BOOKS: The best piece of history - or historical polemic - I've read lately is Niall Ferguson's Colossus (The Rise And Fall Of The American Empire) He's a conservative writer and he's basically saying that America needs to get over its misgivings about being an empire and start to behave like one: a benevolent empire based on liberal values, but still an empire. Their problem, he reckons, is that they do have the power to make the world a better place, but they consistently bottle it because of their hang-ups about Imperialism. Obviously in the Manics we're pretty far from his political position, but I found this very persuasive, a really good argument. I hate it when left-right, liberal-conservative arguments degenerate into these pointless exercises in headbutting. It winds me up when people base their entire politics on some daft feature in The Guardian. Look at Chris Martin saying "vote John Kerry" - what does he know about it? Knee-jerk politics, it is.
I did enjoy a biography of Nixon by Anthony Summers (The Arrogance Of Power: The Secret World Of Richard Nixon) - we'd been thinking about him and it turned into our single The Love Of Richard Nixon. This is really scandalous stuff: him boozing and issuing insane orders. But there's a real pathos to Nixon. The tragedy is that he really was a brilliantly talented politician, incredibly gifted, but there was this dark, angry side to him that destroyed him. He achieved great things - opened up China, settled down the arms race - but he'll always be remembered just as a liar who got caught. It seems very unfair. I've developed a soft spot for Nixon, but then I like people who are paranoid. His story fitted with the developing idea of the album as an elegy for pop, with a tragic quality. We felt like we'd done enough hate and we needed some love in the music, and poor old Nixon suggested himself.
POETRY: I can recommend some poetry too: The Feminine Gospels by Carol Ann Duffy. A very beautiful exploration of the feminine principle, the myth and the mystique as it manifests itself in the world. Just lovely, and extremely powerful. Elizabeth Jennings too - very old-school poems written in a garret in Oxford I think. She's very Larkinesque - she was a librarian too - very acute and precise but very human. A Song For Departure on our new album is inspired by her poem Departure. We were trying to achieve something like that: some human warmth without horrible sentimentality getting in the way. When Richey was around we often read to find material. He was so voracious that he carried you along, but I'm a bit less methodical now. I read poetry and non-fiction - I can't be doing with fiction, it seems so weak and pointless in comparison. Fiction, the most despised art form! And anyway, there's so much good stuff on the telly isn't there?
MUSIC: The joy of getting old is that everything gets re-released, doesn't it? There are loads of great records from the early 80's like A Certain Ratio's The Graveyard And The Ballroom that everyone's ignored for years but I always loved, and that now sound more and more up to date. Cabaret Voltaire's Voice Of America - it was just such a great noise, you couldn't ignore it. But then all those Manchester-Sheffield bands had to get sax players and Brazilian percussionists in and they all went wrong. Trying too hard! There's a whole chunk of music history that was erased, and that was my time - the mid-80's, all the C86 bands like The June Bride's, The Shop Assistants or McCarthy. Increasingly that music's creeping out again. It seems so alien now because it was a time before ambition. If you got in the Indie Top Ten or sold out the Kilburn National you thought you were on top of the world. Now you're expected to be playing Wembley Arena every five minutes. So I'm a bit nostalgic for the Golden Age of Indie! I still think that McCarthy's I Am A Wallet is the most perfect record, a Communist manifesto with tunes. They were The Clash for me and we imitated them to an extent, even down to forcing the music to fit the words. And Guns'n'Roses Appetite For Destruction too - that was the other thing we steered by, the idea of big, big rock. I'm quite impressed by The Darkness - they seem just right for the time, like Goldie Lookin' Chain are right.
OLYMPICS: I don't think any film or TV series can compare with the Olympics. The scale, the drama, the people... epic doesn't do it justice. I was a total Olympics junkie, watching three or four hours a day every day. I loved every second. That'll be a good DVD. Athens didn't quite supersede Sydney, which was the best ever, but it was miles better than Atlanta. That was like doing the Olympics in Newport. Our team really was a great cross-section of society: Kelly Holmes, Chris Hoy, the relay lads, Pinsent, a few Etonians... the synchronised diving guys, they were great! You saw them all and thought, Hmmm, it's not such a bad country. We are a bit modern.
FILM/DVD: I did think The Long Firm was excellent, though - really strong performances, really gripping. The Sopranos is the greatest television series ever, no question. I love the way they put enough space between the episodes of violence to lull you into thinking that maybe these guys aren't so bad... and then Paulie will smother some old lady over a $10 debt. It's just magnificent, this horrible, intense male world. The dialogue's priceless. I've always loved the moment when Tony warns Paulie about a Russian gangster, saying "Be careful, this guy was with the Interior Ministry in Chechnya". Paulie rings off and tells Christopher "It's OK, he's an interior decorator from Czechoslovakia". They invent words: "Now I got to unfuck this thing you fucked up". What else? The Fog Of War, this chilling documentary about Robert McNamara and how US foreign policy is both more and less under control than we ever thought. And The Funeral directed by Abel Ferrera - Christopher Walken, Chris Penn, 1930's gangsters... just great.