Wednesday, August 24, 2011

This week I have been mostly listening: to singers who can't sing

Now, here’s a question for you, if you found out that Friedrich Nietzsche’s theory of Eternal Reccurrence was actually fact, and we do live our lives over and over again in the same sequence an infinite number of times, would you watch the new series of X Factor?
X Factor inexplicably starts again in Australia next Monday, so if I sit down and watch it, according to Eternal Reccurrence I will inescapably have to sit down and watch it at the same time and place in my life for eternity. The stupefying blithering of the Quadrangle of mediocrity (or the judging panel as its otherwise known) of Ronan Keating, Mel B, Guy Sebastian and Natalie Bassingthwaighte will echo in eternity for me, and that is a truly terrifying thought.
It must be said that I spend far too much of my time contemplating the rancid boil on the buttocks of musical entertainment that is X Factor, and I always arrive at the same conclusion, a large portion of my favourite singers would never get past the audition stage of the show. Why, because they can’t actually sing to the X Factor polished gold standard.
Let’s take Dave Berman from the great but sadly defunct ‘Silver Jews’ for instance. His bored sounding monotone drawl wouldn’t cut the mustard in the X Factor world.

That was ‘Random Rules’ arguably the Silver Jews best song which features the greatest opening line I’ve ever heard. ‘In 1984, I was hospitalised for approaching perfection’
Then of course there’s Tom Waits, who sounds like he’s smoked every cigarette ever made in history. I love his experimental circus swamp horror blues but you can’t beat a Tom Waits ballad. This is from his classic ‘Swordfish Trombones’ album.

Finally, here’s a song from Wu Lyf, a British band who are making waves at the moment with their rabble rousing epics. This is my personal favourite from their debut album ‘Go tell Fire to the Mountain‘, it’s called ‘We Bros’. The singer doesn’t sing, he grunts incomprehensibly like a disgruntled ape dying from terminal flatulence.

All these singers plus many more (Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain, Mick Jagger, Wayne Coyne, Neil Young etc.) would fall at the first X factor hurdle because they aren’t technically good singers, but they have something indefinable, something special that makes their voices distinctive, visceral and emotive, something it’s hard to put your finger on, if only there was a word or phrase to sum up what they possess....oh yeah, that’s right, it’s called the X Factor.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

This week I have been mostly reading: Footballers autobiographies

Morrisey once sang ‘There’s more to life than books you know, but not much more’ (mind you, in the same song he also sings ‘Let me get my hands on your mammary glands’, so I’m not sure he can be fully trusted as a font of wisdom, imagine using that as a chat up line for instance). But when he sang that line in ‘You Handsome Devil’ I’m sure he wasn’t thinking of the millions of turgid and banal Footballers autobiographies currently clogging the shelves of your local Waterstones. Going back to the despicable and ultimately pointless looting in the UK that happened last week, I made the point that the looters left Waterstones untouched because of their ignorance of the importance and value of books, but maybe it wasn’t because of this, maybe it was because they had once been paralysed with boredom after reading ‘David Beckham – my side’ and were now terrified at the sight of words written on a page.
Theo Walcott’s ‘Growing Up Fast’ is the latest in the long line of football biographies. If you don’t know, Theo Walcott is a 22 year old England and Arsenal Footballer and his book is currently being serialised in The Sun newspaper. Here is an unintentionally hilarious snippet I read yesterday, just for reference, Mr Capello is the current manager of England, renowned for his iron discipline and to set the scene, the England team are on an outing to the Golf course. Take it away Theo:

I got Dad to bring my clubs and because there's a very strict food regime under Mr Capello I was really craving some crisps, just something different from the rather bland food we're allowed to eat, so I told Dad to bring me a snack.
He brought Pringles but as he was lifting my clubs out of his boot I noticed with horror that Mr Capello was watching everyone like a hawk. Dad was about to hand me the Pringles but realised just in time that it would be a serious error and put them back in the boot as nonchalantly as he could.
The food we're officially allowed is OK, it just gets a bit boring. So during the build-up to one match some of us snuck in some Nando's on the quiet.
That was a seriously nerve-racking episode. Everybody kept expecting Mr Capello to burst out of the shadows as the players were eating their food.

