Thursday 19 May 2016

Has Music Snobbery Ruined Your Life?

Twice a year, the internet erupts with 'serious' music fans denouncing what they are watching on the television. The Brit Awards, and the Eurovision song contest. Personally, I like both of them, as I am not 15 anymore and have finally gotten over myself.

The problem with being a teenager (which I have not been for nearly 20 years now) is the crippling self-doubt and desperate desire to be accepted on whatever terms you have chosen. I was never one to try to fit in, but, ironically, in deliberately not fitting in I then had to ensure I lived up to those conditions that I had set for myself. If that makes sense.

This problem is never more evident than when it comes to one's musical preferences. Even now, upon hearing a song that I really really like, my first instinct is to check who it is by, and which genre they fit into, and whether I am allowed to like it or not (in case some cooler kids in the playground laugh at me for my Kajagoogoo pencil case again*). Which is a bit rich coming from somebody who proudly owns records by Barry Manilow, Rupert Holmes and Cliff Richard. This came to a head recently in the Totnes branch of Oxfam when I heard this song:-

Holy shitballs, that is really Abba, and really awesome

I loved it, and asked the nice man behind the counter who it was, as I don't have shazam, or understand how it works and I suspect that the signal in Totnes is not strong enough for such a thing to work. Imagine my mortification when he told me it was Abba, the most ridiculed of all bands (by me, I hasten to add). The poppiest of the poppy, the one that all the mums have been dancing around their handbags to since the 70s, the most despicably accessible music ever recorded – my sister likes them for god's sake! How dare it be catchy and enjoyable for everyone (joyless bollock-wranglers like myself excluded of course).

When I started listening to Heavy Metal in the late 80s, I had to pretend that I had never liked Bros, Baltimora, Big Fun and Brother Beyond, a few years later when I discovered Punk music I denied my love of Poison, Mötley Crüe, Skid Row and Whitesnake (and never mind when I had to move on to Lard, The Descendents, Sub-Humans and ever more niche and obscure punk, dismissing the Sex Pistols as 'lightweight'). When, in 1996, I heard a catchy new song called 'Wannabe', and spent a good week jigging about to it on the production line I was working on, I found myself mortified to discover it was by a band aimed at pre-teen girls. I shouldn't have been really, it's a fucking great song.

Because fuck you, I like it

But I am still second-guessing myself, I recently saw this performance on Jools Holland, and loved it so much that I immediately ordered the album.

I wasn't sure if I liked it or hated it on first watching, always a good sign

and in the original french, for those of us who like that sort of thing

While waiting for it I listened to the original french language version of it on youtube for 5 days straight. I've always liked foreign language music (including opera) possibly because I never really listened to lyrics anyway. Not understanding what the words mean leaves you free to enjoy the music more, rather than trying to work out what the words are, and what they might be about. My lack of attention to lyrics led the twelve year old me to believe that Pink Floyd's The Wall was a tale of a country freeing itself from a tyrannical fascist regime, until the film made me see it as the self-indulgent Roger Waters wankfest it really is. Doesn't stop the songs being great; it just means the concept is, as I have already said, a self-indulgent wankfest. This could all be why my own songs have now been stripped of any deeper meaning and are now the equivalent of Paul McCartney's famous Scrambled Eggs (I prefer that version).

shameless plug once again, sorry

Since my copy of Chaleur Humaine by Christine and the Queens has turned up, I have been listening to it over and over and over again, like I haven't done for ages with any record. I can fondly recall other records that got this treatment, in 1991 I listened to Anarchy in the UK pretty much every morning; Summer 1993 was punctuated by Creedence Clearwater Revival's Pagan Baby in a similar way; A perfectly happy relationship of nearly 3 years broke up in 1996 because I couldn't stop listening to Steve Miller's The Joker, and in its miserable aftermath I found almost never-ending solace in Hey Jealousy by the Gin Blossoms on a perpetual loop. (You will notice that none of this is particularly music snobbish, but the White Noise's first album got similar treatment at one point, and I listened to a lot of Grateful Dead after that breakup.) However, in my thirties I have not felt the need to play the same song over and over again. At least not until I heard this: which I am. I am slightly unnerved that I have not heard it on 6 music once. Which means it is either on Radio 1 or 2 (I wouldn't know) - which puts it into the wrong bracket for the personality I have been desperately trying to project since I was 12 – or it is not on any radio station, in which case it is obscure french pop music that nobody else is listening to, and my teenage self approves.

