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Friday, August 31, 2007


Here is my article marking the 10th anniversary from the death of Princess Diana. It appears in this Saturday's Weekender from The Times (of Malta).


Princess Diana died in a car crash 10 years ago. However she lives on and will continue to do so. Toni Sant takes a different look at the People's Princess who changed and marked the royal family forever

by Toni Sant

Princess Diana deserves coverage because people still love her. This is the reason you're reading yet another feature about Diana. While some people may genuinely have had more than enough of Diana 10 years on from the fatal car accident that left her, her boyfriend and their drunk driver dead, others will undoubtedly consider it near blasphemous that anyone can do anything but love her.

Before I started writing these few words about Diana, I thought there was nothing really new to add.

Then I started to do some research and realised that like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison and a handful of other dead iconic celebrities from the entertainment world, she will possibly live on forever in a huge hall of referential mirrors.

The most interesting of all these mirrors, for me, is not in one of the never-ending stream of books published about her, to say nothing of the countless newspaper and magazine articles.

Princess Diana is mostly on my mind this year through the daring comedic bravado of Ricky Gervais, who is known in Malta mostly through his BBC series The Office. The British comedian has written (and appears in) an episode of the popular animated TV series The Simpsons. This episode, which first aired in the United States and Britain this past spring, dares to lampoon Lady Di in a way that hasn't been seen since Spitting Image delighted millions in the Commonwealth. I would argue that this new joke is funnier because it is very subtle and is inserted almost exclusively for the cognoscenti of popular culture.

In Homer Simpson, This is Your Wife, Gervais appears as a cartoon character named Charles Heathbar, based on David Brent, the regional manager from The Office. Marge Simpson moves into Heathbar's house in a plot involving a reality TV series called Mother Flippers where husbands swap wives for a predetermined period of time.

Charles falls in love with Marge and sings her a song he wrote for her entitled Lady Blue. The blue in the title is a pun on the way someone feels when they're sad or lonely and Marge's hair colour. Gervais has described Lady Blue as the worse song you could possibly write. The lyrics include these rhyming verses:

Lady, when you go away
I feel like I could die
Not like dye like your hair is dyed
But die Like Lady Di
And not like Di like her name is Di
But die like when she died
But lady just like Lady Di
Be my princess tonight
But don't die.

The direct allusion in the song words is not the only reference to Princess Diana in this episode. While Ricky/Charles sings this song, the cartoon character's legs are briefly seen through his kimono just as he stands in front of the fire place in his house, echoing the now-famous controversial 1981 photo of Lady Di standing in the garden of the school where she worked when she first met Prince Charles, with the sun behind her revealing the outline of her long, amazing legs through her chiffon skirt.

No one should be surprised that any mention of Diana in The Simpsons in not reverential. To expect otherwise from the best thing on television since Prince Charles and Lady Di's wedding video is to believe that a scorpion would never sting a frog if asked to help it cross the river. What's more, this was not the first time her name was taken in vain in The Simpsons. Way back in an episode produced in 1993, professional drunkard Barney Gumble (voiced by Dan Castellaneta) mistook a pile of rags for Princess Di. Interestingly, this sequence was edited out of all post-1997 screenings on British TV.

Closer inspection of the supposedly respectful goings-on reveals that there's more than meets the eye to the ever-growing cult of the dead Diana. Her following now is only superseded by the media interest she generated during her life as the future queen (mother) of England. An obvious part of this interest is fuelled by money. As it was during her adult life so it is after her death. The paparazzi hounded her not (just) because of her beauty or the good causes she championed but because any magazine or newspaper bearing her picture on the cover automatically sold more copies. One good picture of Diana would change a photographer's bank account considerably. An exclusive picture could change the photographer's lifestyle completely.

This racket goes on after her death in a slightly different guise. New photos of Diana are (sadly) not possible. Yet her image and re-inventions of how to present her (an ill-fated monumental fountain, books, a memorial concert, an anniversary commemoration... what's next?) moves money in amounts that are close to or even larger than the entire economy of most African countries or small nations like Malta.

The international mainstream media's agenda is dictated by the bottom line. The days of strict adhesion to ethical codes of conduct are apparently gone now. It is often more cost effective to pay fines and suffer other post-event consequences than to lose out on the income generated from previously unheard of depictions of the British royal family. For every prestigious award-winning film like The Queen, we get two made-for-TV movies like Whatever Love Means (depicting the Charles-Diana-Camilla triangle) or Diana: Last Days of a Princess (including a slightly fictionalised account of Diana's relationship with the al-Fayed family). It is safe to assume that the British monarchy is now treated by large media corporations just like any other rich non-royal dynasty. Their ordinary affairs - romantic, financial or otherwise - are covered in ways that were unheard of just a couple of decades ago.

