Friday, 2 December 2016

Second Thoughts

Ah, one month ago was a simpler, more innocent time, wasn’t it?  The total destruction of the human species was more of a theoretical, potential problem.  Instead of something we are racing toward, either gleefully or with an air of defeated resignation, depending on political inclination. 
Anyway, whether you are experiencing the giddy thrill of “change”, wistfully staring out of the window, thinking about the freedoms you hitherto took for granted, or shouting at traffic in a doomed attempt to be heard, I have been busy revising my reaction to the political events of this year.  Once again, in the form of tweets, and headlines for news articles that (with any luck) will never be written….

President-Elect Does Not Actually Exist
Winning candidate revealed as satirical character
White people “still the absolute worst”, says rest of world
Ignorance still considered acceptable excuse for hate
Black people asked to understand white anger. Again.
Black people expected to integrate with those who hate them. Again.
People of colour asked to get over racism; white people indulged in their racism
White people still not over slavery – or telling black people to get over slavery
Racism no longer bad for business
Markets find insane bigotry acceptable
Republicans unsure if they hate themselves or everyone else more
Bullshit posturing not actual policy, admits posturing bullshitter
Everyone hoping big fat liar really is a big fat liar
Same old white anger considered to be new, for some reason
TV News now the quickest way to mental illness
Facts now entirely subservient to entertainment
Working class people deemed too stupid to understand racism or know better
Difference still a threat, says herd
Fundamentalist Christians still utterly insufferable
Democratic Party still utterly shit; Republican party still utterly evil; Two party system still firmly in place
Voters in democratic country vote against two-party system; renegade “outsider” wins; two-party system still in place
White liberal democratic voters blame white liberal democratic voters for everything that’s wrong with white illiberal republican voters
Liberals to blame for making poor people racist
Liberals opposed to bigotry and ignorance hate idiot rednecks
Countdown to Armageddon begins
Leonard Cohen ahead of the curve again
Turns out there’s nothing you can’t buy
Racist genie will not fit back into bottle
Fact now opinion; opinion now fact, linguists confirm
Opponents of Political Correctness have no idea what it is
It’s “political correctness gone mad” gone mad
Brilliant art about oppression expected in the next five years

….and also in the form of Facebook posts I will never post….

I was scared about the impending end of the human race.  And then I saw an advert for a programme on Channel 4 called The Body Fixers.  And I thought: yeah, time to go…

However bad things are for white people, they are always worse for everyone else.  So, if things are shit for the white people who just threw a fucking massive grenade into the Oval Office, they will be a lot worse for the people nearest the explosion.  You know the ones, the President elect has been talking about them…

The tiny number of amoral sociopaths who run the world don’t care about race, and never really have.  It was a concept invented and pushed in the service of the even tinier number of amoral sociopaths who ran things centuries ago, to divide the rest of us and keep us suspicious of each other.  The saddest thing isn’t that they still try it, or even that they still run things.  The saddest thing of all is that it still works on us.

These are the first shots in a civil war; but it’s not between black people and white people, or white people and immigrants or whatever.  It’s between white people and white people, and it’s easy to see it from the outside as a war between white people who are cool with change and don’t care much about race and white people who have not done well out of change and are angry about it, and prone to scapegoat and to wondering why they are not running everything even though they always felt like they did and now they don’t and who’s to blame?  The people now calling them racist, probably…so, sort of similar to the first civil war the US had.

What the fuck is the Establishment, if a famous white male US billionaire, born into wealth, is not part of it?  Arent we all bored of people sharing articles and saying This Explains Everything or whatever…?  Well, anyway, this explains everything pretty well.  Oh, also this.

I’ve started work on a film script.  It’s high drama, based in the White House, November 2016….

US PRESIDENT OBAMA has just made a measured and conciliatory speech about the transition of power, from the White house lawn.  He strides back into the Oval Office.
His daughter, MALIA, follows
But Daddy, how can you be so calm when that crazy fool just won the election?!  HOW, DADDY?
I HAVE TO!  Don’t you understand?!  I’m the fucking President!  (calming down a little)  Malia, please understand, I am hurting.  But if I go crazy now, it gives everybody else a reason – an excuse – to go crazy.  I’m holding our people tight, because if I don’t, who will?
But Daddy, I’m frightened
I know, Baby.  [Sighing]  Me too.  [He hugs her] Me too.
Will he really do all those terrible things he said?
I don’t know.  We can still stop them, but we have to keep up the hard work.  And we have to keep our heads, OK?
Daddy, how come black folks always have to calm down and be reasonable while white folks go crazy and say whatever horrible lies they want and we just have to keep being calm and put up with it?  And then we have to keep begging them to accept us, to not blame us for everything that goes wrong?  How is that fair?
It’s not fair, Baby.  But we don’t have to put up with it.  We really don’t.  But you remember when we spoke about Dr King, don’t you?
So, we have to be better because we’re trying to make everyone better.  And if we lose our heads and give in to panic, to fear, to anger….that doesn’t happen, because we’re not modelling a better way to live.
I guess…
[There is a knock on the door]
I’m sorry, Sweetie, I gotta go.

