Tuesday 23 June 2015

Things on the Internet that will never change Part 1: Moaning about the Glasto Headliner

Once a year, without fail (except on Old Farmer Eavis's fallow years) the headline acts for Glastonbury festival are announced, and the internet explodes with outrage. Whether it is because somebody has had the temerity to book a hip-hop act, or somebody your Dad has never heard of, it is a near certainty that those complaining are probably not going to Glastonbury anyway. There have been more than enough words wasted over Kanye West's booking already, but if you think a festival that encompasses all musical forms should ignore what is arguably the dominant and most innovative form of musical expression of the last three decades then you may not be paying attention. Or you may be paying too much attention to an idiot with an agenda and an outlet. The kind of deluded idiot that sends death threats to festival organisers.

Any discussion of Rap on any musicians online forum I frequent will end up with someone making the old 'rap is spelled with a silent C' joke, which has never been funny. And there are those still claiming that it is destroying the moral fibre of our youth. If you are one of them, then this is akin to those old men who said Elvis and Rock and Roll would bring about the apocalypse, except that you are saying it in the early 1990s (figuratively speaking, more of this kind of thing later). The possibility exists that because it is a predominantly black form of music that was introduced by black culture without a nice white Elvis, or jovial old cuddly Bill Haley to front it, there are racist overtones to those who hate it so vehemently. Of course it’s just a possibility.

I find it hard to believe that people can be so outraged by a choice of headliner at a music festival that they start up a petition to get it changed, but it happens. And it is shared all over my social media timelines, mostly by the ubiquitous old, straight, white males of the world. And the greatest percentage being those who are not, and probably never would be, attending anyway. I am also quite tired of hearing how music needs to be “authentic” and “real” (apparently that means it has guitars in it) and wondering if that actually means I have to get rid of all fakery and artifice (like my amplifiers and effect pedals) and just sing hey-nonny-fucking-no in a field with a mandolin to be genuine.

Kanye West is a dick yes, but so was John Lennon (sorry to attack your sacred cow, but if you really want to imagine no possessions, maybe offload the Rolls Royce John) and nobody would pipe up about the Beatles playing would they? Jimmy Page is also a crazed fantasist living in the past with a very dodgy record (I am referring more to things like the infamous mudshark incident rather than outrider, though it applies equally to both) but a Zeppelin reunion would not attract a petition to change it would it? The signees, I suspect, would be more than happy to see corporate whores like Dire Straits or Fleetwood Mac headlining, claiming that they had earned their place by virtue of being straight, white and middle of the road. They would be wrong, festivals should be new and exciting, not old, stayed and frankly dull.

I think the outrage may be a result of the fact that you buy your tickets (which you can't then sell on easily anymore) without a clue as to who is going to be playing there at all. Now, if you are going to festivals for the music, then you are going for the wrong reasons anyway, they may be music festivals, but they are about meeting crazy people, doing crazy things, and forgetting that there is a shitty real world out there waiting for you when you get out (and buying hats, obviously). The music is just background to the rest of it. Glastonbury know this, and don't need a line-up to sell tickets. Not everyone buying them has cottoned on to this yet though.

It is the new breed of festival goer that fuel the outrage, the rush for tickets, and the extortionate prices. The wealthy city types, who crave shower blocks, and constantly take selfies in front of the stage without listening to a note, desperate to make sure everybody knows that they were there. The middle-aged men, desperately trying to seem cool still in their flowerpot hats and tartan shorts while refusing to relinquish their grip on everything, so you get to listen to Oasis, and pasty interchangeable indie bands forever and ever and ever (they did say they would live that long remember). And then there are those baby boomers again, they priced you out of the housing market, and now they've got your Glastonbury tickets, and they want to see the Rolling Stones and Kenny Rogers, so you can take your Hip Hop music, and your Electro-Gypsy-Dixieland-Funk and fuck off back to playschool kids.

My own generation may be to blame, we took festivals over in the 90s, we decided there should be a different one every weekend with the same line-up, we added a ton of corporate sponsors, accepted that food and drink should cost roughly four times more than in the real world and ensured that the line-up remains the same to this day. I am sorry kids, we broke it for you, maybe you should fix it again.

