Thursday, 2 August 2018

What I Go To Pride For

What I Go To Pride For

A lot of my life these days involves trying very hard to be a decent person in the wake of a very expensive education that taught me to be an entitled prick. Mostly. I still vividly remember the assembly during my first year of school, where a visiting priest told us about the magical lake that God created to reward people for being good. Its waters gave them beautiful pale, white, skin. But the lazy people, the layabouts who got there last, only managed to get the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet in, hence the dark skin on the rest of their bodies. Because they were lazy. I was taught this at five, in a Church of England Infant School in Surrey in 1982.

I found this image on a US website helping LGBTQI christians to find acceptance in the Church
I like to think that means the world is a little less shitty then it was in 1982

I had shit like this drip-fed to me daily throughout my education, rarely as blatant as that, but it was there, that vague undercurrent that different means bad, that people 'like us' were inherently better. That femininity is something to be ashamed of, that various things that all people do, whether male, female or something inbetween are feminine (therefore bad), and weak – like crying, or being kind to strangers (you know, like Jesus did). Above all, that men are supposed to act in a certain way, no deviation, no deviants. Well fuck that, if there's one thing you can call me that I will always agree with, it's a deviant. Since a fair chunk of this education was given to me by the generation that gave you thalidomide and eugenics, I am happy to disregard all the many distasteful bits.

I realise that this is also the generation that fought and died for us in at least one World War (two in a lot of cases) but it's worth remembering that some of them must have been responsible for all of that being necessary by starting the fucking things.

For the sake of clarity, let me say here that I am a man, always have been male, very happy to be male, and a heterosexual man to boot. A man who fancies women (well, just the one woman, my wife.) So, a white, cishet, monogamous, public-school educated man. You can refer to me as him and he and I won't bat an eyelid. Nicely privileged, thank you very much world, I do not need to make any effort and everything is tilted in my favour.

That's becoming an easy thing to forget in a world of shrinking wages and spam-faced propaganda ranting that it is all being taken away from my kind. Difficult to remember that 'my kind' are still very heavily in control of pretty much everything, we're just having to share now, like the angry red-faced boy from my class back at Cranleigh First School who would punch you to the stony ground before letting you have a go on one of his many Yo-Yos. I expect he writes angry letters to the Daily Mail now about not wanting to share his universal health care.

Oh my god, I found this picture and it's a real thing and not ironic and of course it's American
What the fuck?

Toxic Masculinity is a phrase being thrown about a lot at the moment. And it's a good thing it's finally being talked about. One day, we will all just be allowed to be referred to as 'people' without any need for labels, worried questions or fear of accidentally fancying the 'wrong' gender. And on that day I will finally stop using the phrase 'Gender as a social construct,' in nearly every argument I have with a bigot in the pub. That day is not today however.

Take, for instance, the simple phrase, 'Get Fucked.' Why on earth is this used as an insult? Surely the one thing most of us are trying to do all the time in our day to day lives is to get fucked? What better prize than consensual intercourse with some other willing human being? To be honest, my current reply of 'Thank you, you too,' has not caught on yet, but I'm hoping it does soon, and that 'Get Fucked,' will replace 'Have a Nice Day,' as the pleasantry of choice.

We are hung up on the idea that having something enter you (a cock usually) is an act of submission, that it implies the cock-wielder has some power over you.

I would suggest, that allowing somebody else to entirely engulf one of the most sensitive parts of your anatomy is a little more submissive. We need to change the narrative. Using two people having sex as a punchline is ludicrous, particularly when we always, but always, portray the fuckee as having been beaten by the fucker. The recent Putin/Trump/Piers Morgan gay jokes are but the tip of the iceberg in dehumanising 'humour' that leaves many of your fellow humans very much unamused.

Justin Myers (author of the utterly brilliant Last Romeo) had this to say about it on Twitter the other day.

'When so-called “woke” people give homophobia a free pass because the effect on the target is more valuable than the effect on LITERALLY EVERY OTHER LGBTQ PERSON I want to take a bath with my toaster.
When I see things like this, it reminds me – like I‘d ever forget – that my status as a citizen can be downgraded or revoked at any time if the use of my sexuality as a punchline requires it. If you’re LGBTQ and don’t see the issue, jam your eyes open with matches and look again.'
I heartily endorse this, and would add, if you're not a total bellend and can't see the issue, do likewise.

I recently spent a day in a hot sweaty car with some proper blokey blokes, and had to make small talk about sport and cars. I can just about blag it now, but I'd rather not, and there's always that look they get that I am not a proper bloke because I don't want to talk about that, or laugh along at their snide jokes about women and gays not being able to drive.

I am by no means a manly man, I never have been. I've always been a bit of an outsider, I liked playing with dolls (managed to bypass the worst of that by using Action Force, Mask and Transformers, but I also had a big thing for Wuzzles, and a brief obsession with Care Bears) and cared not one jot for sport in any way. Still don't. On the first day of school, any school (I went to quite a few different ones), I would always be asked what football team I supported, eventually I learned not to say, 'I don't like football' as it would be met with incomprehension and banishment. I remembered that my father and brother are avid Chelsea supporters, and proudly said 'I support Chelsea,' and subsequently spent four years of school banished by a class full of Manchester United supporters.
I really can't get a fucking break. There's a reason a lot of my best friends at school were girls. I was not just trying to get into their pants.

Seriously, I loved these, I had an Eleroo, and finished the Panini sticker album
despite nobody else at school having any swaps.

I did spend a few years faking it to get acceptance, I like pubs, I like drinking, and I like camaraderie and shouting. I went to watch football in the pub (it was a good way to spend time with my dad) until I could take it no more. If the game went the wrong way, nobody wanted to stay out drinking, or if they did they were miserable as sin. I can't live like that, my happiness is dependent on things I have done, not 11 strangers in their underwear. I even spent four years watching cricket, out of a vague intellectual interest. It took me that long to figure out the rules, at which point I was bored of that too. I do like the idea of a game that lasts so long you won't miss much if you nip to the shops for an hour or two though.