My US friends! I know that language is creative, and we need to use it wisely, cognizant of its effects…..but this President-elect dude sounds like a prize cunt. Sometimes you gotta say it how it is; I understand this is popular at the moment, so I’m on trend, as ever. (Although, of course, in the political sense, “telling it like it is” actually amounts to attacking minorities and appealing to the lowest common denominator. Which is obviously not “like it is” – thanks to the attitude of inclusivity and peace that some of us have always espoused. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak plainly when we need to.)
Enough negativity! There are herons in Eastville Park, bruv – herons, I swear. And moorhens, and ducks, and some big turkey-looking things, and all sorts. In Eastville Park, mind!  This is what I see on my morning bike ride….and I am sure you can see the beauty around you.
Stay bright in the dark, where the light is needed – and can be easily seen.
None of this is new: the people who run the economy in their own narrow interests have been fucking us over forever, and are now very happy to use our traditional, mostly meaningless, cultural divisions to make sure we fight each other for the scraps off their table.  It’s easy to feel like we are moving backwards, since we are having to repeat simple truths on an argument we may have (naively) believed was won in the last decades.  Things like “migration is not a crime”, or “race is a construct”, or “division is a tool to rule everyone”. 
But the people who do all this dividing do it because they are scared of us.  They know how powerful we are, and how easily many of us can be distracted.  Suddenly, instead of organising to make a better life for all, we are back behind barricades, and trying to convince others that their prejudice doesn’t help them.  And doing it at the barrel of a gun. 
Human progress is not a straight line to a goal, things often turn in cycles; but the Brexit vote, the Trump vote, these could be the last dying embers of some fears over inevitable change.  The fear/anger-inducing change is not all good, so some push back is understandable, but it cannot last.
The good news is the bad news is the good news is the same news as always: What happens next is up to us.

Hold tight.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Low Brown Danny Anthem Extravolanza

The Low Anthem, Thekla, 15/11/16

Sentiments of sibilant sentences sent
To sentient sentinels etcetera
That doesn’t mean anything at all
It’s just clever words put together
In a carefully unaffected order.

My ears hurt.

The above occurred to me in the first ten minutes or so of this show, which included (from the stage, not from me) a typewriter, spoken word, bird calls, other animal noises, ambient noise, a gong and three band members arsing about with various definition-stretching types of music, while the other band member sat typing away and speaking at the same time.  The typewriter was amplified as well, to give the full effect.
Then there were some songs, most of which were fairly gentle, in an odd sort of way, like most of The Low Anthem’s recorded music.  There was a pump organ, guitars (sometimes two), bass, violin, trumpet, synths, drums, drum machines.  The drummer seemed to be looking for unusual places to hit on his kit. 
There was a noisy rendition of one of my favourites, Boeing 737. 
The above is all true, but doesn’t convey what it was like to be there for this show.  I wrote the above notes in hurried, mis-spelled text on a phone in the toilet, near the end, but I’d thought of it right near the beginning.
They were noisy for a band described by most reviews as alt. folk, and/or Americana (not by this review, mark you.  This review/er wouldn’t describe anything as alt anything.  “Alt” is short for “alternative”, isn’t it?  I don’t like it.  Even before its recent association with a particular brand of dangerous, crazy racism in the US.  Fro which is it also not really appropriate). 
Cacophony!  From noise, beautyThat’s another note I made in an attempt to remember what it was like to witness this thing.
The end of the set was Dream Killer, off the back of some noisy Mono-style postrock freakout improvisation.  (Some of which I missed, being in the toilet, making the above notes before hurrying back.  We were right down the front for most of it, before that, but when I came back I watched from further back.  The sound was better, but the experience wasn’t as good.  Right down the front, the noisy stuff hurt my ears at times, just a little bit.  It really added something, I think.  I felt more involved with it.)  Each of the constituent parts were cool, but the whole thing was way greater than the sum of its parts, just like a good band always is.
This whole show was fucking astonishing.
It was like a live rendering of the new album – but better than recording; not song-for-song, but overall.  There was some old stuff, some noise, some quiet, some weirdness, some ethereal beauty, some straight nice songs.  It had everything, and it all just seemed to make perfect sense as a piece.  It was performance art more than it was a band playing some of their songs. 
I thought, the end was perfect, and them some people were chanting for an encore, in a way that made little sense to me, at the time.  It would be like asking for an encore of a play, I thought – what   are they supposed to do, act out the best scene again?  I said to MAccy B, “Do we really need an encore – after that finish?”
And then they came back on and mucked about with microphones and stands for a few minutes and all stood at the front of the stage and sang Charlie Darwin, with just an acoustic guitar accompanying and I realised I was terribly wrong and all the people chanting were right,  It was beautiful.  (It’s another of my favourites.)  Well, fair enough then.
And then they played Bird On A fucking Wire.  I was not prepared for that, emotionally.  Again, it was just a guitar and all four of the band singing away, barely bothering with the mics.  By that time I was back down the front, so I could hear them anyway, as loud as I could hear myself and everyone else around me.  That’s community, isn’t it?  It was uplifting and quite sad at the same time.  Melancholy.  Like all the best art.  Like all the best art, it made us a community, of sorts, for a brief period, and then finished and prodded us gently back to the real world to decide how to act, having experienced that.
“Like a drunk in a midnight choir….
I have tried, in my way,
To be free.”
Danny Brown, Marble Factory, 18/11/16

