point on which the series bases itself. At different points in the Pilot, both Finch and Reece describe themselves, the latter slightly facetiously, as ‘concerned third parties’. Both are operating under assumed names. Both are believed to be dead. Both face the probability that if they continue doing this, they will actually be made dead. But do it they will.

The pilot adds one more substantive layer to the set-up. How is Finch getting his intel, which comes in the form of Social Security Numbers, nothing more? The answer is what will carry the series beyond its initial, comparatively limited format. In the wake of ‘the Towers’ (i.e., 9/11), the US Government granted itself the power to intercept and read/hear evety form of communication, from every possible source of surveillance, audio and/or visual. Information beyond the capacity of any human being to comprehend. It needed a machine to sift and analyse all that data, to recognise and draw together the strands that add up to plotted terrorist activity, involving mass deaths.

Finch built that machine, calls it simply The Machine. But he built it too well. Not only does it recognise terrorist leads, which go to the Government, but it recognises all pre-meditated death. At midnight, it purges all such information a Irrelevant. But Finch built a back door into the Machine, and it transmits the Irrelevant Numbers to him.

We have a set-up for a series, but we also have two other cast members. Henson is Detective Joss (Jocelyn) Carter, who is hunting for the mysterious homeless drunkard. She’s only got a minor role in the Pilot, a set-up, the Inspector Javets. On the other hand, we see more of Detective Lionel Fusco (Chapman), whose role is more complex.

That first Number, Assisant DA Diane Hansen, turns out to be perpetrator, not victim, via a group of corrupt cops, to whiich Fusco is involved. They’re stealing drugs, killing witnesses and setting up ‘innocent’ dealers to tak the fall, via Fusco’s investigations. Reece intervenes, kills the lead figure with Fusco’s gun, leaving Fusco to bury the body in secrecy, and Reece with a hold over him that he intends to exploit by using the detective as his mole inside the Police. He chooses Fusco because he doesn’t believe his heart isin being a dirty cop, he’s just loyal. Thatwon’t be the attitude Reece gives Fusco for a long time, but let’s not give away too much too soon.

That’s how our quartet are set up to begin with. I haven’t even ouched upon the show’s fast-paced editing, its constant cutting into surveillance footage, it’s ‘gimmick’ of overlaying that with graphics that represent the Machine viewing and assessing, it’s quick, compressed violence, its overall slickness. What we have is a perfect pilot: a strong, unusual but clearly defined format, two central characters about both of whom are mysteries as to who, what, when, where and why, to be doled out with intense slowness. We began with a flashback, to Reece, happy, with Jessica (Susan Misner), so happy he’s resigned from the Army to be with her. he’s telling her this in a Mexican Hotel bedroom. On September 11th, 2001.

Jessica is dead. One fact we’re given. There’s a lot to learn.

The Pilot doesn’t just set up Reece and Finch as people we want to know more about, it outlines a world in which massive things can happen. And it has The Machine, something out of the ten-minutes-into-the-future branch of SF. Such things doon’t exist yet (we hope). I don’t know how far ahead Nolan was thinking with this Pilot, but the presence of the Machine will lead us into strange and not entirely comfortable waters.

Which we shall begin to explore next week. Join me?

*As an addendum, the Box Set includes an unaired alternate version of the Pilot that’s almost ten minutes longer. It’s an interesting viewing, the material excised from the broadcast pilot being mostly additional information that explains perhaps a bit too much at this stage of the game. There’s a snippet that clues us in on Hansen’s background but which enables the astute to spot the twist before it arrives, and there’s additional material that foreshadows and specifies the to-be-framed ex-con Robinson, who otherwise goes unnamed. I’m always a glutton for more, for supporting detail, but I can see why the deletions. Nolan and co. are going to be about the slow and ultra-careful parcelling out of background details and these start to sketch out too many corners too soon.


Not-crap Journalism 2

It’s been a decade or more since I last read Barbara Ellen’s column in the Observer, the once entertaining lady having morphed into a very Daily Mail ‘bitch-hag’ columnist. But a sidebar about Pete Shelley’s death in today’s paper caught my eye, and I want to draw your attention to it.

I can’t link you to it: for some reason, only the main part of her column, about the BBC’s Xmas Ad, is available on-line. But let me quote you the last two paragraphs to show that those writers for whom you have the greatest antipathy can still say the best things.