But I like LGBTQI Pride events. I like hanging out with people who feel that outside otherness on a completely different level. I'm often dismissed as a bit weird, but I don't get abuse thrown at me on a regular basis that makes me feel less than human. These people do, from people like me, yet if I come down to party with them they accept me – a straight white male – and it's all good. I am not in any way claiming that my struggle as a long-haired, flamboyant dresser with a new-found penchant for nail varnish equates with theirs – I don't want a letter added to the end or my own stripe on the flag. I have it pretty damn good thanks, remember I'm male, stale and pale baby.

But it is a safe space for me, so my reasons for attending are not entirely altruistic.

Safe spaces are getting a bad rap these days, from people who like to call everybody snowflakes. These are the same people who burst every cholesterol-engorged blood vessel in their body if you don't wear a poppy, or if a chocolate egg doesn't have the word Easter on it, or if a brown person wins a TV talent show. People so threatened by having to share that they will almost certainly punch you to the gravelly ground, where you will cut your knee and have to endure the agony of having iodine poured over it by your mum, before letting you have a go on their Yo-Yo. Even though they have a massive box full of Yo-Yos at home, and the means to get as many more as they like.

There are people who are scared that a man might hit on them if they go to a gay club. But to them I say, what do you do when a woman you don't fancy hits on you in a nightclub? Take it as the compliment it is, say 'Sorry, no thanks,' and carry on dancing – easy. If you're worried that he's bigger than you and you might get attacked, then congratulations, you just learned a little bit of what it's like for actual women EVERY FUCKING TIME THEY GO OUT.

I admit, when I first started going to LGBTQI events, I clung to my wife, terrified people might think I was gay.
Before I realised how dumb that was.
It doesn't matter.
I used to say 'Sorry, I'm straight,' to turn down prospective suitors – in case it wasn't obvious, but now I just wave my wedding ring, and say, 'Sorry, I'm taken,' because my sexuality is not an issue. My monogamy is.

Masculinity is a long complex, thing with no rules, no conditions that need to be met in order to be allowed in the man club. If you aren't secure enough in your own to go to an awesome parade and march with your fellow human beings to help ensure they feel validated for once then piss off home snowflake*.

I shall be being fabulous at Brighton Pride this weekend if anyone is about and fancies a good time (in the non-sexy version of the phrase) see you there.

*I do not for one minute endorse the use of the term snowflake, although being told that you are a special, unique, beautiful construct with an incredibly finite lifetime in an increasingly dangerous universe is, of course, quite the compliment. Remember that next time a large joint of meat refers to you as such.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Funerals, Friendship, Death and Birthdays

I recently spent my 41st birthday at the funeral of a very dear friend, it got me thinking, how good does a friend have to be to make you change your planned pulled-the-day-off-work-for-my-birthday activities of lying about in the garden drinking cider and reading old Peanuts cartoons? Friendship is a difficult thing to measure at the best of times, and I think those who try to measure it, and gauge which friends are better than other friends can probably all fuck off.

I am now convinced that the people who post all those, 'Get rid of all the negative needy, selfish people around you, shake them off, you are a beautiful butterfly,' memes on facebook are almost certainly the very selfish, needy, fuckawful dickheads they are talking about. On the other hand, many of them are my friends, and I would most certainly go to their funerals over my own selfish drunken plans.

This chap comes to us all eventually, don't miss the party

A person who will remain anonymous was perplexed that I would willingly choose to spend my birthday at a funeral, saying it wouldn't be much fun. Now, there are two very important points here, one, my friend will only ever have one funeral – I should have plenty more birthdays, I get one a year after all (not like that birthday hoarding, two a year selfish monarch of ours, does that make her 157 now?) and I've already had about fifteen more than I planned on. And secondly, I put the fun in funerals. Seriously, I've never been to one I haven't enjoyed (apart from that one where the wake only had tea and cake, what is wrong with you? Who doesn't have booze at a funeral? Note to all my relatives, there must be a bar at mine.)

My anonymous acquaintance also claims to share my legendary misanthropy. The difference being that I hate people in general – the abstract concept of having to share my space with others – but I very rarely meet any specific people I don't like. My acquaintance, on the other hand, has trouble being alone, and wants to be around other people, but finds the actual, specific people problematic and not quite malleable enough for their needs. I have had 'oh but you like everybody!' thrown at me as if it's an insult before. Frankly, I'm pretty proud of it, I do like everybody I meet. It takes a good deal of effort to make me not like you, so if you've managed it, well done, that's quite the achievement.

Anyway, I was sitting in the funeral parlour, contemplating my own mortality, as you do at a funeral, and suddenly the voice of the deceased came into my head. I quite distinctly heard him chuckling 'Fuck's sake Dave, it's my funeral, you could at least have worn shoes!' Which would have been fair. His son, who contacted me about it, told me we had to go for bright colours. I had forgotten the unwritten rule about the 'celebration of life, bright colours' funerals that states you must still wear a suit, shirt and tie, nothing stronger than a pale blue and still mainly black, and rolled up in my multi-coloured patchwork shirt, purple Prince trousers and that hat. And I don't wear shoes between May and September usually, so sandals it was. I could hear him laughing all the way to his coffin, he'd have loved it.

This hat here – which has become much too regular a feature of this blog

It was a good funeral, I saw some very dear people that I have all but lost contact with over the last few years that I was very glad to see again. You could tell it would be fun when the first thing the grieving widow did on seeing me was grab me and whisper, 'I'm free and single now Dave,' in my ear with a raucous laugh. It continued, with this singular family who I used to see so much of all heckling each other's eulogies, clapping the readings and talking over the contemplative music. I have not cry-laughed so much since This is Us finished.