And then, on Friday night, I headed to The Marble Factory to see Danny Brown.  It was alright.
Maccy B treated me to dinner beforehand (it was very good indeed, since you ask.  Lasagne, if you must know.  His Mrs made it, truth be told.)
When we arrived, the support act was in full swing, even though it was early: he’s a very confident young man with a high voice…he’s camper than the average rapper; but then, so is Danny B, as everyone points out – and they’re right.)
“Like Danny B but not as good” Ratman had said on the phone on the way, and he was right.
The Kids are lovin it, mind.  Friday night, yeah? Woo-hooo!
The rapper breaks off to sing Happy Birthday to his Mum on the phone – she’s off to see Mary J Blige. 
“My Momma loooooove Mary J. Blige….”
I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’d rather be watching Mary J., but….actually, I probably would.  What this fella lacks in songs, he makes up for in energy.  He makes space for a mosh pit, and gets right in the middle of it.
It’s a very mixed crowd – there is more diversity of age, style, race and gender than I’ve seen at many Hip Hop shows.  Danny B himself is enjoyable, but a lot of the entertainment comes from the audience as much as from the stage; Maccy B tells me his worst fears are confirmed – that Brown’s high, raspy voice grates over the heavy bass.  Hard to disagree, but for me the issue is that I’ve never been sure how much I like the music; having seen it, I’m still not sure.  I probably wouldn’t pay a hefty ticket price to see him again.
H-Bomb sends dispatches from the front: “It’s mad down there. I felt so old.”
What a pleasure it was to be alive – but to be old!  Very heaven.
Ratty is right, as ever – it’s a fucking liberty:  “Four quid a can, get ‘em in, get ‘em out for the club might after.  Bit shit innit.”  It is indeed, old friend.  I won’t recycle my well-worn arguments (you’re welcome), but it is just too early for a Friday night gig with so much energy to be all over by ten. 
“Raise your skinny fist like antennae to heaven!”  Says H-Bomb, in reference to something I didn’t quite catch – before providing the invaluable Public Service of telling us what’s on at The Stag...
Olanza, Stag & Hounds, 18/11/16

A few of us make it to the second gig of the night.
Olanza are heavier than some of the postrock bands I like.  But I like them.  A lot.
For the sake of keeping the Review pretense going: they are a 3-piece band, composed of 2 guitarists and a drummer.  The drummer is a personal friend, and a real Punisher.  Whatever has made him angry, he has taken it out on the drums.  He is not an angry man; perhaps because of this handy outlet.
As I say, it’s more heavy than intricate but still some really good double guitar stuff (This is descending, isn’t it?  No proper review would ever say “really good”, would it?).  If you twisted my arm behind me back and kept twisting until it snapped in an effort to get a standard soundalike soundbite like the Proper Reviews have….I’d let you break my arm.  And then write on my cast that they sound a wee bit like Mogwai. 
The point is, they’re really good.
My ears hurt.
“But I swear, by this song – and by that I have done wrong
I will try to make it all up to thee.”