Royal observers will not be mistaken for noting that Diana's legacy is partly (some would argue in large part) responsible for this shift in distance between titular rulers and the media. When Channel 4 recently aired previously unreleased photos from the car crash scene, they did so in spite of a letter from Princes William and Harry asking them not to. Whether the princes should be made to endure all this is another matter altogether. They can't help the fact that they were born who they are. Unlike Diana, they have no choice on whether to attract public interest in whatever they do. Ironically, this is truer now than before their mother played the media game like no other member of the royal family before or since. Her self-promotion techniques have another unintended consequence than the ones she realised herself during her life in the limelight. Her sons cannot get away from the media's attention, even if they choose to seclude themselves from anything not directly related to their royal duties. They attract media attention because they are royal heirs but more so because they are, and will forever be, Diana's children.

Books have so far not pushed the proverbial line as much as the popular press and television in the way they deal with Diana. She is rarely the protagonist of the narratives where she appears, unless it is an out and out biography. David Baddiel's novel on which the ITV/Granada Television movie Whatever Love Means is based, has Diana appear only in conversations of fictional characters. By contrast, in the TV movie Diana: Last Days of A Princess, the actress playing Diana says things that any observant fan will recognise as implausible on the real princess's lips.

Tina Brown's new biography of Diana clearly indicates that books, however, are not far behind. Brown's Diana takes liberties with the truth that would make speculative biographers like the late Albert Goldman (famous above all for his very subjective assumption-filled biography of John Lennon) very proud. This sort of mirror reflects more what people would like to see and hear about Diana than what's actually there.

Depictions of dead celebrities come with an artistic licence that makes their diehard fans cringe. Even supposedly respectful treatments take liberties with the truth. Oliver Stone's handling of the Jim Morrison story in his film The Doors immediately springs to mind. The more people "love" a dead celebrity, the easier it becomes for the entertainment industry to rework their image and its likenesses into situations as divorced from the truth as the fact that Malta has mountains. Just think of all the situations you've seen "Elvis" in since his untimely death 30 years ago. His hall of referential mirrors is probably the largest for any non-religious celebrity ever.

Princess Diana will not be forgotten. Her youthful looks will remain forever. No botox or air-brushing necessary. There's nothing like death to preserve and enhance beauty, fuelling our fascination with photographed icons. She will be seen and mentioned regularly in our lifetime. Accept it. After all, she was the mother of the future heir of the British monarchy. Number two and number three in line after Prince Charles are both her sons. If/when her son/s get married and have their own children, her grandchildren will be the new heirs to the British monarchy. And so it goes. Even if/when one of her (grand)children abolishes the royal family, it will be Diana's (grand)child who will have brought the royals in step with the times.

Incidentally, Ricky Gervais has been invited to write another episode of The Simpsons.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

How Far We've Come

This is possibly one of the most forgettable summers of my life. That's a grand statement, I know. Taking away the bombastic sense of self-importance embedded in it, I'd say that there's very little I'd like to remember from the summer of 2007 so far. I'm hoping that'll change in the remaining weeks. My weekly music podcast remains a delight to produce and it reminds me that sometimes doing something for a long period of time can be as fulfilling as the exhilarating experience that normally comes with a summer adventure.

The 80th podcast in the Mużika Mod Ieħor series features two acts whose recordings I've managed to acquire only very recently along with new tracks by two others who have appeared on previous editions in this series. The first of these return appearances is by Bitterside, who have just released a new song called Start Again. It's a very mainstream radio friendly tune so I imagine it will be played quite often on a couple of popular radio stations for the rest of the summer.

Through MySpace I'm very happy to have discovered Renee Cassar from Melbourne, Australia. I'm pretty sure that her impressive number of MySpace friends will swell to an even larger figure once other Maltese music lovers hear her songs. Renee's upbeat songs are quite enjoyable but I prefer her slower songs like Waiting, which is the one I've chosen to play on this week's podcast.

I'm always thrilled when Maltese singers and musicians contact me to let me know about their most recent recordings. The remaining songs on this week's podcast I'm including following two such communications. Marty Rivers follows up on his Nashville recordings from last year with a new rockabilly-tinged song called I'm Available. It shows that Marty is finding his own voice and style in a genre that feeds on itself and other genres that crossover into it. As far as I know, Andre' Camilleri is the only other Maltese country singer who has managed to do this.

The closing track on this week's MMI podcast is Mindstate's debut release My Adrenaline. They are currently in Liverpool along with two other Maltese bands - Fire and Cable 35 - as part of the prize they all won at last October's Battle of the Bands in Malta. I'm sure all three bands are having a great time gigging in the UK and I'm especially pleased that I can now play a song from Mindstate on my podcast since they were one of the few bands I've been wanting to hear and showcase for several months.

I'm off to do some more organic gardening now. I must admit that my garden is becoming a sanctuary of sorts. Maybe I'm no longer the free-spirited adventurer I once was or perhaps this is just some much-needed quiet time so I can gather my thoughts and energy for the next adventure that's just around the corner. I'll keep you posted if there are any development before next week's podcast.

The RSS feed for the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast is available here or you can simply click here to subscribe directly with iTunes. You can also add the latest episodes to your My Yahoo! page. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007


If you're in Malta (or any warm/dry place) right now, I think you'll be amused to find out that I have not been able to go anywhere this week without my umbrella. It's a glorious British summer...meaning it's foggy and rainy. This is to be expected after the 3 weeks of practically continuous sun we've just had.

What's not expected is the termination of the BBC's FM Russian service. What is being called "propaganda" cannot be as completely suppressed now as it was in the days before the widespread use of the Internet, of course. As I see it, this is a blessing in disguise for Internet services in Russia. Filtering the internet is quite easy for powerful entities like national governments but by its very nature the Net is structured to overcome such blockages. Media freedom now means something quite different than it did during the Cold War.

Off to a brighter place: the 79th podcast in my weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor series. It looks like I will not be taking a proper break this summer. So I'm covering acts on the gigging circuit in Malta, which seems to be at its busiest in August. Poxx Bar in Paceville has clearly become one of the hotspots for great live music. This weekend it's hosting three gigs from acts I've chosen to play on this week's podcast.

On Sunday night, Andre' Camilleri's Broken Hearts will join The Beangrowers and Shostakovitch's Nightmare in what sounds like a fairly eclectic mix. Camilleri's lastest CD album One Fine Day has already been featured on MMI. From it I've selected
I Got A Little Drunk.

My Journey by Marc Galea is another CD released earlier this year. I played the title track months ago but now I return to it to bring you something quite rare on my podcast: a cover version. There has to be something really special for me to play a Maltese cover of a song by a great like Jimi Hendrix. Galea's version of Voodoo Chile is sung by Grimaud. That's more than enough for me. It's an excellent recording that showcases the mighty voice of Tony Grimaud just as we knew and loved it 25 years ago when the singer was at the peak of his game. If this is what he (still) sounds like now I can't wait to hear more recordings from Grimaud.

Back to the Poxx Bar, where this weekend's line-up featured no less than two foreign bands on separate nights. The Italian band Soul Drivers take the stage tonight, supported by local newcomers Vinnie Vintage. I discovered this band's YouTube page and it features a set of single camera recordings in their garage. Listen to Sea to the Salt and you should be able to get a glimpse of things to come from this band.

Swiss metal rockers CardiaC are the other foreign act on the circuit this weekend. They're both at Poxx and Remedy, with a plethora of Maltese metal bands. Although as derivative as anything else you're bound to hear in this genre, I find CardiaC's approach quite original, mostly because they employ the Spanish language extensively in their songs. In some ways they remind me of the way Norm Rejection use Maltese in some of their tracks. El Tiempo brings this week's podcast to a close in a delightful way until I return with the 80th edition or an unrelated blog entry...whichever comes first.

The RSS feed for the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast is available here or you can simply click here to subscribe directly with iTunes. You can also add the latest episodes to your My Yahoo! page. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

And So It Goes

Tony Wilson has died. It didn't really come as a great surprise but it's still sad news. He was someone whose work I admired greatly even though I couldn't really say I always admired the personality behind the work. To be sure, the world would be an even more interesting place to live in with more Tony Wilsons about. I'm inclined to either pull out 24 Hour Party People on DVD to watch this weekend or better still line-up all the Factory Records material on my external HD and cherish his memory through a clear understanding that he facilitated everyone of those recordings to enrich the musical tapestry of so many alternative music lovers.

I had hoped to write a bit about the Beached Festival taking place this weekend in Scarborough but Tony Wilson's passing has put me in a weird mood. Yes I'm sad but I'm not really depressed. I'm not overwhelmed either, mostly because I hardly knew the man and his death won't really change anything around me. Regular readers of my blog know how fascinated I am by death, even if I'm not obsessed by it in any morbid way. At least I hope not.

Producing the 78th edition of my weekly Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast should take my mind off these thoughts not unlike the way a fine bottle of red wine can make an ordinary evening pleasant after a hard day's work. The opening track from Skorba is just the ticket for this mood I'm in. Ħaġar Qim is one of several tracks from an upcoming album by this Australian band featuring at least two musicians of Maltese descent; Andy Busuttil and Angela Grima. I'll let the music speak for itself this time as I'm sure I'll be playing another track from them once the album is released.

Staying outside the Maltese islands for the second track, I turn to one of the latest songs recorded by Londoner Charlie Calleja. He has appeared on a previous episode of MMI and its with great pleasure that I discovered this week that he has been recording new songs, which you can hear on his MySpace page. I've selected one called Swimming with Dolphins, which to me evokes a subtle desire to reconnect with his Mediterranean roots.