I do draw the line at talking over the music though. When I finally pop off you're going to have to listen. I've been working on the funeral setlist for years, I would like some well-meaning member of my family to turn to the crowd and say 'shut the fuck up and listen to the song, this bit's really good', as we near the 28 minute mark of 'Thick as a Brick'. Heckling is fine, and to be encouraged, indeed, please shout 'Stop making me listen to Jethro fucking Tull again you dead bastard!' rather than muttering amongst yourselves guiltily.

I do advise everyone to sort out your funeral songs, if you're not careful somebody else will pick them, and they'll get them wrong. You don't want to end up with people sitting in quiet reminiscence of you to the St Winifred's School Choir. This is your chance to get your own back, as my friend did by making me listen to Don fucking Mclean for one last time. Bastard, well played.

Things go wrong in planning, I remember another funeral for another friend a long time ago where the order of service was to have guitars on it, as he was a guitarist. This friend had, in our last conversation about a month before he died – a conversation that at that point I had no inkling would be our last – royally ripped the piss out of me for gigging exclusively on bass, saying I was a guitar player, not a shitty bassist. I had to stifle a laugh as I entered the service and found his grieving relatives had accidentally put two Fender Jazz Basses on the front. I could hear his voice shouting 'Fuck's sake Dave, I'm a guitar player, not a bassist! What are they doing to me?'

Tell people what you want, I'm not revealing my set list here, but my wife and a couple of back up friends have it for when the inevitable happens. It's good, and I might add a few more for the service. The wake will be even better, you're all invited, it shall be a rave in a field, you can pick the tunes for that, as you'll want to be dancing – in my fevered imagination I see people begging to have my songs played as loud as possible, in reality I am still very much aware of how bad they are, and you really can't dance to them. I will be there in spirit, as I have ordered an effigy of me dressed in my finery be burned atop a huge fire – like an old school Guy Fawkes night – to keep the revellers warm.

It's going to be fun, and well worth missing a boring old normal 41st Birthday for. You'll see a load of people you haven't for years, make a few new friends and remember someone you (hopefully) liked.

Here's an artist's impression of what my funeral might look like
Obviously that guy in the hat will be a model on the fire

and only dancing in spirit

Friday, 8 June 2018

I'm terrified the new Doctor Who is going to be shit

I have honestly not been as nervous for a new series of Dr Who since the announcement it was coming back ten years ago.

Last year I was utterly overjoyed to hear Jodie Whittaker was going to be the next Doctor, a woman. Not just a woman, but one who I'd been watching in some drama where she was pretending to be a doctor, and she was good. She's got chops, I've seen her doing all the emotions. I've heard her being really funny and entertaining on the Shaun Keaveny Breakfast show on 6 music and couldn't be more pleased. The best person got the gig, there can be no complaints.

I'm still a bit scared though.

Especially after her first appearance on the Christmas special.

Don't misunderstand me. It's not because of her, and it's not because she's a woman.

It's because of the (still overwhelmingly male) writing team that chose to lead with a woman driver gag which I pray will prove to be a knowing nod and an excellent set-up to a proper good first story arc.

Except that I've been watching Doctor Who for long enough (very nearly 41 years and counting) to know that the first story line for any Doctor always gets chucked under the bus so as to weather the inevitable onslaught of vitriol given to anyone brave/stupid enough to take the role on. Peter Capaldi spent most of his career as the Doctor acting his very arse off in the face of utterly dire plots and cock-awful scripts until they finally worked out how to write for him in his last series (even if it did all turn to shit at the end there).

I'm not normally the type of drooling fanboy to get nervous about something as unimportant as a TV show (Star Trek: Enterprise kicked that out of me a long time ago) but I have spent the last three and a half Doctors in defensive mode – half the time not even believing my own bullshit – and am painfully aware that I am in for even more of it this time around. Capaldi, Matt Smith, and even the sainted David Tennent got short thrift from my family in their first few shows (pretty much all of Smith and Capaldi's runs got a good deal of – admittedly quite deserved – snark) as both wife and children declared how much they missed the sainted Tennent and untouchable Ecclestone: who got a free pass just for there being a Doctor again after so long. I still say Paul McGann deserved a better, bigger shot at it. If you haven't seen his USA TV movie, it is fucking brilliant.

Expectations for this series are weighted like never before. On one side are a swathe of people expecting unreasonably good things from a slightly tired TV franchise. Excited feminists who have never bothered watching will be turned off by its intrinsic daftness. Dyed in the wool Whovians will endlessly whosplain to each other why she can/can't possibly do the job (I expect they already are, I've stayed out of it).

To pull this off, she needs to be exceptional. As so many women do when thrust into jobs that a man like myself would be perfectly able to get away with doing half-arsedly (see Colin Baker for more on this). It's a sad truth of modern life that we claim to be thoroughly open-minded and equal, but if an aesthetically unpleasing female gets a traditional male role she can not be any good. If she is anything less than exceptional it proves (to some) that women can't do it. This means in the boardrooms, in legal chambers, gaming, music, comedy, every single job you can think of. She also needs to be able to do it while answering questions about what it's like to do this job as a woman, and how her children are coping without her. A question I don't think Tom Baker ever had to contend with.

I like to think I'm above all that but there's an inbuilt and conditioned discrimination that sits inside me from my privileged position as middle-class, middle-aged, privately educated white man. I'm bright enough to know it's there, but plenty aren't. Every time I see a literature award/prize/bursary aimed at minorities/women (honestly if you think women are a minority you need to learn maths (ok, yes China, but that's not here)) my inner gammon screams that I am not being given the chance for that big break I so desperately deserve. Luckily the rest of me, which is not a total bellend, reminds me that I am statistically more likely to make it in literary circles (any circles frankly) anyway due to my background. Unfortunately, my (un)professional background is mostly in drinking and fucking about with guitars rather than publishing/journalism/hereditary peerage. Also Devon not London (do see my last ramblings about why I'm also not a rockstar).