Friday, 18 November 2016

Match Report: Sport vs Politics vs Memory vs England vs Scotland

I support Scotland and a Scottish club team, even though I was born and raised in England and why don’t I support England then blah blah blah (forgive the dismissive attitude; it’s just that I’ve spent 67% of my life having that argument and don’t feel like going over it again, since no one has said anything new about since 1986 and my responses all amount to the same one: what’s it to ya?  (Politics, innit.))
Anyway, to the matter in hand: England playing Scotland in a World Cup qualifier on Armistice Day.
A poppy is merely a symbol of remembrance.  A minute’s silence is only a gesture.  And symbols and gestures aren’t political, are they…?  How could they be?  Ask the England team that played against Germany in Berlin in 1938…

Naturally, those awful foreign football bureaucrats stopping Our British Footballers remembering Our Heroic War Dead as part of Our festival of remembering what happened to facilitate doing it repeatedly on a smaller scale, caused outrage.  Not because we keep doing the same violent things again and again, and then remembering it by pretending it was all necessary, but because we weren’t allowed to put a symbol of this nonsense on a football shirt.  As a particularly annoying contributor to a radio news report put it: “It’s not political, it’s a simple act of remembrance.”
The Armistice Day commemorations began in 1919 to commemorate the dead of the First World War, a tawdry affair most of us think of as a way for powerful elites to decide who would dominate Europe, by throwing in front of guns those useless bags of meat known as Ordinary People – or perhaps, if you’re politically inclined, the Working Classes.  The Bewildered Herd.  Michael Gove revealed a strange revisionist enthusiasm for that slaughter when he was Education Secretary.  I wonder why he’s so unpopular with The Herd. 
Anyway, there’s obviously nothing political about all that. 
The Nazis remembered the German war dead of World War I in a Day of Commemoration of Heroes (Heldengedenktag, auf Deutsch) which helped them generate poltiical capital out of the humiliation of the Versailles treaty, and a promise to Make Germany Great Again.
But it’s not Political, it’s a simple act of Remembrance.
In line with their stated policy of not allowing politics on a football shirt, FIFA recently punished the Irish FA, after they added a reference to the Easter Rising centenary in a match earlier this year.  The Easter Rising in 1916 was a rebellion against British rule in Ireland, when soldiers from the British empire were fighting in ‘The Great War’ (including Irish soldiers).
But it’s not Political, it’s a simple act of Remembrance.
The Armenian Genocide is remembered by Armenia, the Armenian diaspora and others; it is not, and never has been, fully recognised by Turkey, whose Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said of the 1915 genocide:
“The Armenian diaspora is making its preparations to turn the events of 1915 into a political campaign by [distorting] the historical reality. In contrast to this political campaign, we will firmly stand against them by highlighting historical and scientific data.”
But it’s not Political, it’s a simple act of Remembrance.
In Israel/Palestine, one side celebrates Independence Day, while the other side commemorates the same events as a catastrophe (“nakba/nakbeh”, in Arabic).
But it’s not Political, it’s a simple act of Remembrance.
FIFA,  presumably pretty happy to focus on this overblown non-story, (following a few years spent denying being the most corrupt organisation on the planet and hoping that whole thing will just go away) have a rule about national teams not wearing any political or commercial messages on their kits.  The FA wanted England to wear shirts with poppies on them, to show everyone that they care.
The FA would dearly love to do something popularly uncontroversial, not having enjoyed the best reputation recently.  Whether poppies are allowed on shirts, whether poppies are political, might be an easier win than trying to convince everyone that they’re not corrupt and that it’s FIFA that are the bad guys and they’ve known that all along, although they only started saying it out loud after England’s latest World Cup bid was rejected.
But it’s not Political, it’s a simple act of Remembrance.
The Scottish FA also wanted their representatives to wear poppies on their horrible pink shirts, because they mostly copy whatever the FA does, but worse.  And also doing its best not to talk about colluding in breaking rules to allow a Scottish club team to register for European football and generally ruining the Scottish league to benefit one particular club. 
But it’s not Political, it’s a simple act of Remembrance.
The political row about poppies on shirts was deemed important enough for the prime minister to pass comment in parliament – an unpopular, unelected prime minister deflecting attention from her own nefarious machinations by commenting on something that’s of no real importance and outside her remit.
But it’s not Political, it’s a simple act of Remembrance.
“Political” is not a slur, or a curse.  It’s a way of looking at all human interaction.  The institution of marriage is political – including,  but not limited to – who can get married, where and how; that doesn’t make it distasteful (it’s the overuse of flowers and all the drunk relatives that makes it distasteful, isn’t it?)
Part of this whole (manufactured) controversy is another attempt to separate sport and politics; which is as impossible as it would be undesirable.  The same goes for separating remembering the war dead from remembering the reasons they died and trying to make a world in which that shit doesn’t happen again; lest we forget.
What we remember and why we remember it and the way we remember it is entirely Political.
Besides which: separating politics and sport would be as helpful as separating arms from the torso.  It would be as likely as separating football from petty provincial rivalry.  Or separating politics from bullshit posturing, or from ethical compromise. 
But it also reinforces the idea that Politics is this discrete process that happens elsewhere – carried out by professionals.  An ugly business that we are better staying out of, because it’s intrinsically bad – and nothing we can do anything about.  This view is shared by everyone on TV and radio and in the papers, and apart from being completely wrong in every sense, it’s a fair enough view.  The reason this view is pernicious, and so damaging, is because it invites us all to consider politics none of our business.  We being the “bewildered herd”, the ones who wear poppies and like football.  Because every aspect of how our collective, public lives are run is none of our business.  It’s just boring old Politics. 
Sport is our business, we can have that.  Remembrance, maybe, as far as it can be considered apolitical, somehow.  But Politics is an industry we need to be kept out of – just shut up about it, it’s nothing to do with you, you stupid plebs/troublemaking weirdos/uppity women etc. 
The FA and the SFA shouted about the rules, called them ridiculous, declared they would defy them….and then bottled it.  In a compromise, the players wore armbands with poppies on – just like last time England played on Armistice Day, when it wasn’t particularly controversial, for some reason.  Maybe those were saner times. 
Still, it did take the FA’s problem with (alleged endemic) corruption, and helped the media continue to ignore the rotten stench at the heart of Scottish football.  And it gave the prime minister something to talk about other than how she intends to pursue a contentious policy she campaigned against.  And helped the papers continue to ignore the fact that theirs is a dead medium, while they retreat even further into their sensationalist, unsubstantiated controversy fetish.
So, you know, mission accomplished.  Since when someone waves a flag, we all have to stop what we’re doing and salute it.  (Even if what we were doing was more important.)  It’s a pretty good way to obscure what’s really going on.  Or, to use a well-worn phrase, to “bury bad news.”
But it’s not political, it’s a simple act of Remembrance.
In the end, England won the game 3-0.
I won’t need reminding of that any time soon, thanks.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Thoughts On Waking Vol. III (Oh, shiiiiiit)

I recently saw a Daily Mash article that was about hangovers being a full-on existential crisis for anyone over the age of 35.  I can relate.
How come the worst political news coincides with a hangover for me?  I don’t know – it’s not like I’ve got any control over that, is it?  If you there’s anything I can do to avoid a hangover, I’d like to hear it!
Anyway, my most recent political nightmare hangover occurred on Wednesday, 9th of November 2016.  Here were some initial thoughts upon waking/shaking/forcing myself into recognition of cold, hard, ugly facts, in the form of headlines for newspaper articles I will never write:
Four horsemen approaching as trumpets sound
Reality TV contest ends with surprising result
Hilarious candidate no longer funny
Dear white people, you have ruined everything. Again.
George W Bush not ridiculous enough for US voters
US children already asking “But Mommy, why didn’t someone stop him?”
“Things have to get worse before they get better” revolutionaries heartened
Right-wing populist peddling easy answers still a news story
Greedy corporate billionaire defeats corporate greed
Anti-intellectualism still a big vote winner
Tired of flipping a coin, US voters decide to roll the dice…
White male billionaire rails against the establishment; working class white people inexplicably take it seriously
Most divisive candidate ever calls for unity
US voters so sick of democratic process they elect anti-democratic demagogue
Sloppy data protection worse than sexual assault, misogyny, racism, narcissism, authoritarianism and stupid hair, say US voters
Patently ridiculous man gets job ahead of well-qualified woman
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you. Then you win.” Gandhi
Much like Brexit: Not all Trump voters are racist, but all racists are Trump voters
US TV networks hiring satirists at highest ever levels
Words “establishment” and “elite” have lost all meaning, say linguists
Inarticulate buffoonery a big vote winner
Crazy, racist promises prove a big vote winner
Two-party system completely inadequate for complicated world
Weak populist at danger from right wing supporters
Political class trumped by economic management class
“But she was just as bad” the new “I’m not racist, but…”, say experts
30 years of neoliberal consensus not in interests of working class
Campaigners for honest politics stunned into silence
Political subservience to big business reaches zenith with election of billionaire president
America expected to just drink through this awful hangover
Safe pair of hands loses to tiny, dangerous hands
Lowest common denominator still a safe bet
Human progress not a straight line to a goal, everyone realises
Non-USians still apparently qualified to comment on US election at length
Country traditionally impervious to outsiders’ criticism again subjected to outsiders’ criticism
US Election: Everyone lines up to hear what foreign blogger thinks
Hey, America….take care, yeah?  Take care.
Political ranting “already passe”, say fashionistas
After gentle challenges to neoliberal consensus (“globalisation”) from the left have been exhausted, we’re left with challenges from the right. 
And, here are some subsequent thoughts, in the form of facebook posts I will never write:
So, here’s my take on the US election – because, obviously, everyone wants to know what I think about it all.  Especially people now fearing for their safety in an era of heightened tensions and out-spoken bigotry.  Surely they want to know what facebook thinks, right?
People are saying…..and I would never say this:
Dear America,
What the fuck is up with white people?
Are you so scared of everybody that you just gone wave your guns and start shooting?!
Check yourself.
I would never say it – but people are saying it.  But I would never say it…but other people have said it.  But I don’t say it.  I didn’t say it.
Whatever the specific conditions that precipitate The End of Western Civilisation (and they cannot be far away), we can be sure it is richly deserved.
The Democratic Party leadership were able to stage manage the selection of their Presidential candidate, despite a strong (and surprising) challenge from the left – and the effects of their management look disastrous.
The Republican Party leadership were unable to stage manage the selection of their Presidential candidate, after a strong (and surprising) challenge from leftfield – and the effects of their lack of management look disastrous.
This is a disaster – but it’s not “America”.  “America” is two continents, billions of people, many varied countries, cultures, languages…it’s not even the USA – a country of hundreds of millions of people and far more diversity than is regularly recognised from outside.  It’s not even the US Electorate – it’s not even a majority of the people that voted…it’s a little under half the people that voted who have caused this.  Let’s remember that before we start talking about Dumbfuckistan and other thoughtlessly insulting shite.  Please.  It’s really really important not to get into careless dismissal of large numbers of people we don’t know or understand – because that kind of ignorance is one of the things that got us into this mess.
It’s like that scene in Goodfellas, you know the one, where Tommy is haranguing Spider, the kid that serves them drinks – and Spider tells him to go fuck himself, and Jimmy says “What, are you gonna let this little punk get away with that?!  What’s the world coming to?”  And Tommy shoots Spider and kills him and then he says “That’s what the fucking world is coming to, how do you like that?”  And Jimmy says “What’s the matter with you?  I’m playing around with you, and you shoot the guy?”  And Tommy says “I don’t know if you’re joking, there’s a lot of people here” And Jimmy says “You’re gonna dig the hole” And Tommy says “OK, so he got shot – is it a big fucking deal?  What is it, the first hole I dug?  I don’t give a fuck.”
Well, the US electorate is Tommy, obviously.  (The news media is Jimmy, equally obviously.)
In the 90s, election reporting described the US as bitterly divided. As Matt Taibbi in his book Spanking The Donkey, about the 2004 election pointed out:  “when half the country doesn’t vote, the nation is not bitterly divided.  The nation mostly doesn’t give a shit.”
A lot of people in the UK and US have long been wishing for more political engagement, but may now be more careful for what they wish….engagement with politics without good information is dangerous.  Engagement with politics based on anger over loss, fear of outsiders and a search for scapegoats is very dangerous.
Maybe the candidate who threatened the power of big business hit upon an un-tapped well of interest – one that no recent presidential candidate has dared go near – won some votes off that – however implausible it is that a billionaire will deliver poor people from the ravages of international trade…maybe that was at least as compelling a reason as all the racist stuff.  Maybe the neoliberal orthodoxy is actually being challenged in a meaningful way – even if the person doing it is a total charlatan.  Just maybe.  It might be the start of an explanation for what, to many of us, at first glance, seems like an act of criminal insanity.
Why are we even talking about this?  Those of us who know fuck all about US politics, or the country in general?  The worry is that it will affect all of us, and in potentially negative ways.  So, that’s why we’re all talking about it.  In case you’re wondering.  After such a long, drawn-out affront to humanity that has been the campaign, it’s totally understandable that people are thoroughly sick of it all and want to not hear any more about it.  All of the above is secondary to this: My US family and friends, hold tight, we’re with you.  Love & Peace.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Ray Of The Rovers