I was more upset by the booking of the Rolling Stones in anything other than the Sunday afternoon nostalgia spot than I was at the Kanye booking, at least he is vaguely relevant. Don't get me wrong, I love the Rolling Stones, but having them headline a festival in 2013 was equal to Irving Berlin headlining at Woodstock, wrong time, wrong place. Still the target audience seemed to enjoy it. Music festivals are now the preserve of the wealthy and well heeled, not the turned-on, tuned-in and dropped-out youth that dreamed them up in the first place. They can't afford Glastonbury, or get their heads together enough to go through the ticket application process.

On a more current note, a lot of people got really upset at Florence and the Machine taking over the Foo Fighters headline spot. Those people were also wrong, to continue my Woodstock analogy, the Foo Fighters are Frankie Laine, Florence is Jimi Hendrix. The first Foos album is twenty years old now, while Florence has only just released her third hugely acclaimed album, on top of two innovative, interesting, and frankly brilliant number one albums. I can’t help feeling that if it were someone less female and interesting, like Jake Bugg or Mumford and sons perhaps, there would be less outrage, can I scream guardianista-like about inherent misogyny while I’m here? And again, to complain about one band playing at an event on the scale of Glastonbury festival is entirely myopic, there is so much to see, and such variety, that complaining about one band, on one stage is like moaning about what is on Sky Living at 9 o’clock this evening (apparently it’s a new show called Chicago Fire, no, me neither).

Music festivals should be about, new, current interesting music, not the same old shit your Dad used to listen to. If you are moaning about Florence's style, then remember your Dad moaning about Boy George looking like a girl, that's you that is. Glastonbury is for your Dad now (and you might well have become him) at least Babylon is anyhow, and remember that in our Woodstock analogy, even Muse are now Bill Haley and the Comets. If you're actually there, go in to the deep dark weird places and go find new interesting stuff, there’s loads of it, everywhere, music is brilliant, new music is better, you can hear things you know on your iPod/Walkman/gramophone any time you like. If you're not there, shut your mouth and stop worrying about it.

Disclaimer – A lot of my views are not my own, and are merely voiced for comedic effect. I honestly do believe that Glastonbury, and all music festivals should be inclusive of all ages, all classes and all music tastes, we are never more all the same than when we are naked and covered in shit.

Monday 15 June 2015

You are not your job (unless you want to be)

When I moved into my first flat twenty years ago, a very nice lady who lived upstairs (I think she may have been the one playing all those hawaiian guitar albums really loudly, but I'm not sure) asked me what I did. I told her, 'I work up at Heathcote and Ivory, you know, the pot pourri factory on Alverdiscott Road?' And then she said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said, 'I don't mean where do you work dear, I mean what do you do? What do you get up for in the morning?' or something similar, I am paraphrasing, it was a long time ago. I was quite taken aback, and told her that I was a musician, I may even have claimed to be a writer, I was a pretentious twat at eighteen, but then who isn't? I have since realised she may have just been trying to find out who the noisy git with the electric guitar was, but she seemed genuinely delighted to know that I was not just a factory worker.

At the time I was constantly saying that I had to do something worthwhile with my life. I'm not sure I even know what that means now, and a girl I was seeing at the time asked me one very important question. Why? She had a point, define worthwhile, to my pets, wife and stepkids I am very much worthwhile whatever else I am doing (I am a God to Rizla and the Cats, the big hand with the food). To people I hold doors open for, and smile and say good morning too I surely make a difference. Even to those who say they can set their watch by me walking past their house every morning I have worth. But when you're eighteen worthwhile has more weight, expectations are set much too high, at least mine were, probably to justify some of the decisions I made. If you are happy, and enjoying what you are doing, even if it is just watching funny cat videos every spare minute you have, then that is worthwhile.