The conditioning is the hardest thing to break, it's a theme I've become increasingly aware of over the last few years and have tried to raise in my third novel (which I currently hate the title of, and it's getting a bit close to being finished for me to be wanking about with the title now). I am still always surprised when I see a woman being good on guitar/bass/drums and very nearly say something dumb like 'wow, she's good for a girl!' and then want to punch myself in the dick because I know that I shouldn't be surprised – in the same way as nobody should have been surprised by Susan Boyle's voice, it isn't just the really really good looking people that get talent. I hang around on a lot of musician forums where the 'good for a girl' thing comes up a lot. Along with 'and she's pretty hot too, I would' or something equally delightful.
There are a lot more male musicians on shockingly misogynist forums, it might colour your views slightly.

This very strong contender wasn't even shortlisted

Interestingly, I personally know at least two people who I am sure are only homosexual because they hate women so much they don't think they can even do sex right. No names here, but if you're reading this and think it might be you, it is. Hi, we'll talk about it later.

My inner Guardian reader knows full well that abstract women are intrinsically competent and as good as men at everything. But the second I see a real one being competent I am conditioned to be as surprised as the next pork-faced fuckwit. Being a do-gooding, leftie, pinko Nancy I at least have the manners to try and stop myself. Plenty of others aren't, and don't get me started on the LGBTQRSTUV community (it's alright, I checked this joke with a couple of them and it's okay. Unless throwing this much diversity into one category is a bad idea that might end with outraged Transphobic Lesbians being stuck in a meeting with their phobias?) Again, in theory I'm good, in practice, yes I stare a bit and ask the wrong questions, and probably call the wrong people mate/sweetheart/darling.

I'm trying, the world has changed since I first got called Shirley for having impeccable dress sense. See also being a bit deaf and having trouble understanding foreign accents (Devon not London is relevant again here). For some reason I have never been surprised by BAME men being competent/better than me in my chosen fields, but then I work in entertainment/IT and thus expect to be out-minstreled by the black community and my IT skills can never live up to those of Asian stereotypes. (These are jokes, please don't get outraged because I mentioned minstrels).

I do, however, fully expect women to be better writers – not just good, better.
Probably because of my childhood Enid Blyton addiction.
Equality is not preprogrammed in you, you need to work at it.

To get back to my original point, the huge well of hatred ready to be thrown at Jodie Whittaker as she sets forth to play the most anticipated Doctor since the impeccable Ecclestone doesn't need any help from weak plotting, identikit supporting cast or 'having to bring in the fucking Daleks again'. The full-misogynist contingent won't be swayed even if she stars in the greatest thing since Tom Baker didn't finish off Davros.

I sincerely hope that the well of hope and anticipation that has been building in my chest since last year (honestly, she looked so good in that teaser, and not in a oh-look-a-pretty-girl-on-a-tv-show-I-love way, in an I-Love-Doctor-Who-and-this-is-genuinely-exciting way) won't end in a damp squib of meandering subplot and knowingly-ironic-chauvinist jokes that go so far round and up their own arse that the irony it is cloaked in ends up just being awful and sexist anyway.

I'm depressingly prepared for the usual shitty first season, probably containing a load of in-jokes. Suggestions from me include the male companion mansplaining stuff, a completely meta character who has been a fan (there's precedent) telling her she can't be the Doctor because she's a woman, plenty of makeup/boob/menstrual cycle gags and a multi-tasking one-liner at the TARDIS console.

Cue sudden uproar and the producers getting scared enough to end the experiment and just cast Toby Bloody Jones or Rory Kinnear as the Doctor to keep the fuckwits happy.

But for gods sake prove me wrong, and be the brilliant, clever, inclusive spectacular of my dreams. I don't want the whole world to keep going backwards.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

My increasingly uneasy relationship with music (and other reasons I am not a Rock Star)

I’ve been writing about music a lot lately (in case you hadn’t noticed) which isn’t really surprising since I occasionally describe myself as a failed musician. The truth is I never really tried to make it. I’m not sure if it was fear of failure, crippling self-doubt or that my father was right when he called me ‘bone idle’, but I never actually dragged myself away from my beloved Devon and seriously tried to make a career of fucking about with guitars.

Me at sixteen, still pretty sure I was going to make a living from that guitar
(the same one I still play every weekend)

Sometimes I regret this - but that’s the nature of mid-life crisis (or ongoing personal emergency as Tim Dowling calls it). In the wake of last week’s mental health awareness week I found myself wondering whether that bone-idleness wasn’t in fact a debilitating mental illness? (It's okay, I've been reading a lot of Matt Haig recently and have self-diagnosed as lazy shit with a side order of grumpy twat.) I certainly spent most of my teenage years self-medicating for one. In my forties I am still too scared it might be true to go and do anything about it, and last weekend’s cider-based self-medication in the sunshine was much too enjoyable not to continue with.

My ongoing personal emergency should probably involve my giving up playing music I don’t like to people I don’t respect every weekend. Every cover-band poster I see of grizzled ‘mature’ musicians gurning against a brick wall in ill-fitting jeans and unfunny t-shirts kicks my self-loathing into over drive and my heart yearns to sell all my instruments and just stop. I probably look no better. The audience don’t know I’ve been doing this since I first put on a cassock and joined a choir, and my arthritic fingers ensure I play just as badly as the guys who just took it up at forty. I should stick to the writing.

Seriously, if we look anything like this tell me and you can have all my guitars
Apologies if this is your band, I'm sure you're great

Music still has an indefinable magic however. Its ability to conjure memories long forgotten, its inextricable link with the past, unlocking all the best and worst parts of your youth. It is a common complaint among people of my age that there is nothing new anymore, all the good music's been done, etc. etc. To an extent this is true, but it always has been. There is only so much you can do with 11 notes and the odd micro-tonal aberration. The difference is that you can only hear that descending I-V-IV chord sequence at the beginning of The Who's 'Baba O'Riley' for the first time once. I first heard it on Aerosmith's 'Angel' but the effect was the same. It's a pretty common chord sequence, but 'Baba O'Riley' seems to execute it best. If I could wipe anything from my mind it would be that intro, just so I could experience those crashing piano chords effortlessly making sense of the trance-like synth loops for the first time again. It is indelibly linked in my head with a sunny afternoon in June 1992 when I first played it from a Best of the Who album I had been bought for my 15th birthday.

Songs do that, they remind you of a time. I cannot hear anything from the first two Oasis albums without being transported back to the All Seasons in Bideford in the mid 90s. The specifics of that time are blurred with alcohol and class As, but that feeling of being young, able to do anything and having plenty of time ahead to do it swells up with every boring, whiny, nasal verse. I am not a fan of the music, but I cannot help but smile as I turn the fucking radio off.

A brief refrain of long-forgotten Europop will flicker by as you trudge through the shops, the Vengaboys assuring you that they like to party, they like, they like to party. Despite the utter pointlessness of this song, the fact that it is without substance, unable to produce genuine emotions on its own merit is of no matter. It could make you smile at the memory of a shared eye-roll. Joy at a meeting, a spark kindled, an awkward first dance in a shit-awful night club. Not the endless drag of the painful breakup, the price they extracted from your soul over your time together. That all came later, the music only recalls that first burst of excitement.

Any overheard melody, drifting from a window on a summer's night can leave you with a sense of indefinable contentment. It may just sound a bit like something else you can't remember, it might be a song you once knew and have long forgotten. You may not consciously be able to place the reason, but your medulla oblongata knows. It remembers, it transmits serotonin in reaction.

This was what I was going to do, provide a brief moment of joy at a memory inextricably caught up in something I wrote. It took me a very long time to realise that I write terrible lyrics, and am a mediocre singer at best. I can do the odd killer riff, and had my ego allowed me to collaborate with somebody else, and the music industry been willing to centre itself in rural North Devon it might have worked out. Who knows, maybe one day somebody will be reminded of 'Fuck Me Gently With A Chainsaw' and be lost in happy reminiscence.

I was good with these guys – because Maz wrote all the songs (I know this one's a cover)

There is still no better feeling than jamming a plectrum into a set of steel strings and hearing the screaming beast it unleashes from the overdriven amplifier at the other end. I am as excited by it now as I was when I first sellotaped a microphone to my dad's acoustic guitar and cranked the volume. But with mid-life comes self-awareness (mostly out of fear that the crisis will make you do something really stupid) and while, when I was a kid, I never understood why my father wasn't that bothered about the whereabouts of tapes featuring his own adolescent foray into being a musician, now, I find I have no idea where all the tapes of my own awful teenage angst-ridden ballads are.

I understand his ambivalence. My new greatest fear is finding them and having to listen.

I did manage these 27 minutes of music which I am unjustifiably proud of in my long musical lack-of-career

I always used to blame the decisions (many, various and too boring to go in to here) that led to my never making a go of it on the women in my life at the time I made them. I have finally grown up enough to realise that they didn't force me into anything – didn't even ask me not to, it was just that I was making huge, life-changing decisions with an organ that I can no longer rely on to tell me if I need a piss.

I have long since admitted that the greatest love affair of my life is with the county I was brought up in and have lived in since I was five years old. Devon. The reason for not giving it all up for music and a free electric band (other than the usual fear of failure and galloping anxiety) was my unwillingness to leave this place, with its hills, its moors, its coastline, its well-meaning-despite-the-casual-racism indigenous population. Sitting in my garden now, writing this while looking over the fence at Dartmoor, lazily dominating the horizon as it does from pretty much anywhere inside a twenty mile radius I regret nothing.

Had I made any of at least five key decisions differently my life would undoubtedly have wandered off down another leg of the trousers of time. I might have gone on to have a proper musical career (and no doubt be dead of a drug overdose by now) or done what so many others of my generation have, gone and had a proper career up in 'that London' then come back to breed with a nice middle-class girl named after some obscure plant that sounds like a venereal disease who can do her made-up and unimportant job (this is not rampant sexism, my own job is made-up and unimportant, as I have no doubt the proper career in 'that London' would have been) from home now.

What definitely wouldn't have happened would have been the many coincidences, drunken decisions, and stupid ideas that have led to this exact point in my life. I would probably never have met my wife, or her kids. Would not have spent time with the many pets I have gone through in the last twenty years. Would not live in this insane little town I love in a house I adore. Probably wouldn't be as happy.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

I'm Not A Fan

I'm Not A Fan

The only time you'll find me spinning around is on the dancefloor, though come to think of it, just being in my presence will make you instantly cooler, so maybe I am.

Fan, short for fanatic: –

(informal) a person who is extremely interested in something, to a degree that some people find unreasonable

(disapproving) a person who has very extreme beliefs that may lead them to behave in unreasonable or violent ways

Not admirable qualities right? Those with the patience of a toddler who hungrily pre-order every release from their favourite band/author/movie franchise/crockery creator etc. The people who camp out in the streets to be first to get the new shiny thing/tickets for band that should have stopped touring thirty years ago/a look at a posh baby. The one-upmanship of those desperate to be first, who fuel the ebay sales with 500% markups of things that will be easily available at a huge discount in a few short weeks time (hi record store day friends). Handy for a certain sector of consumer capitalism that relies on blind hero-worship and impatience though.