(Spoiler Alert: this title neatly presages a comic – and emotionally revealing – moment in the one-man show discussed below.)

Hitchikers Guide To The Family
“Hi, I’m Ben Norris.”
Outside it’s Halloween – children run amok, extorting sweets as protection payments, as older children run amok, wearing facepaint (more than usual) to drink heavily.  Fuck all that noise: Let’s go to the theatre.
Ben and his Dad are very different men; Ben is into art, and words.  He’s a talker.  He’s a Poet.  Ben’s Dad is into football, beer and not expressing feelings – the favoured pastimes of his generation of men.
I know Ben Norris because he booked me to play at his Poetry night in Birmingham in 2012, the same year he started this show.  He as a great host and it was a good gig.  He said I ate bare biscuits and I wondered what the fuck that meant.  Mostly because I read it as bear biscuits.  Which was even more intriguing.  (I know what it means now, of course.  It was a bit like the first time someone said to me “You’re sick.”  I thought it was a compliment, given the tone and context, but a very enjoyably idiosyncratic type of comment.  I thought it might be a thoughtful reflection of the strength of words in my songs….I really liked the young man who’d said it, for that.  For a week or so, until I heard someone describe a t-shirt as “sick”.  It was a good week, mind.  But this isn’t about me or my unreliable narration of barely-remembered anecdotes.)
This one-man show is more about football than I expected.  Ben and his Dad support Luton Town, and share a memory of the Glory Day in 1988 when Andy Dibble made an amazing penalty save in a surprising League Cup Final win over Arsenal.  Ben remembers that day, which happened years before his birth.  Because that kind of memory is collective, isn’t it?  And Ben’s memory of it is his memory of his Dad talking about that game.
And he’s not likely to bond with his Dad over much else, is he?
So, it’s a show about masculinity, memory and family.
It’s about Ben.  Who is on a pilgrimage to Wembley – the old one, that isn’t there anymore.  To connect with his Dad, who doesn’t live anywhere near there. 
The journey takes in a game at Kenilworth Road, the home of Luton Town (The Hatters).  Years ago, I saw Luton play at the Memorial, against Bristol Rovers.  Luton had three men sent off. 
It finished 1-1. 
“Eight men – and you fucked it up!”  The Rovers fans derided the home team.  But this isn’t about me, or Bristol Rovers.
It’s about masculinity.  At university, I was once presented with an essay question:  “Is Masculinity in crisis?”  I vacillated between thinking “I honestly couldn’t give a fuck” and “If it is constructed on misogyny and domination, then yes, because those things are shit and being culturally challenged in a more serious way than previously.”  In the end, I chose a different question.  Neither of the above answers could have earned a decent mark, I thought.
At one or two places in the show, Ben is apologetic for the paucity of Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy references, but there are a few there for those who will find them…”So long, and thanks for all the fish” is one of them.
See, I get it.
I can relate to all this, a bit; my Dad is a football/beer fan, is of That Generation, but it sounds like he’s probably not much like Ben’s Dad apart from that.  My Dad has never knowingly gone more than ten minutes in anyone’s company without telling the story of The Time He Scored A Goal At Celtic Park.  He’s a storyteller.  A Talker.  But this isn’t about me, or my Dad.
And it never will be, because Ben has now ruined the one-man show about my Dad that I never got round to writing.  This one (Ben’s real show, not my imagined one, that I may or may not have seriously thought about writing, but definitely haven’t done any writing for) has ended my plans for a one-man show about my Dad.  (Plans I barely even knew I had before this show started.)  Which is a shame, because my Dad probably would’ve loved it.  (It would start with him in a pub telling someone he’d just met that he scored a goal at Celtic Park in 1965. And it would probably end with the same scene.  You get the picture.)
It’s worth it, mind.  Ben’s show is funny and it’s touching and a lot of it is in verse (in a subtle sort of way…Ben is a poet.  A very good one).  But it subtly blends a conversational style of delivering said verse with actual conversation and audience participation.  I won’t ruin The Big Moment, because I expect you to make the effort to see this show, do you hear me?  Go and see the show.
The show is on for two nights at The Alma in Bristol, which used to be my local when I lived in that part of town.  I’ve got some unreliable memories of the place, of course (involving regular late-afternoon drinking sessions with G.Rhymes, The Single Massive, open mic nights, quizzes, a really interesting show about Empire that I enjoyed, even though I really really needed the toilet for the last half hour of it).  But this isn’t about me. 
Reviews aren’t about The Reviewer, are they?  They are simply a list of things The Performer has previously done coupled with some barely-intelligible knowing pretentiousness, flecked with glasses-perched-at-the-end-of-the-nose musings on The State Of Things.
A Review is decidedly not a solipsistic reflection on the feeling the art in question evokes in The Reviewer and how The Reviewer relates it to their own life, is it?  No, it bloody well is not.
Anyway, I went to the first of the two nights at the Alma.  It was most enjoyable.  I might’ve gone to the second night instead, but funny enough, I was at the Mem to see
Bristol Rovers vs Fleetwood Town
in League One.  Proper Football.  Ben and his Dad, Ray, might have enjoyed it.
As is customary, we meet in the pub for a pre-game pint.  As is customary, we have one more which makes us a bit late for kick off.  As we turn off Filton Avenue, we hear a small roar, in the sudden vacuum of silence from the home fans.
Bollocks, already one down. 
As is customary, the Rovers fans quickly re-group with the familiar refrain of Goodnight, Irene.  The place is heaving.  By the time we get in, the aisles between the sections of terracing behind the goal are full.  A steward makes a half-hearted attempt to clear the aisles, before astutely retreating.  Unlike Rovers (this season, at least), he knows when he’s beat.
Unusually, I have put my local team ahead of my First Love: Celtic are playing in the Champions League, which I could be watching on the telly, in a nice warm pub with a nice cold pint.  With my Dad.  Although this is the first (and possibly last) time I have made this choice (by virtue of not noticing the clash), live football is so much better than watching it live on the telly.  You can’t smell the pasty farts or hear the individual anguished cries on the telly.
The game is poor.  I go for a Lucky Piss (the one where I leave the action so that something will happen – like lighting a fag to make the bus appear.  It’s magic.)  It doesn’t work.  Adge texts me:
“Skied it, take a shit, this might take a while”
“Brushing me teeth….waiting for the cheer”, I reply
“Did you bring floss?”
I go back and shrug.  Did me best.  Adge has a go at the magic, opting for a reverse of the fabled Commentator’ Curse: “It’s gone stale, hasn’t it?  Nothing happening.”
Thirty seconds later, Rovers get a corner and score from it.
The place lights up.  I wonder what Ben and Ray would make of it.  The short video clip, in the show, from Kenilworth Road, didn’t look this exciting – it was quaint, by comparison, but it’s probably not a fair comparison.  There are over ten thousand people here tonight, which is a good turnout for a damp Tuesday night when there’s Champions League games on the telly.
My Dad keeps me updated on the Celtic game. 
“1 0 down piss poor defending again.” 
It’s like I’m there.
Out of nowhere, someone hurls a racial epithet at an away player.  I’m a bit shocked.  I don’t go often, but I haven’t heard that at a Rovers game before.
I don’t know who said it, and I don’t know if anyone else even heard it.  I did, but I sort of pretend I didn’t.  Because I’d like to believe I didn’t.  Because that will help me think I’m part of a big crowd of people who are decent, with whom I share values, as well as some kind of identity – dare I say fraternity…? 
Because I lack courage: that needed to challenge a stranger, to start an argument in a crowd.  I’m also apprehensive of the consequences; I don’t know if anyone will agree, back me up, or take no notice.  I don’t know how the racist will react.  I am a man.  I am a coward. 
It wasn’t that loud, and I wonder if no one else heard it or if they preferred to simply not experience it.  Are we all cowards? 
I wonder what Ben and Ray would make of that.  Or my Dad.  Maybe I’ll ask him about it….excuse me.
Oh, by the way: Rovers nick it 2-1.  (And Celtic manage a draw.)