Ever since then I have steadfastly refused to define myself by my job. Or even bother asking other people what they do for a living. If they want you to know, they will tell you (and how). Full disclosure, I run a print department for a living, this sounds more impressive than it is. There's just me, and a room full of printers and computers that occasionally work. If I need a holiday, the company's technical director comes in and runs it for me, and when it is busy, he comes in to help out and is my bitch. He's also my boss, which makes for some wonderful tension, but after two months of me swearing at him over the Christmas rush, he gives me a bonus, and usually buys me something nice as well, so he must enjoy it really.

Like a lot of people, I do not really love my job, I do it so that I can afford to live, and I kind of fell into it by accident. Occasionally I get caught up in it, as when it does get busy and I am trying to make sure that every one of the 12 printers in my print room is doing something it is a little like conducting an orchestra, and I very nearly enjoy the sensation of doing something well. I have been known to wave my arms at them like a conductor, which alongside my constant muttering to myself and occasional sweary outbursts at inanimate objects makes me look completely insane. This may explain why I am mostly left alone in my little domain.

The company produces novelty jigsaws, coasters, placemats and suchlike, which is exactly the sort of thing I have always set myself against, we are producing tat for the overpaid to buy and give to people who will probably never even look at them (if my boss is reading this, I am sorry, but you knew all this when you hired me, the anti-capitalism never bothered you before). It is easy to get caught up in it, and believe that it is important. Without it I would not be able to keep my home, so in that sense it is (ethics are ethics, but you do need to eat) though when someone is screaming across the office that there is an urgent jigsaw, I still find it hard to stifle a laugh at the very concept of a jigsaw being urgent. It is certainly not a calling, but it is the job I have hated least of all the jobs I have ever had.

Far too many people are guilty of calling themselves musicians or writers these days, and very few of those who claim those titles in their twitter bios make any kind of living from it. This only came to my attention while reading Dan Brown's Inferno (you won't tell anyone I read Dan Brown books will you? Thanks) when Robert Langdon is surprised all the hands that go up when he asks if there are any writers in the room, and blames amazon kindle direct publishing. If you don't get paid for it, it is a hobby, not a job. By the way, in case you haven't seen it before, my twitter bio quite specifically describes me as a not-quite-writer and almost-musician. An important disclaimer I hope.

But then I started this by saying that you are not your job didn't I? So if you play music and you write stuff, and that is what you do, whether it pays or not, you can certainly call yourself what you like. No matter how elitist Dan Brown wants to be about it, it is not a closed world anymore, and anyone can write and publish a book if they want. Doesn't mean that it will be any good though, at least traditional publishing filters out all the crap, saving the consumer a great deal of time.

I am writing this on the eve of my 38th birthday, which has put me in the mood to reflect that if I had done things differently, I could maybe be one of those people who have a career, rather than a series of jobs that they fell into. I always assumed my Dad had been the career type, as he has had a very successful career. But in a recent conversation with him I discovered that he only fell into accountancy because he didn't get into University to do History like he wanted to. This may explain why my parents got so annoyed with me for not taking up my offered University place back in the 90s when it was all still free, sorry Dad.

I hadn't realised how much my conviction that your job does not define you had taken hold until my very favourite editor pointed out to me that very few of my characters mentioned their jobs. Didn't occur to me that anybody would be interested in what fictional people did for a living, as I felt their character would be defined enough by their actions and words. I think I was probably naïve and wrong in hoping for this, as my favourite editor is generally right, and knows an awful lot more about what makes a decent story than I do.

All this is not to disparage the many people happy to be defined by their job, I know teachers, doctors, lawyers, postmen, lorry drivers, mechanics and waitresses who fall on either side of my fence. There will always be some who work to live, and others who genuinely live to work. There will be those who enthuse and say that you must have a thing, a raison d'etre, some force that drives you to do stuff, but they are wrong too. If all you are driven to do is sit in front of the telly drinking tea, then good for you, do what makes you happy as life is fleeting. Most days I am only really driven to sit in the garden with a good book and a bottle of cider. If you keep working yourself into the ground for a better tomorrow that never comes then you did something wrong.

You are not your job, unless you want to be.