Once upon a time I did pre-order books, movies and records to get them at full price on release day, then pore over them for days until I knew every part of them. Now I know if I leave it a bit, I can probably get them for less than half the price when those early adopters have finished, and it has been a long time since I read anything twice (although that is more to do with my fear of dying before I have managed to get through the mountainous to-read pile next to my bed – which is quite likely to be the cause of that death).

This isn't some smug money-saving tip like the millionaire fashion icon 'oh I get all my stuff from charity shops' might give you in order to fuck up the chances of anybody else ever getting a bargain again. It's because that deadly to-read pile has sibling to-watch and to-listen-to piles and the last thing I pre-ordered was still sitting around unread by the time I first saw it as a 99p kindle special offer. It's really just me: getting old leaves a lot less time to laze about consuming pop culture. I have had The Last Jedi DVD sitting on my shelf for nearly a fortnight now, and am starting to regret paying full price – cheapskate twat that I am.

This is how I will die – although not in such a hideous shirt

It's the competitive nature of fandom that will always confuse me. Those who, when I mention that I quite like band A, will immediately tell me 'I've seen them live,' with a smug face as if buying a freely available ticket in accordance with market forces is some kind of achievement. The tracking down of rare bootleg recordings did indeed used to be a difficult game, the sense of achievement could be earned, until you removed the treasured tape-of-a-tape-of-a-tape-of-a-tape from its photocopied cover and played a crackly, not-quite-as-good-as-the-officially-licensed-live-recording-from-another-date version of a song that should make you question your life choices. Being smug about owning a rare record these days is just being smug about having a lot of money and a discogs account, before it was a sign of having way too much time (also money) on your hands.

In my youth I did indeed bow down to the gods of rock. Until I learned to play well, write killer riffs (spoiler: they may not have been that killer) and understood how it all falls into place. I had no time for contemporary heroes – Kurt Cobain, Thurston Moore, Graham Coxon, Bernard Butler – the grunge-lords and britterati. But the ancient titans of rock – Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore, Alvin Lee, Jerry Garcia – still held a certain magic: even once I had read biographies pointing out just how spoiled, twatty and broken most of them really were. But then I got older, I came into real life contact with a few actual rock stars in the course of my apathetic failed musical career and they lost their glitter. I still love the songs, but their creators are no more to me than craftsmen doing a job. Love the song, not the singer.

With that realisation I stopped with the envy, and the contempt and all the other vague, bitter stirrings from my artistically unfulfilled heart that I aimed at the unworthy contemporary chart toppers. Truly blinkered fans – you know the ones, they'll tell you 'Octopus's Garden' and 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' are just as good as the overwhelmingly excellent finale of Abbey Road, that Titus Alone is every bit as brilliant as Titus Groan, that Star Wars movies aren't just jolly adventures for kids (they are, and that's why they're great), the kind who think Tusk and Physical Graffiti should not have been single albums without all the shit on, who want to hear David Gilmour do his non-Pink-Floyd material live and didn't cancel their Amazing Spiderman subscriptions when Dr Octopus took over as Spidey – never get to this realisation. Their religious fervour for their idols is truly terrifying. I have friends who, if I were so inclined, I could drive to tears with a pithy take-down of their favourite Green Day album. People whose entire identities are so entwined with their obsessions that to lose one is to lose the other entirely.

'Sheldon, you didn't have a personalityyou just had some shows you liked'

Separating art from artist becomes increasingly necessary in the current environment – especially if you're a bit of a lefty and you like Morrissey: like most Morrissey fans. You can try and draw a line and say you only like his work up until the point he became an awful racist cunt, but I think he may always have been an awful racist cunt. Also 'Spent The Day In Bed' is a fucking great song. So are 'Cat Scratch Fever', 'Rock and Roll part 1', 'Rooftops' and 'Jake the Peg' and I will still listen to them however cuntish their creators.

Difficult people can write great music and if you didn't know the terrible crimes of the artist you wouldn't care. Bowie and Jimmy Page both slept with underage girls (consensually, as far as I am aware, which is a crucial difference) but we're all still very happy to listen to their music. Phil Collins was always a massive tax-dodging tory but... okay, only tax-dodging tories like Phil Collins – same goes for Gary Barlow. But there are fans who are devastated when the ideals of their idols fail to align with their own.

Kill your idols, believe in nothing but yourself, your false religion will ultimately disappoint you. Believe in the music, for it shall set you free, worship the power of the instrument in your hand to change the world, for this machine kills fascists.

Love the art, fuck the artist.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

That Facebook 10 albums thing that everybody's been doing

10 all time favourite albums over 10 days. Albums that really made an impact and are still on your playlists, even if only now and then.
Post the cover, no need to explain and nominate a person each day with each album to do the same.

Well, that's not hard at all, ten is loads isn't it?

Yeah right.

If we are friends on Facebook then you will have seen this cropping up a lot over the last couple of weeks (I know it should have been ten days but there were alcohol-related gaps).

A lot of people have been doing it, and most cannot resist the urge to explain. I am no different, but I'm utilising a loophole and putting it all here in a very self-indulgent blog. Sorry if you were hoping for something more Russia-related and relevant.

It turned out to be an impossible ask to get my favourite albums down to ten, and I spent a good two days writing and rewriting and changing my mind about the list. I got it down to 30, but none of those ended up in the final ten. I added extra rules for myself, changed the goalposts. It didn't help, so I ended up picking stuff I like pretty much at random. If I did it again now they'd all be completely different.

At no point do any of the records that I routinely quote as my favourite appear, and only one of my rolling roster of answers to the question 'What's your favourite band?' made it. There's no Led Zeppelin, no Jimi Hendrix, no Beatles, no Queen, no Rolling Stones, no Sex Pistols, no Clash, no Frank Zappa, no Captain Beefheart, no Lou Reed, no Doors, no Skynyrd, no Creedence, no Mahavishnu Orchestra, not a single acoustic singer-songwriter (Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, Suzanne Vega, Carole King, all missing). No Folk, no Jazz, you get the picture.