Friday, 28 October 2016


This is the 200th Sad Music Is Uplifting blog.

I haven’t kept up much of anything, ever, for 200 weeks in a row.  But I’ve managed this, somehow.  Thanks for reading, thanks for talking to me about it, thanks for telling me you read it (even though I know some of you must have been lying, since I know how many views the page gets each week. But maybe the stats are lying and you're not.  Maybe you are expressing an essential truth that mere cold numbers cannot; maybe you were just being encouraging. If so, thanks, it's appreciated).  I never thought it would last this long.

Here’s some interesting statistical information about this blog:

200 blogs, 200 consecutive weeks.

31,776 page views

1 follower

Most read post: Up The Massive Downs (Gert Attack Review), 9/9/2016

Least read post: Court Reports, 13/12/2013

158 Page views in Turkey

346 Page views in Slovakia

626 Page views in Germany


28 Poems

18 Lists of explicit gratitude

3 Conversations Overheard In Pubs

8 TV Reviews

23 Live Music Reviews

4 Album Reviews

1 Book review

1 Theatre review

2 Film reviews

7 Travel Diaries

5 Football-related posts

51 True Stories

15 Stories Based On True Stories

23 Rants about how everything is shit.

1000 Brilliant band names


[Number 32 on the bucket list: Write a weekly blog for 200 weeks]

Countless people to whom to be grateful.

1 grateful blogger.



Clayton Blizzard