“Certainly, Shelley could be viewed as a sterling example of a small-town boy with gigantic ideas, about himself, humanity, the lot. For a while, it was as though every backwater in Britain seethed with people like this, and – boy – did the music scene benefit. All those outsiders and freaks (of both sexes), unpolished diamonds, forming in their provincial crucibles of tedium – bored, restless, fizzing with as yet under-utilised excitemet and energy.

This what coming from less obviously groovy areas is all about: you end up becoming very definite about yourself, because, frankly, you’re all you’ve got. And gifted people like Shelley end up doing something about it – something so huge it endures for a lifetime.”

Film 2018: That Sinking Feeling

Year’s full end is rounding out, with apologies to Tom Yeates, and for a third and final time, my Sunday morning DVD choice turns to Bill Forsyth. That Sinking Feeling, which he wrote and directed, was made in 1979, on location in Glasgow (which is another way of saying that the film could not afford sets) and starred members of the GlasgowYouth Theatre, who took part unpaid. There are low-budget films and then there’s That Sinking Feeling, which Forsyth himself described as ‘no-budget’.

And it shows, in the film stock, in the absence of sets, in the way the cast, talented though they are, are nevertheless rough and awkward, and the setting of Glasgow – albeit, as Forsyth quickly asserts, a fictional Glasgow bearing no resemblance to the real Glasgow, yeah, right – is grimy, wet and unprepossessing. Yet that’s the film’s strength. Slickness and high-res quality would break this slight but absurd tale of unemployed youngsters setting out to fill in some time, and get rich beyond their wildest (limited) dreams by steeling 93 stainless steel sinks.

The no-budget retriction makes a story that’s deftly tuned to its soft-edged surrality by grounding everything in a naturalism that’s enfirced by every cel of the film. Forsyth gets his points in quickly to set everything up: first a scene where the gangly Vic (John Hughes) hesitantly approaches a hamburger van, asking the price of a burger, is told it’s 35p, thinks it over very carefully, then says he’ll come back tomorrow. Then Ronnie (Robert Buchanan, the film’s prime mover) talking in the Park, in the rain, to the statue of Earl Roberts, disparagingly comparing the luminary’s honours with his own two O-levels before kicking a bench in frustration at not having a job. And lastly Wal (Billy Greenlees) and Simmy (Douglas Sannachan) standing in a warehouse doorway, sheltering from the rain, until Wal just wanders off, shoulders hunched into the collar of an inadequate jacket.

It’s a concise indication that these lads, all school-leavers in their late teens, have nothing. They’re going nowhere, with no money on which to do it, and the days are very long when there’s nothing to do. Sensibly, Forsyth presents this without commentary, beyond Ronnie’s reference to having (only) two O-levels and, later on, Alec (Allan Love) having been sacked from a job in the accounts section of the warehouse they rob. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the socio-economic conditions of the back half of the Seventies or the personal failings of these inexperienced kids. The point is that they are ordinary people, and they are screwed.

Which is the justification for Ronnie’s ambitious plan to rob a local warehouse of stainless steel sinks, going for £60 a pop in the stores.

Of course it’s absurd. Nicking sinks? With no plans to cash them in afterwards? It’s silly, and more than slightly desperate. But that’s the point. What the lads have got is nothing to do. They have no point or purpose. They have long days in which to exist. We see them in a bubble, without families to detract from their directionless state. They compare notes on the best way to kill themselves, a lightweight moment but a serious consideration, about which Forsyth comes up with the film’s best line, “There’s gotto be more to life than killing yourself.”

And that’s what we understand about the robbery. It’s a job, it gives them something to do, it fulfills something that life isn’t doing for them. Forsyth never goes there, never waves it in our face, but it’s plain to see. The scheme rapidly expands to encompass a dozen or so old schoolmates, including a couple of girls, though they don’t play an active or significant part.

It’s a very simple plot, one that we instinctively know would never work in real life, even in these ramshackle, downtrodden years. Vic suggests two of them dressed up as cleaning women to distract the guard whilst a key is smuggled out to the waiting gang. They have a van, a baker’s van, semi-nicked by Bobby (Derek Millar, the oonly one who has a job), they have ample hands to carry, not to mention a ninja look-out in the shape of Andy (John Gordon Sinclair, here appearing just as Gordon Sinclair, who has a minor and mainly sily role but who steals every minute he’s onscreen, as the most naturally talented actor in the bunch). What could go wrong?