And I forgot Stoned Age Man by Joseph completely – fuck...

So without further ado, here's those ten albums.

Come An' Get It – Whitesnake

When I was ten, I got a ghetto blaster for Christmas. Mum and Dad asked me what music I liked so they could buy me a tape to play on it. I said Whitesnake, expecting to get a copy of 1987 (because as far as I knew they had only done the one album, and I loved 'Still of the Night' despite being too young to understand the delicate nuance of David Coverdale's metaphors).

Being canny with their money, they found this album in a bargain bin and got it for me instead. My brief disappointment at not having 1987 (it's okay, Dad bought it for me in the January sales) was dissipated as soon as the massive intro riff of the title track started. I had not heard proper 70s pomp rock before. Mum and Dad listened to classical music, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and very occasionally The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel, and you never got Alice Cooper on Saturday Superstore (pretty sure I once saw Motorhead on the 8:15 from Manchester though, or it might have been Number 73), so I had been denied the joy of overdriven Hammond organs.

The sheer naughtiness of David Coverdale singing 'Baby you can kiss my arse, yes indeed,' was enough to turn my ten year old brain on to screamy, open-shirted, velvet-flared-high-kicking rock. Without this album I might never have bothered with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Mountain, Edgar Winter or any of the other bands I didn't put on this list but should have.

Easter – Patti Smith Group

International Women's Day popped up while I was doing this and I noticed that my original list was a massive sausage-fest. I had yet another reshuffle and threw this in.

As a teenager I spent a lot of time buying old vinyl records from market stalls and second hand shops – because I couldn't afford new tapes. I mostly had to judge everything by its cover (hence all my Grateful Dead and Incredible String Band albums) since I had rarely heard of any of it. Obviously this striking woman's nipply vest cried out to my testosterone soaked mind and I had to buy it. Also it had 'Rock and Roll Nigger' on it, and I loved the Byrdland (who?) version of it already.

From the crashing opening of 'Till Victory' right to the haunting menace of the title track it is a tour de force of energy, beauty and awesome. More immediately accessible than the waking dream of Horses, and thus a better gateway to the high priestess of punk poetry. Horses took me longer to get, and if I had bought it first I might never have bothered with any more Patti Smith records. Which would have been a mistake.

Snuffsaidbutgorblimeyguvstonemeifhedidn'tthrowawobblerchachachachachachachachachachachayou'regoinghomeinacosmicambience – Snuff

If you did your teenage years in the early 90s and were into music that didn't get played on the radio then you needed friends with record collections. I had a few of them, and Jim 'Don't Call Me Lofty' Brameld was one of the best. I would spend school lunchbreaks in his study where he played me the Sub-Humans, Dead Kennedys, Lard, DOA, Chumbawamba (before THAT song ruined them) and Snuff (who I had said I was a fan of because I once read their name in a skateboard mag). The massive guitars and frenetic drumming were perfect for a 14 year old buried deep in 70s punk music and paved the way for a later obsession with the Descendants, Rancid and NOFX. I thought I had worn my tape of it out with excessive play, but then I replaced it with a vinyl copy and it turns out the production is incredibly underwhelming – exercise your rights to excessive equalising. (The same applies to Metallica's And Justice For All...)

King of Rock – Run DMC

Hip-hop is divisive. Always has been, and amazingly there are still cocks out there who do the 'Rap is spelled with a silent C' joke. Twats. We were a lot more tribal when I was a kid, so being into Rock music I claimed not to like rap – even convinced myself it was true. It wasn't, I loved the Beastie Boys first album (like everybody did) but it took Run DMC to cement it. Big guitar riffs, check, memorable hooks, check, vocal acrobatics, check. Everything good about music is on this album. It took the changing attitude of the late 90s for me to come out as someone who enjoyed more than one kind of music. It felt good, and it is hard to believe how solid the battle lines were before that.

Against The Grain – Rory Gallagher

I had seen pictures of Rory Gallagher in magazines, I had read about how important he was, I had fallen deeply in love with his 1961 Stratocaster, but never heard him. We had no internet, I had little money for records and didn't know anybody that listened to him already. Then, when I was about 16, I was flicking through the new in section at Discovery Records in Bideford (now moved to Barnstaple, and still hosted by the greatest Record Shop owner I have ever known, Matthew 'Top Hat Matt' Poulton) when a familiar guitar appeared in the drifts of Rumours and Brothers In Arms. My heart skipped a beat and it went in the haul. I got it home, stuck it on, and with the opening riff of 'Let Me In,' I realised that I had been right to be in love with that Stratocaster for so long. It turned out that Mr Furness, my A Level Economics teacher, was also a big fan, which led to a lot of record swapping, the discovery of good Jazz via John Etheridge and Wes Montgomery, and a disappointing C in Economics.

An Electric Storm – The White Noise

During the 90s I began to realise that electronic music was okay after an out of body experience involving some stairs and an Orb album while staying with my Canterbury cousins. My friend Julian (who I had previously thought only listened to Kate Bush and The Sisters Of Mercy) managed to track down a copy of this record he had been looking for forever. He sat me down and made me listen to it, and everything changed. Wild electronica from Delia Derbyshire out of the BBC Radiophonic workshop, stories of the sounds of wild orgies being recorded by having an actual orgy. Tales of people committing suicide to the last track, rumours of it being banned. I have no idea how many of these things are true, but I became fixated with the tape of it Julian did for me. I've since replaced it with an original pressing on Island, a CD and a backup reissue somewhere. It's that important to me.