Wednesday 3 June 2015

Farewell all, I am done procrastinating

I suppose it's all over then. As I plough my way into the final revisions of my novel, I realise that this blog no longer has any purpose. Dave does write stuff, he has written stuff, and now he has nothing to procrastinate over. Farewell to Dave Doesn't Write Anything Ever, and possibly good riddance, right kids?

Well, probably not, but I may run out of things to rant about eventually. I may have already, this is more of a space filler than actually something worth reading. It is in fact, an actual, genuine, bona fide, last ditch bit of procrastination, no word of a lie.

It has become painfully apparent that the book is going to need working on again soon. I realised this because despite having spent the last month (while it's been with my small select group of trusted proof readers) going over the plot in my head, thinking of ways to work in a couple of gags that only just occurred to me, and working out how to attack the next round of revisions with the least amount of distractions. This week, I have mostly been fiddling around with my guitar effects pedal board, trying to find the best sounds for songs I will probably never play, and restringing guitars I do not need for anything I am currently doing. I've also written a bunch of new Dave Not The Cat songs, always a sure sign I should be doing something else.

All this was prompted by the return of my manuscript from my favourite proof reader, it has some very useful notes scrawled on it. Along with a conversation last week with another of my trusted readers, this means it is definitely time for me to get on with it, and do the last couple of sweeps of this book before I have to actually decide where it is going to end up.

That's where the real problem suddenly reared its head. I have been so busy concentrating on getting the thing written, and as good as it possibly could be, and a thing I could be proud of, etc. etc. I had not really given serious thought as to what to do with the bloody thing once it was finished (probably because of the surfeit of unfinished novels I've got lying around the house already, I never thought it would get finished). It should have occurred to me at some point that just as many people are trying to get to be novelists as are wanting to be rock stars, and I didn't manage that one either. Once again I feel irony's bitter sting as I abandon one impossible pipe dream for another. There is a small (okay, quite big really) chance that an unread novel will sit on amazon's self publishing service alongside all the albums I have littered the internet with that nobody ever listens to (if this has filled you with sympathy there are some for download here).

I have also had to cope with a few truths about my writing style, and its unnecessary wordiness (which has been utterly deliberate so far in this blog, and shall remain so). There is a great deal of crap to scythe away from my tale of derring do, (not actual crap apparently, just excessive sesquipedalianism really) and with every stroke of the editor's pencil that I see, I realise how much needs to go. I apologise for the amount of extravagant verbosity that I am vomiting all over this piece, I need to get it out of my system.

It's not just that though. I have been alerted to some colloquialisms that I assume everybody uses (apparently not everybody is 'made up' when they are happy, and I should keep such things to the dialogue, and out of the narration really) my grammar is occasionally shocking (expensive education utterly wasted, sorry Dad) and certain things when seen from a completely different viewpoint look terribly wrong, or right, depending on which side you're on. I have however been very pleased to have the note 'unlikely' put to the side of an incident that actually happened in Barnstaple in 1997. I shall not recount the tale, but if you had ever been in Sherry's Tavern back then, it would not have seemed so unlikely that a bouncer would behave in such a fashion.

Equally, my own personality defects are affecting my characterisation somewhat. The fact that I do not ever remember what people look like, or ask them anything important about their lives has led to me sometimes forgetting to describe characters visually, or bother with what some would call their vital life details. It is genuinely just due to my own world view and priorities, you can ask my wife. If I come home and tell her that I have met somebody interesting in the pub, she will immediately ask me their name (which I usually have not bothered to ask) followed by what they do for a living (which I have never found important enough to ask anybody about) and whether they are married or not (similarly not interested). I can then go on to tell her their favourite episode of Star Trek, what they like to drink, what they think about the current government, and their top five track one side ones of all time. I think these things are more important, I am realising that not everybody does, and rewriting accordingly. Sadly, just like the rest of the country, many of my characters need jobs.

Anyhow, I am clearly just thinking out loud here again, sorry. I must get on and finish the revisions before deciding what to do with it all. Goodbye forever, I shall procrastinate here no longer, Dave really doesn't write anything ever.

Except he does, and he almost certainly will again.

:Edited for brevity, honest: