Hard News by Russell Brown

Cool old lady

I got a book about cool for Christmas. A book about cool ought to be laconic, adept, cool itself. Unfortunately, Lewis MacAdams' Birth of the Cool is none of those. He could have taken some lessons in poise from Marianne Faithfull. She's a cool old lady.

Before she played the Aotea Centre on Saturday night, the foyer was milling with fiftysomethings who looked like they used to go to the Gluepot 20 or 30 years ago, middle-aged lesbian couples and a sprinkling of whippersnappers and rock scholars. Not a lot like last weekend's crowd at the boxing, but a gathering of tribes nonetheless.

So we ascended to our seats in the Gods - people who get last-minute comps can't be choosy - and I spent the first 20 minutes fighting off vertigo and wondering how long she'd hold my attention. Right through, as it turned out.

She could have croaked her way through a Brecht-Weill set with a balding session band and the crowd would have lapped it up, but instead she brought along a Glasgow indie band (a kind of Goldenhorse-Goodshirt cross) and packed her set with new songs co-written with Beck, Billy Corgan, Damon Albarn and Will Oldham, plus a murky version of Beck's 'Nobody's Fault But My Own'. How cool is that?

Her hips, clad in skinny black pants, moved so as to suggest that the first few rows would have heard them creak, but it hardly mattered. Just a flourish, a sultry look, a word or two and, as Beck put it, "all the lesbians scream." She is clearly adept at being adored.

Her hits, apparently so well traversed as to defy reinterpretation, came through surprisingly well. 'The Ballad of Lucy Jordan' (for which a kind security guard allowed three emotional young women to stand arm in arm at the stage front) got a little country tickle that seemed to elevate its mood.

And 'Broken English' was retooled as a snarling rock song and it was hard to escape the feeling that she was performing it as a contemporary protest song, rather than one from the 1980s. She seemed to spit out the lines: "What are you fighting for?/It's not my security."

Speaking of which, the British "dossier" on the Iraqi threat - so warmly endorsed by Colin Powell last week - has turned out be a shabby and shallow work of plagiarism and manipulation of the truth. And The Guardian has visited the "terrorist chemicals and poisons factory" in Northern Iraq, to which Powell alerted the UN last week, and discovered a rather folorn old compound manned by nervous Iraqi troops. Is this really the kind of thing you set the world to war for? The American press will dutifully play this one down, but it's a very serious blow to Blair's credibility at home.

Ironically, The Guardian's own Voices on Iraq provides more convincing - and credible - arguments for war than either the British or American governments have managed thus far.

American government representatives have harpooned another international initiative, this time on open-source software. Meanwhile, Libertarian hero John Gilmore has gone to war against his own government's moves to curtail privacy and the domestic use of encryption.

Hey, it turns out that the origin of the Saulbrey name that I discovered at A Country Wedding may not be right after all. My mother's maiden name is an Anglicisation alright, but one derived not from Saulberg, but the German (via Denmark) Saurbrey. There's even a Saurbrey.com, whose founder, Dan Saurbrey, was quite excited to hear from me:

"I have seen a similar spelling once before. In the passengerlists for the ship 'Panama' which brought the first lot of Saurbreys to Australia in 1852. They spelled it Sauerbrey but it was misspelled Saulebrey in the ships papers."

Happy to help, Dan. Me, I'm quite excited at the fact that I am distantly related to a man who went by the quite magnificent name of Viggo Lauritz Saurbrey. Now that's cool.