Well, that’s the sort of question that dogs a Dortmunder Gang book, and That Sinking Feeling knows it well, but the job is pulled off successfully, the gang get away with it, and you last see them enjoying the cakes and rolls from a stolen bread van and conjuring up a second job, stealing gallons of Irn Bru and selling it out of their own tanker.

But it’s in the details that the film enjoys its most comic moments. Vic volunteers to dress up as one of the cleaning ladies, embracing the idea of dressing up as a woman with far too much enthusiasm, especially for his girlfriend Mary (Vic seems to be the only one with a girlfriend: Mary – Janette Rankin – is the only named female role in the film and her role is strictly limited but you can easily imagine her into Gregory’s Girl as a Carol or a Margot). Wal’s the other woman and, of course, when the watchman (Gerry Clark) turns out to be a greasy and pathetic sleaseball, it’s Wal he fancies his chances with, to Vic’s steaming frustration.

Alec is the complete dumbhead, forever getting things wrong. Ronnie is hooked on cornflakes and milk. Andy complains about Ronnie promising him endless riches and touching him for 37p to pay for their coffees: the lady at the counter is symapthetic, agreeing that you need money to carry out a robbery.

But the film effortlessly elevates itself into straight-out surreality with the Van Driver (Eddie Burt). Bobby, who’s studying chemistry at Night School, concocts a sleeping potion to put in his thermos of tea. What he doesn’t tell Ronnie is that his only experiment was on a mouse, which slept for four months.

Eddie the driver falls asleep in an instant, behind the wheel. He has to be lugged all the way through the robbery, snoring stentoriously, his right hand raised, gripping an invisible thermos cup. Bobby, anxious to test his his potion, gives some to the warehouse cat, which is found snoring. Both wind up in hospital, where it’s worked out that Eddie will wake up in 2068, asking for his breakfast. The Doctor spirals off into a resonant fantasy of the world eighty years on – the ring road will be finished! – whilst all the patient in the next bed can do is complain about the (clearly dubbed) snoring.

This isn’t a laugh out loud movie. It’s a film of chuckles, the odd chortle and, as we get more and more into the characters, a decent amount of giggling. In a silly way, it’s almost a feelgood film. We are on the gang’s side, and wish them well. They won’t get rich. Wal sells four sinks to a gallery owner (Richard Demaco, sportingly playing himself, who mistakes them for an art installation) for £200, and the film’s brief closing shot is of the minor gang member whose ambition is to buy an electric guitar and decent amps, who we see sat in his bedsit, playing his guitar with an expression of quiet contentment.

But they’ve had fun, they’ve shared a purpose, they’ve had something to do. For a few days, a couple of weeks maybe, they’ve mattered, if only to themselves. The job has been a success because it’s been a job. If they do it again, it’ll probably blow up in their faces. Maybe they’ll give up the Irn Bru idea for something a bit more practical? Or maybe this is the height of theirambitions and the experience of working towards a goal will alter their lives to the extent that they’ll be fit for whatever real jobs there may be.

That we can speculate in such a manner about the future lives of a bunch of absurd kids is a testament to Forsyth’s writing and direction. That Sinking Feeling is no Gregory’s Girl, and it’s completely of its time – the massively flared jeans, the long hair make it almost into a social documentary – but it’s underlying situation is more serious than his later, more popular, more successful films. Maybe that’s why it never showed a profit?

For America, where the film came out in 1983, the film was dubbed with less overtly Scottish accents – Edinburgh voices, not Glasgow – and that’s the version that came out on DVD in 2009, but the BFI remastered two-disc set from 2014 restores the original soundtrack, and yes it’s occasionally incomprehensile, but it feels righter.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever Fallen in Love (with someone you shouldn’t’ve?)’