Now, I know what you’re thinking after reading that, you’re thinking ‘Oh, the trials and tribulations of the professional footballer, why must these obscenely overpaid unfortunate souls be denied what the rest of us take for granted, can’t they eat their Nando’s in peace without fear of reprisal? Why is the world so unfair? WHY? WHY?
The rest of the book undoubtedly holds even more heart rending depictions of Theo’s life thus far, the time he licked a KFC crispy strip in defiance of his personal trainer, the time he almost ate a piece of beer battered cod, and the legendary occasion he took a small sip of low alcohol lager right under the nose of England manager Fabio Capello
But let’s not make this just about Theo, he seems like a nice chap, and has kept his nose clean compared to some Footballers, his is just an example of the hundreds of books that are written in a similar vein detailing the lives of rich twenty something sporting professional who haven’t really done anything remarkable other than play sport at a high level. It’s not their problem; they’re signed to money spinning book deals by their agents and can only tell the ghost writers what has happened to them, obviously omitting the interesting bits which could sour their public image or career, it’s not their fault they have essentially nothing to say. The question is though, why should a 22 year old man who is famous for running really fast while manoeuvring a spherical piece of air filled leather with his feet be the subject of an autobiography, when there are so many people who have led far more rich and interesting lives out there struggling to get their stories published. Well basically it must be because these books sell well and are in demand, but doesn’t it make you despair at the fate of humanity to think that a man as morally bankrupt and oafish as Wayne Rooney will eventually have more books to his name than John Kennedy O’Toole (writer of the comedic masterpiece ‘Confederacy of Dunces’) and Franz Kafka combined? Well I think it’s depressing. Please let me know if you do, it’s lonely up here on my high horse.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

This week I have been mostly watching: Looters in England

I’m sure you’re aware of the mass looting that has been going on across England this week, especially if you live in England as most of my family and friends do. To me, what sums it up quite well is a comment I read on Facebook. It said that all shops on Clapham high street had been broken into and looted except for one. The Clapham branch of Waterstones. A book shop, a repository for the knowledge and ideas of the human race that have been recorded for prosperity in the form of the written word. The most valuable thing we have to offer left untouched.
Obviously the looters had no interest. As their knuckles dragged along the pavement, they probably stopped, scratching their heads in bewilderment as they looked in the shop window, what kind of shop is this? What possible gratification could I gain from mindlessly vandalising the place and stealing its contents? Let’s go and steal some more tracksuit bottoms from JD Sports.
It’s like ‘The Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, except of course the Apes in the film revolt because they are motivated by a burning sense of injustice instead of the desire to nick themselves a new pair of trainers and a plasma screen TV.
To be honest when I first heard of the riots that were sparked by the shooting of Mark Duggan, I thought people had had enough, the dire economic climate, unemployment, government cuts and corruption had finally caused the powder keg to burst in an explosion of violent protest, but having read many articles about it, and watched footage on the internet, this isn’t the case. In comparison with the uprisings across Africa and the Middle East there is no apparent political motivation involved at all in the England looting spree. The family of Mark Duggan were quick to disassociate themselves from it and most of the looters wouldn’t even know who he was. It seems like it’s all a bit of a lark to them, a visceral thrill to attack police, steal the items that they can’t afford, and to destroy the communities they live in in a totally mindless and ignorant fashion.
While it’s easy for podgy middle class people like me to take the moral high ground with these looters, there’s no real argument for sympathising with them, while it can be argued they are products of their ethnic background and environment, that’s no excuse for this kind of destructive, nihilistic behaviour.
When you look at it, it’s really an unsophisticated mirror image of what has been happening for a long time in the financial and political world. The global financial crisis was essentially caused by a small minority of white collar criminals and politicians who looted the general public on a grand scale to satisfy their thirst for power, drugs, strip clubs, high class prostitutes and in the case of some British politicians, Hob Nob biscuits.
Of course these high-end criminals appear to be essentially above the law whereas the looters captured on CCTV will receive some punishment, it’s arguable whether carting an 11 year old through the courts because he stole a wastepaper bin from Debenhams is going to help though.
Obviously there’s no quick and easy solution to this problem, society as it stands is riddled with criminality and greed on all levels, not just in the poorest communities. We have created an essentially godless society in the western world, which is fine, as long as you replace God with something a bit more spiritually nourishing than Wayne Rooney’s Street Striker, Katie Prices gargantuan mammary glands or the pursuit of cold hard cash.
At the moment there is a gaping vacuum, a nothingness in all our lives that we’re told can only be filled by fame, success or the new deluxe reissue of ‘Exile on Main Street’ by the Rolling Stones. When I feel depressed, bored or disenfranchised with my existence I go out and buy something to vainly try and fill the void, but to do that, I have to earn money, the looters bypassed the boring part of this process and just went and stole what they want. Hopefully next time they might loot Waterstones and end up reading a book, who knows, it might help inspire them to try changing the world for the better rather than exacerbating its problems. Well, unless they pick up a Twilight novel.