Seriously, if you're going to be a depressed teenager in the 90s, listen to this song every day

I know, but just listen to this, ok? It's really good

It is this kind of obsessive reasoning that can really stop you just being happy if you are, by your very nature, a music snob. Which I have been accused of enough times to know I probably am. Although I'm not really, if I'm honest. I like Justin Bieber's new music, I think a lot of Lady Gaga's stuff is absolutely sublime. I like Kesha, and most of my favourite songs are from Sesame Street. I am a long way from cool, and I don't know why my subconscious still worries if my music taste is reflecting the right image. Somewhere inside is a thirteen year old kid who is coping with being laughed at for being a bit weird by stretching that weirdness as far as he can – colouring his hair in with marker pens and wearing lime green (with gold pinstripes no less) charity shop suits while listening to krautrock and the Residents. If I could tell him one thing it would be that it is ok to like the Residents and Tiffany at the same time.

Tiffany's first (and as far as i am aware, only) album is one of the only cassettes I didn't throw away when I moved house 3 years ago, and I only kept about 10 out of something like 500. I am on my third copy having worn the other two out.

I still don't understand people who don't like the Residents

My fear of pop music was finally exorcised when I was playing in a show band that all enthused over Justin Timberlake, Destiny's Child and En Vogue. All acts I had been treating with disdain in my official position as an alternative, punky, gothy rock type. All great songs (which I already knew in my head) and all great fun to play. Around the same time I caved in and watched Eurovision after refusing to for years. Like a lot of people I know, I had sneered at it for not being worthy, not real music. As I watched these happy people dancing around the stage in sheer abandonment (many of them in their native tongues, bringing back my love of unintelligible lyrics) I realised that that's the point of Eurovision (and Pop music's raison d'etre) it isn't trying to change the world. It's a bit of fun, a small ray of joy in a world filled with awful, a way to bring a continent of disparate people together in mutual vitriol over the pretentious and dreadful, and wild joy over the utterly batshit insane. My only regret is that it took me so long to get over myself, stop pretending to like REO Speedwagon 'ironically' and just sing along with Can't Fight This Feeling with the car windows wound down and tears streaming from my eyes (which, deep down, we all want to do).

There are two types of people in this world, those who admit they love the speedwagon, and liars.

*disclaimer – I never actually had a kajagooo pencil case, I got laughed at for a Bon Jovi cassette, but that makes me sound a lot cooler than I was/am.

Monday 2 May 2016

I've Been Out Walking – I Don't Do Too Much Walking These Days

A man in a pub - who had just had this blog recommended to him by a friend of mine - asked me what it's about. I would like to say that I replied with 'about 3000 words a couple of years ago, but I can generally pull it in at about 1000 these days, if I don't go off on a stupid tangent about people I spoke to in the pub,' rather than shrugging, taking a slurp of my pint, muttering, 'I dunno, cats? Pop culture stuff? Inappropriate over-sharing of my personal life?' and wandering out for a cigarette I didn't really want as I hadn't yet hit that magic third pint where I stop being a miserable misanthropic twat and become the witty raconteur you know and love.