There’s a case for featuring practically every single by The Buzzcocks on The Infinite Jukebox (the blog series, that is: practically every Buzzcocks single is on the Infinite Jukebox in my head), but despite my abiding love for ‘I Don’t Mind’, it is the band’s fifth single and it’s biggest hit that means the most to me, for a variety of reasons.
Ever since I first discovered music, in 1970, I’ve always had a favourite band or singer. Four times, that’s been a Manchester band. I first discovered The Buzzcocks just before I swapped the punk hotspot of Manchester for the punk-hating environs of Nottingham for two years. It was born of a late-evening recording of their second single, ‘What do I get?’ off Piccadilly Radio. It was the last to feature bassist Garth, before Steve ‘Paddy’ Garvey completed the classic line-up. I loved it from the off: I was losing my original antipathy towards punk the more I heard of it, drawn by the energy and simplicity of the music, its rawness, and The Buzzcocks were a sharper, more precise version of that, bringing back into the rush and tumble the element of melody that was the Sixties’ gift to all time.
An Articled Clerk – i.e., a Trainee Solicitor – who was a punk music fan, and open about it in the office. I remember debates about music, especially about ‘Love You More’, notorious for its brevity, and our student ‘Madrigals’ (her surname was Bell and she sang them) telling me she understood what they were trying to do but that it didn’t work, an opinion I disagreed with in a most patronising manner.
Then one night I’d gotten home, turned on the radio (Radio Trent, probably) and they announced the new Buzzcocks single. And I jumped for the tape recorder (reel-to-reel: my Dad had been an enthusiast and under his influence I was a late and reluctant adopter of cassettes) to capture it, and stayed in the corner, squatting, listening as it poured out. Steve Diggle’s riff and line, John Maher’s didactic drums, leading into Pete Shelley’s falsetto yawp. You disturb my natural emotions, you make me feel I’m dirt, and I’m hurt.
For most bands, for their most commercial single, that would have led into a second line, but the flow was disrupted, the evenness shattered by Diggle and Maher, repeating that sequence from the intro. And if I start a commotion, I’ll only end up losing you, and that’s worse. Then Diggle/Maher again and then this soaring, gorgeous, free-flowing, expansive chorus lifting the roof of, the title line, folding into and out of itself, so utterly compelling that, to my astonishment, when it came round the next time, I joined in, in my toneless tones, the record not having finished and my not having played it back a half dozen times yet, but before the song had even finished. That had never happened before.
Of course, the problem with the singles that grab you immediately is that they’re usually the ones you tire of first, and don’t want to hear again, because they often have nothing more than immediacy, but not so ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve?)’, not so even for forty years.
I remember the song for that immediacy, and I remember it for its title. It was the first of that trilogy of personal anthems that I carried around with me for a decade, along with ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and that one-off Feargal Sharkey and Vince Clarke record as The Assembly, ‘Never Never’ (it never happens to me…). Ever Fallen in Love with Someone you shouldn’t have? Too bloody often and every time.
I remember it for being the single that, after two that had sneaked into the top 40, was the big one, big as in reaching no 13 in the autumn charts, and getting the band onto Top of the Pops more than once. It was the breakthrough, but The Buzcocks would only reach the top 20 once more, with the follow-up, ‘Promises’, and that only just made no 20, at Xmas.
And I remember it for being in Nottingham, in exile in more senses than one, including musically: alone but responsible for myself for the first time. Things like this song, and the fact it had gotten into the charts, was being played on the radio, were victories, victories for a cause that was the greatest fun time in music I ever had, the going-to-be-Solicitor who looked nothing like a punk yet who championed the music and roared on every moment that ‘we’ broke through and ‘you’ had to listen and to admit our music cut it.
The Buzzcocks, with Shelley leaking melody wherever he went, were our scalpel, their music a knife-edge of frustrated romance and realistic emotion, and ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have?)’ was the far too late warning for someone who had and who still remembers fondly and who is still drawn into carolling that chorus, even though my voice is not just toneless but cracked and broken. And the music still has a life that belied my best mate of then’s dismissive warning that no-one would remember The Buzzcocks in ten year’s time.
(The above essay was written before Pete Shelley’s recent death).

Xmas Fairytale Part 1

It’s that time of year when records I recognise are in the Top 100 and I start slavishly following the path of ‘A Fairytale of New York’ back to domination of our airwaves. The song’s leapt 48 places to no 18 in the first December chart whilst Mariah Carey’s already at no 6. Only two more weeks for the Xmas Chart so will it be top 10 again, like last year. We’ll soon see.

Doomsday Clock 8

Eating one’s words is never palatable, but I prefer being honest, so let me admit immediately that the eighth issue of Doomsday Crap was alright. It was even decent, and if the entire series had been pitched around the contents of this episode, I might even have been prepared to stretch to good. The reason for this is solely down to this being solely a matter of the DC Universe, with the Watchmen characters represented only by Ozymandias, watching what is going on on the first and last pages.

This goes to support what I’ve been saying all along, that Johns has fucked this series up right royally by all this shitting-on-Watchmen business.

The actual issue is more-or-less a three-hander, involving Superman, Firestorm and Batman, with a smaller role for Lois Lane, some Russian superheroes that we older fans will recognise, a couple of Daily Planet scenes and a substantial guest role for Vladimir Putin. We’re now dealing directly with the Superman Theory that’s been underlining things since the beginning, the fact that 97% of the planet’s metahumans are American and the allegation – which Putin is treating as truth – that they are part of a US Government programme aimed at world domination.

We start with Firestorm in Russia, panicking under attack from The People’s Heroes. Firestorm is back to being a teenage Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein, as in the beginning, except that the Professor is not contributing any advice. Indeed, he’s so silent, we’re being led to question whether he’s there at all, and Ronnie’s experiences of getting a response are delusions.

How long Firestorm’s been Ronnie Raymond again I don’t know, I haven’t been keeping up since he was killed in Identity Crisis, but here he is in Moscow, surrounded by crowds, panicking and, whammo! dozens if not hundreds of them turned into glass.

This is a serious matter, both in itself and because up to this point Firestorm’s powers don’t work on organic matter. Is this a substantial plot point or is Johns just making it up as he goes along, as he been doing with the Watchmen bunch?

Superman appoints himself as the investigator, as the only metahuman still trusted outside the United States. The big blue boy scout takes himself to the Kingdom of Kahndaq, which I am pleased to see is still being ruled by Black Adam, an which is still maintaining its strictly neutral status metahumanwise, established in 52. Superman and Adam treat each other with strict respect, and almost friendship. Firestorm’s not taken refuge in Kahndaq, but he’ll be sheltered if he does.

Lois intervenes with the fatal suggestion that Ronnie might be in the one place no-one would think of looking for him, that is, still in Russia. And Superman finds him there, near hysterical over what’s happened and Professor Stein’s silence. And, lumme, he manages to convert back to life a small glass boy he’s taken with him.

The situation is reversible. Superman tells Firestorm to hang fire whilst he zooms to Moscow to defuse the situation. Unfortunately, the trust in Superman doesn’t extend far enough for Putin, or anyone in the crowd with a glass relative, to believe him. This against a background of Batman flying the Batplane and warning him, incessantly, not to talk to the Russians, not to take sides.

Sadly, Batman is very wise. Events overtake the sometimes too trusting Superman. He’s being bombarded with catcalls and questions, the Russian Firestorm is trigger happy (as you would be if Putin’s threatening to bung you back in state prison). Putin’s denouncing Firestorm as an American soldier, ordered to commit mass murder, he has evidence of this. And matters only get worse when Firestorm turns up himself, intent on saving everyone.

All that does is start a fight. With metahumans attacking Superman and Firestorm, with troops attacking, with the crowd rioting. And with stray bullets and manouevring tanks smashing into glass figures, and putting them beyond any reach of Firestorm putting them back together the way they were.

And Superman tries to intervene with the outcome that, to the entire world, he looks as if he’s siding with Firestorm, against Russia. That’s before Firestorm explodes, causing him and Supes to utterly vanish. And the twist is, as Bats realises far too late for it to be any damned good, it’s not even Firestorm…

Now I think we can safely mke a guess that the fake Firestorm is really everypone’s favourite naked blue guy and the whole impersonation has actually been about getting close to Superman in a moment of maaximum vulnerability, but that begs the question of why Dr Manhattan has to go all round the houses to do that when his true power level would enable him to pick Superman off whenever he felt like it. Except that Johns won’t ever let Manhttan be used at his true power level for that very reason…

All of which a satisfied Adrian Veidt observes, his plan working perfectly, whatever it is. Whatever is the sneaky, manipulative, from a non-optimistic Universe bastard planning now?

The other story-advancing twist this bi-month, if we can call a series crawling slower than a funeral cortege being advanced, is Lois received a flash drive with newsreel footage from 1941, as the Justice society of America go to war: who the hell are the Justice Society of America? she demands.

If you need an answer to that question, may I refer you to large chunks of this blog over the last seven years, but in the short term, it’s a single panel of seven of the eight founding members, the only absentee being The (Al Pratt) Atom.