Rachel Fabri is making the South East of London home as she starts attending the Guilford School of Acting for a Master's degree in Musical Theatre. Not too long ago she contributed some distinctive vocals (for a snippet from Lucia Dalla's Caruso) on a new recording by Maltese hip hop act Sixth Simfoni called Breakthru. When I last played Sixth Simfoni on my podcast I mentioned that I knew David Leguesse's father back when I was very active in Malta's theatre scene, some 20 years ago. Since then I've received an email from Jon Mallia's mother, Frances, pointing out that he's her son, so as it happens I know his parents too. Truth be told I remember meeting Jon (a.k.a. Pendemonium) a number of times when he as just a little boy in Mosta and I never really imagined back then that he would blossom so nicely as an adult. Malta really is such a small town of a country.

So to keep things familiar I close this week's podcast with a track from The Vagabond Project, which is the name Gavin Borg is now using for his dance-driven recordings. The style feels more retro than that he adopted as Gavinizer not so long ago. Deep Heat is a pleasant track with hints of early 1980s synth pop, I style I know Gavin is too young to remember clearly first time it came about, but captures and twists quite nicely in his most recent recordings.

Next weekend I'll return with another edition of the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast since I'm still not planning to take a break this summer. Meanwhile I hope to find the time to blog again about other things.

The RSS feed for the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast is available here or you can simply click here to subscribe directly with iTunes. You can also add the latest episodes to your My Yahoo! page. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Angry Mob

Way back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when I was a full-time employee of Xandir Malta (the precursor to PBS), Radio Malta had a (relatively speaking) very liberal manager at the helm. He gave me and other like-minded reprobates enough rope to hang ourselves...and then some. That rope was used to, among many other things, create a weekly rock show called Grinta. Years after all the rats (myself included) jumped ship or were thrown overboard Grinta rocked on, thanks to the dedication of Brian Micallef who inherited it from Alfie Fabri very early in its incredibly long lifespan.

Grinta has developed a cult following mostly because it is one of the very few radio shows in Malta that play hardcore and other very heavy genres of rock and metal. It is especially laudable that Brian Micallef has continued to support new and upcoming bands even when they outgrew what we can assume are his own personal tastes in rock music. But now Grinta is officially on hiatus for the summer months, apparently for the first time ever. From what I can understand, this is not because Brian needs a break but because the short-sighted bottom-feeders who have taken over Radio Malta believe that there's no place for longevity in national broadcasting and/or anything that's not mainstream does not belong on the national airwaves.

Forsaken bassist and professional criminologist Albert Bell has now crafted an eloquently worded petition in the hope of restoring some vision within the blind management at Radio Malta. Stranger things are known to happen but if what happened to Reggae Club is any indication of the way things are in G'Mangia, history will teach us nothing.

In the same spirit that Roman emperors saluted those about to die in the gladiatorial displays at the Colosseum and other amphitheaters, this week's edition of my Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast is dedicated entirely to the heaviest genres of rock played in Malta. This is the sort of music that without Grinta will rarely (if ever) get any more airplay on national Maltese radio.

The 77th podcast in the Mużika Mod Ieħor series opens with The Rise of Thor from Demis' CD album Ethereal Travel, which was released last May. I played another track from this album months before it was release and I stand behind my original comments about this great Maltese rock guitarist.

Venues that promote the heaviest genres of rock are few and far between in Malta. Remedy in Paceville is one of the most ardent and dependable supporters. It is there that the debut CD album The Great Divide by Recoil is being launched this evening. Circus of Shame is the track I've chosen to play from it on my 77th MMI podcast. It is immediately followed by White Shotgun a track from last year's Ode to Silence, the successful CD album release from Slit. This band is about to embark on a European tour starting in Switzerland on September 17. The tour takes them to Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, and the Czech Republic, but you can still catch them in Malta on the 18th of August with Geneva-based metal band Cardiac, at Remedy. I'll probably play something by Cardiac on an upcoming edition of my podcast.

To close this week's Mużika Mod Ieħor I've selected a new recording from Subculture's 3rd CD album, which will be launched at Remedy on the last day of this month. The current Subculture line-up has Ray il-Baħri and and Woody Aki sharing vocals. This makes for a very gritty sound that hardcore punk fans will undoubtedly enjoy. Out There is the name of the song and Resist the Abuse is the title of the forthcoming album.

I have no idea what the future holds for Grinta at Radio Malta but I can promise you that my Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast will live on for as long as its listeners keep asking for it. Forget radio! From its demise we can enjoy new least while they last.

The RSS feed for the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast is available here or you can simply click here to subscribe directly with iTunes. You can also add the latest episodes to your My Yahoo! page. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here.

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