Straight??!! – The Dogs D'Amour

I love the Dogs D'Amour. They are probably the reason for my mildly eccentric dress sense. I should really have put Errol Flynn in here as it was the first Dogs album I got (taped off my mate Paddy who found them first) or the eponymous 1988 EP that I played more than any other. But Straight??!! has a special place in my heart.

A long time ago I went to a birthday party, a friend's girlfriend. Said friend borrowed the band's guitar to play a song in the break. It was supposed to be for the girlfriend. He spotted me, and remembered my claim that 'Back on The Juice' had the best opening of any song ever. So he played me 'Back on the Juice', the girlfriend had never even heard of the Dogs D'Amour. He did not play any other songs.

I like to think it went some way to that girlfriend eventually marrying me instead (she still hates the Dogs D'Amour though).

Meet The Residents – The Residents

Scanning the shelves at Discovery one Saturday morning I saw an album by the Residents. I recalled that I really liked their song, 'Left of the Dial' so I bought it and took it home. That album was Whatever happened to Vileness Fats? and it did not have 'Left of the Dial' on it. That's because 'Left of the Dial' was by The Replacements. A second rate, instantly forgettable, American college rock band.

The Residents particular brand of batshit insane avant-gardism left me bemused, confused and intrigued. I went back the next week and more had turned up, including Meet The Residents with its defaced Beatles cover. I bought the lot and forced myself to keep listening. It took a while to get but once I got it there was no turning back. This wouldn't happen now, in a world of quick fix online listening I wouldn't have accidentally bought the wrong record, or bothered to keep on listening until they became the one answer to the question 'What's your favourite band?' to make this list. I'd have found the wanky song about radios and gone on listening to bland crap forever. God bless my shitty memory and second hand record shops.

Hearts – I Break Horses

Honestly, I think I put this record in because my list lacked women, and needed something a bit more modern. Still desperately trying to look cool in my 40s. That's not to say that it's not worthy of the list. I was entranced and obsessed with this record from the first moment I heard 'Winter Beats' on 6 Music. I'm a sucker for a massive throbbing analogue synth drone, and this is the best example out there, it's utterly sublime. I played it endlessly during the first few months of 2012 driving back and forth to rehearse with Maz Totterdell's band and it is now irrevocably linked with that very happy period of my life. It's a special record and I still grin from ear to ear every time it comes on (I mostly listen to music from an mp3 player on shuffle these days). Does it deserve to be on this list at the expense of Weezer's Blue album though?

Open Up And Say ...Ahh! – Poison

This is another moment of throwing off years of repression. (I've written about the trouble with music snobbery before here). So much of being a teenager is trying to make sure you like the right things, and that nobody thinks you like the wrong things. Being consistent in your image was all. (I can admit now what a pretentious little prick I was when I was 14 – can you?) My brief dalliance with Poodle Rock in the late 80s/early 90s was thrown away once I discovered Punk. I got rid of all my Metal albums (except Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax et al – they were practically punk) and cut all ties with spandex, perms and widdly nonsense. Since then I have stopped giving a fuck what people think, embraced Motley Crue, welcomed back Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Faster Pussycat, Van Halen, and the most shameful of them all – Poison.

Two-tone permed hair, eyeliner, cowboy boots, leather trousers, and Bret Michaels looking like the most beautiful creature I had ever seen – while being a man. Stupid throw away songs about girls and having (nothin' but) a good time with excessive show off stunt guitar solos. All utterly unforgiveable in an early 90s of earnest plaid-clad grunge, even though 'Every Rose Has Its Thorn' was the first song most of us learned how to play on guitar.

But all so fucking awesomely cool – oh the shame of it.

It's not shameful now, kids today don't define themselves by one kind of music. The 16 year old drummer in Carnivala told me he liked 'Your Mama Don't Dance' when I was driving him to a gig a couple of years ago. I expected scorn of the kind I received at school, and some snobby shit about Loggins and Messina. Times have changed, times are better, I can wear my cowboy boots with pride.

So, come on CC, pick up that guitar and talk to me....

*For your delectation, here's a massive list of stuff that got cut before I hit the final ten. There's a lot of it and it could easily be four times this.

Catch Bull At Four – Cat Stevens
Lifebringer – Zervas and Pepper
Last Scream of the Missing Neighbours – DOA with Jello Biafra
Exile On Main Street – The Rolling Stones
Thick as a Brick – Jethro Tull
Skid Row – Skid Row
Queen 2 or Queen, or News of the World, or Sheer Heart Attack – Queen
Radio 1 – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Sleepwalking – Kingmaker
Pendulum - Creedence Clearwater Revival
Flogging a Dead Horse – Sex pistols
Desire – Bob Dylan
Fountains of Wayne – Fountains of Wayne
Blue Album – Weezer
Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy – The Who
Flat, Baroque and Berserk – Roy Harper
Love It To Death – Alice Cooper
Alive! - Slade
God Shuffled His Feet – Crash Test Dummies
Flood – They Might Be Giants
How to Make Friends and Influence People – Terrorvision
Led Zeppelin 1-4 inclusive
Black Sabbath vol. 4 – Black Sabbath
Piper At The Gates Of Dawn – Pink Floyd
Little Earthquakes – Tori Amos
Suzanne Vega – Suzanne Vega
Let It Be – The Beatles
Powerage – AC/DC
Bongo Fury – Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart
Give 'Em Enough Rope – The Clash
Van Halen – Van Halen
Second Helping – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Crises – Mike Oldfield
Harvest – Neil Young
Peace Sells But Who's Buying? - Megadeth
Inflammable Material – Stiff Little Fingers
Landscape – Landscape
Penguin Eggs – Nic Jones
Lovesexy – Prince
Skeletons From the Closet – The Grateful Dead
Volunteers – Jefferson Airplane
Gorilla – The Bonzo Dog Doo Da Band
Back in the DHSS – Half Man Half Biscuit
and on and on and on and on