I’d like to say we’re getting there, but seriously, we’re not. At least by the time things resume in February, Johns will surely be back to trashing things he doesn’t understand, but I’ll accept this issue as an unexpected Christmas present from him, even if I didn’t wait until the 25th to unwrap it.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Distractions’ ‘Time Goes By So Slow’

Despite the existence of Oasis’s extensive back catalogue, there are remarkably few specific references to Manchester scenes and places in pop music. One splendid exception is an obscure Graham Gouldman song, written for and recorded by Herman’s Hermits. “It’s nice to be out in the morning” namechecks places like Ardwick Green, Irlam o’th’Heights and Besses of the Barn before finishing up at Old Trafford with the Holy Trinity of Bobby Charlton, Best and Law.
Off the top of my head, the only other song to reference a Manchester landmark is The Distractions’ legendary “Time Goes By So Slow”, one of the best singles of 1979 but, of course, a flop.
The Distractions were a five-piece band and a much mixed bag. Singer Mike Finney looked like a schoolteacher and sang like a white soulboy, Steve Perrin and Adrian Wright played guitars, Pip Nicholls, a tiny wee lass who styled herself pipnicholls, played a solid and pounding bass, and veteran skinsman Alec Sidebottom pounded the hell out of the drums.
The Distractions were incredibly popular around Manchester when I was living in Nottingham, which didn’t believe in punk. They were inspired by the energy and rhythm of punk but also the melody of Sixties music and, with Finney’s voice ultimately too good for the purely raucous, their sound evolved as a fruitful mixture of the two roots. Their first release was a 12” four track EP on TJM Records (which I never heard of releasing anything else) that I had to buy when visiting home. It’s rough, it’s crude, the production is unpolished to say the least, but in “Doesn’t Bother Me” and “Maybe It’s Love” it contained two bloody good, energetic songs, full of urgency, melody and compelling choruses. For their second release, whilst already formulating a deal with Island Records, the band signed a one-off single deal with Factory Records, and came out with “Time Goes By So Slow”.
In a summer of great new music, The Distractions stood out for producing a perfect pop-punk single, with a glittering melody line, a surging beat, an air of undefinable melancholy in the heart of bright, joyous music that was the band’s trademark mood, and a killer chorus. They were acclaimed on all sides. Everyone loved it. Except Radio 1, of course, which didn’t play it, the splendidly essential John Peel aside.
Though the Finney/Perrin partnership was The Distractions’ main source of songs, it was Adrian Wright who wrote ‘Time Goes By So Slow’. It’s a typically Distractions mournful lost love song, conducted with great vigour, in a rush of bass and drums, guitar and organ. Never has misery sounded so much of a rush.
And at a time when I was conscious of living in another city, where I had no roots, Finney was singing about places with which I was wonderfully familiar. They put your statue up in Albert Square, he sings to the girl who has blown him out and about whom he still dreams. And all the people standing by just stare. But Albert just won’t do, Finney sings, I don’t need him but you. When Nick Lowe had gone to the Heart of the City that was it, just a generic place, every city’s got one, but Mike Finney singing Adrian Wright’s words was in the heart of a real city and I could picture its streets and, when I came home, I could drive those pre-pedestrianised streets and pass by and not care.
But it was more than the call to home that led me to take this song to heart. I was in love, and had been for a long time, with a woman from whom I was forced to conceal my feelings, and melancholy was my place, my Albert Square. I loved the brashness, the simplicity, the energy of punk whilst never foregoing my love for the stunning chorus, the line that pulls you in to lend your inadequate voice, to find a space inside the song that makes you a part of it.
If I’ve a criticism of the record at all, it’s that it’s ending is a little weak. In the first use of a trick the band would later make a regular part of their repertoire, after the second chorus the music drops out, leaving only the bass and drums, lowering the tension. Well I wonder why you had to go, Finney croons, repeating himself, and again, as the music crashes back with the timeline, but only so that it can lead the record to a definitive end instead of one more valedictory rush.
Interestingly enough, “Time Goes By So Slow” was originally meant for the b-side. It and the song “Pillow Fight” had been recorded after the You’re Not Going Out Dressed Like That EP and were the only other recordings in existence when Factory offered the deal. “Pillow Flight” was offered as the a-side but the single was flipped at Tony Wilson’s suggestion. But “Time Goes By So Slow” had been treated as a b-side in the studio, recorded almost live, with minimal overdubs added and harmonies that simply consisted of following Steve Perrin’s lead. Apparently, the whole thing took about three hours total, and that just adds to the purity of the song. Maybe a more polished version might have been better, but I doubt it, because this song has no sag, no weariness, no over familiarity. It’s pure, it’s complete, and it’s raw edges complement the rawness of the feelings.
Nearly forty years later, the song is still as fresh as ever, the loss is undiminished, and when she has to go, time still and always will go by so slow.