Friday, August 5, 2011

This week I will be mostly celebrating: Ruby's birthday

‘What about the voice of Geddy Lee? How did it get so high?’ 
Now, you may not be familiar with that lyric from the Pavement song ‘Stereo’, you may not even be familiar with the band Pavement, arguably the greatest shambolic alternative rock band of the 90’s, but that lyric, and the fact my daughter Ruby is approaching her 1st birthday, has made me reminisce about the day I found out I was going to be a father.
It was December 2009, I was living with my Australian partner Emma in North West London.  That month I had purchased tickets to see my favourite band Pavement who had reformed after a ten year hiatus. The gig was in May 2010, a long way off, but surely things couldn’t change so drastically that I wouldn’t be able to go. That was highly unlikely.
I should also mention that Emma was 3 weeks late for her period. We weren’t that concerned, she had never been regular; we even chuckled along in high spirits as she did an on-line ‘Are you pregnant?’ questionnaire. Surely not we laughed, it’s just a coincidence you match most of the symptoms we guffawed.
Then Emma did a pregnancy test. We even talked about what we’d do if it came back positive;  Of course, we’d have to move back to Australia so she could be close to her family.
It never entered my head it would be positive though, I’d indulged in so much binge drinking over the past 10 years that I was sure to be firing blanks.
I was confused when she exited the bathroom giggling nervously.
‘So what’s the verdict?’
‘Go and see’
So I walked into the bathroom and looked at the pregnancy tester. Two solid purple lines stood out across the diameter of the results indicator.
I frantically fumbled with the instructions to the kit, screaming ‘Wait, what does this mean?’
I knew full well what it meant; struggling for breath I lunged for the toilet bowl, consumed with nausea and anxiety. Then a sudden moment of calm hit me before a thought sprang into my head. It was:
‘Oh shit, this means I’m going to miss seeing Pavement’
That was not how I’d imagined I’d react to the life changing news that I was probably going to be a father, and you would be correct in assuming my priorities in life were slightly out of order at that time. To be honest, I didn’t feel happy, I didn’t feel scared, I just felt overwhelmed as I walked from the bathroom to the living room, sank to my knees and buried my head in the sofa cushions.
What followed was a blur of hospital appointments and breaking the news to friends and family. All were ecstatic, but I could tell by the voices of some that they realised what it meant; that I’d have to move half way across the world to Australia to do this. After all, a support network was needed for Emma that just wasn’t there in London.
So for me, this joyous news was tinged with sadness; I didn’t want to leave the rain soaked and beer sodden shores of my much loved home country of England, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.
So it was with a heavy heart and cheeks well moistened with tears that I boarded the plane to Sydney on the 28th April. Just for the record, Pavement played on the 11th May.
But as well as feeling happy and proud I was to become a father I was also consumed by fear. How could I possibly risk getting human faeces on my hands when changing a nappy? What if she vomits on me (which of course was inevitable)? How to I deal with the stump of the umbilical cord after she’s born? What about the fontanel? Surely it’s not safe to face the world without a fully formed skull.
The due date of 28th July came and passed and finally the induction was scheduled to take place. 8th August 4pm at Gosford hospital it was, and it was a long and uncomfortable night we had to endure.
The sofa bed I had to sleep on in the hospital room was especially uncomfortable, some would say Emma had it worse; going through excruciating contractions every 10 minutes is no picnic, but I do feel women milk it on these occasions.
Then it all began to happen. Obviously experiencing the final stage of labour is something I’ll never go through, but helplessly witnessing a loved one in excruciating pain is the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced. The Gas and Air didn’t help me at all.
At the closing stages the room suddenly filled up with people, one of the midwives grabbed me and pulled me to the foot of the bed so I had a full view of the frankly bizarre sight of Ruby’s head appearing and the final push when she was ejected from safety into the world at large.
I vividly remember the moment of panic, waiting to hear Ruby cry so I’d know she was alive and well. When she did, it was the greatest relief I’d experienced in my life up to that point, and as I looked down in awe at what we had created, I knew straight away I would do anything for her, I would bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune for her, and I would love her with all my heart and soul for the remainder of my days.
All my ridiculous fears and squeamishness disappeared instantly. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, there would be many sleepless nights, there would be frustration, anger and fear as well as joy and happiness, but I knew I could deal with it, and witnessing this commonplace miracle (after all it happens every minute of every day), I finally knew what it was to be a man, and I wouldn’t have exchanged this moment for anything in the gamut of human experience, well except for seeing Pavement at Brixton Academy.

Monday, August 1, 2011

This week I have mostly been receiving: inappropriate jokes from John

Who is John you may ask? Well, John is a 42 year old man who used to work for the telecommunications company Vidophone. In the event of the death of a celebrity or a tragedy which claimed the lives of the unfortunate people involved, his job required him to write a bad joke, mocking it in the most unsavoury manor possible. This joke would then be sent on to a select mailing list of vidophone users by SMS, who would in turn pass it on to their friends, who would pass it on to their friends, who would pass it on....well, you get the idea.
John was successful in his work and his offensive and crude jokes reached a wide audience, reaping rich reward for Vidophone and himself. One lunch time though, his life was changed forever.
God, who seldom had much to do with his creations on Earth anymore (they were in general a great disappointment to him), noticed that people were laughing at several awful jokes written about the recent death of one of his favourite human singers, Jamie Beerbungalow. This was something he couldn't ignore, so he decided to pay a visit to the source of those jokes, John from Vidophone.
John was eating a chorizo sandwich alone in the staff canteen when God appeared. So as not to scare him, God had come disguised as the person John respected most in the whole of human history; Derek Trotter from the British sitcom 'Only Fools and Horses'.
God spoke to John:
'Alright John, me old china plate? Its God here, I've come as Del boy because I didn't want to shock you with my normal appearance, being omnipresent means I’m pretty much a mass of eye balls which isn’t very pleasant as I’m sure you can imagine’
John was slightly taken aback; he was an atheist so this was most unexpected. 'Hello god, what can I do for you?'
'Well John, I’ll get straight to the point, I don't like what you're doing here. These jokes you're sending out are disgusting, have you not thought of the harm you're doing? How would you feel if someone was laughing at a dirty joke about someone you cared about?'
'I see what you're saying God’ replied John 'but to be fair, there's a demand for these jokes. If people didn't get a cheap thrill from reading them, I wouldn't keep being asked to write them.'
'Just because it’s popular, doesn't mean it’s pucker John. Here, let me show you something. Close your eyes.' God laid his hand on John’s forehead and showed him a vision of the future.
John saw a large group of people gathered at a funeral.
'This is your daughters funeral John, she had grown up to play for the England women’s football team like you dreamed she would, but the whole team was tragically killed in a plane crash on the way to the World cup'
'My God, that’s terrible' John was distraught.
'Yes it is. Now, you see this, this is a pub. You see that group of lads laughing at something? Well, they're laughing at a joke that’s making fun of this tragedy John, your tragedy. How does that make you feel?'
'That’s disgraceful, what kind of person could take pleasure in someone else's misfortune like that......oh, I see your point, I help to perpetuate this kind of behaviour'
'Yes, well. I'm asking you to make a stand against this kind of behavior John. You see how negative it is, don't be a plonker all your life. You’re in a position to make a difference, so instead of sending out a joke, send a positive moral message.'
John sat there, shell shocked.
'Oh, your daughter doesn't die in a plane crash by the way, that was just a shock tactic to get a reaction from you, she becomes a successful accountant in Basingstoke'
'Really? Thank God'
'That’s alright, don't thank me. Anyway, think about what I've said. You can help to arouse people’s consciences about this. Don't forget, I'll be watching you.' And with that remark, God disappeared in a puff of smoke.
So John, went back to his office and instead of writing another evil and unfunny joke, he wrote the following message and sent it to the mailing list via SMS:
‘While keeping a sense of humour in tragic circumstances is certainly important, laughing at spiteful jokes which mock other peoples tragedy is not big or clever. The human race is capable of great things but is constantly being undermined by this low brow ignorant behaviour. Take a look at the man or woman in the mirror and make that change.’
Ten minutes later John's boss came in.
'What is this shit John? People want a laugh, not to feel bad about themselves. You've lost your edge, pack up your desk and sod off. You're fired'
So John left Vidophone with a clear conscience. If he'd tickled the consciences of anyone else that was a bonus.
He went on to write marketing emails for the charity organisation St John Ambulance, earning a fraction of the money he did at Vidophone. Still, his family are very proud of him, if a little resentful that he threw away his highly paid job, and with it, their chance of an indoor swimming pool being installed at their house, but such is life.
Meanwhile, God and Satan were sat in the communal bar between heaven and hell watching these events unfold on the big screen TV.
‘Well done G-man, that’s one soul saved for you’ said Satan.
‘You’re still way out in front though S-Dog’ replied God standing up to add one more to his total on the grand scoreboard. ‘I was hoping John could affect more people with his message’
‘Yeah, I could do with a bit more competition to be honest, but you realise someone has already taken his place don’t you, there’s nothing people like better than to laugh at someone worse off than they are, it’s the nature of the world’
‘I really have created a bunch of little monsters haven’t I?’
‘I don’t like to rub it in G-man, but I have to agree’
God took a sip of his pint and said ‘Oh well, fancy a game of darts?’