Sadly, this lack of an overarching theme is continued in this latest instalment, which was already mapped out in my mind way back on Thursday night, and would have been written and perfect by lunchtime on Friday, if it weren't for two minor problems. I am a slave to my circadian rhythm (my favourite Grace Jones B side) and modern working hours conventions. Inspiration generally hits me just as I am going to bed, or as I am walking to work in the morning. Sadly, I am not in the position to be able to sit up all night writing whenever the muse hits, as I have to work for a living, which is why I can't then sit and write it all up in the day time either. Like most people, I have to remember it all in the evening, when I'm knackered and have forgotten almost all of it. I am writing this on a Sunday, it's been nearly three days since I came up with the original theme for this piece, and I've mostly been drinking in the intervening time (I was out dancing til 2 in the morning last night, like I haven't done for over ten years. Netty has finally relented her ban on my dancing where other people can see me).

Walking has been my favourite source of inspiration for as long as I can remember, and I don't do as much as I used to. Writers are always told to keep a notebook on them at all times, to write stuff down as it strikes, which is all very well, but can any other writers please tell me how they manage not to lose their fucking pen every time they step out of the front door? I now use a notebook app on my phone, which is slightly more reliable, though prone to run out of battery, and autocorrect leaves much of it as incomprehensible as my Doctor-worthy handwriting is. My walking these days is mostly confined to walking in and out of work four times a day along a road with no pavements. Trying to type in a note as the rain lashes down on my screen while jumping into a hedge to avoid being crushed by a tractor brings home the terrifyingly brutal nature of being a 21st century rural not-quite-writer (but is more legible than my wet, inky handwriting on papier mache would be in similar circumstances). If there is one thing I miss about living in a town it is pavements.

This is the view from next to my house, I have been walking past it four times a day, every day for the last three years, and I still never fail to stop and be impressed by it, these sheep think I am their King, or that I have food, I am not sure which. This is not the best angle and the view normally looks better than this, it is the best picture of the sheep though, and I felt that was more important, despite the text making the opposite plainly true.

Dartmoor is always in view in my bit of Devon (a fact I usually celebrate by muttering 'Hello Dartmoor you magnificent big green bastard' as it hoves into view on the horizon as I drive home) so the wife and I have been doing some walking on it recently. I downloaded an app to help us. Technology is brilliant, and to those who say I should just use a map and compass, I say to you that in order to navigate by map and compass you need to know where you are in the first place, and I'm not so good at that. To the smug, outdoorsy people who say to me 'well, what did you do before you had a smartphone then?' I am forced to reply, 'I got lost, all the time, it was shit, I have a smartphone now, it is better, now fuck off.' I have a similar argument prepared for my excessive use of satnav in the car.

Walking on the moor (which we are doing a lot of at the moment because Netty is doing a charity walk in the middle of the night with my mother next weekend please sponsor her here, thanks) is proving rather more emotional for us than we expected. I've always been deeply suspicious of people who go out for walks and don't own a dog, and it does feel particularly odd being one of them. In case you are new here, or you didn't know, my beloved dog Rizla had a massive heart attack and died in my arms the day before David Bowie died in January. Much as 2016's death roll-call has been taking its toll, this is still the one I have most trouble getting over. I have tried and failed to write about it lots of times since, but ended up changing the subject (like I did here) or turning off the computer and doing something else instead. With unnerving prescience I managed to write the best tribute to her three months before she died and haven't been able to top it since.

Man and Dog, out walking, as it is supposed to be, Rizla's long-suffering look is not coincidence, I had been trying out jokes on her all morning by this point

The thing I have found intriguing is the immediacy with which people will say to me 'are you going to get another dog?' And while I accept that this is standard when someone loses a pet, I am forced to question it. If, god forbid, my wife were to die, would your first question be 'are you thinking of getting married again?' if one of the kids died would you ask me 'are you thinking of getting some more kids then?' I suppose you might, but you probably wouldn't, right? Last time I was without a dog I ummed and ahhed about getting another one until some friends of mine told me they had free puppies and offered me one (and Netty insisted, see here for more details). Another friend in the pub last night (while I was still in the heady daze that only comes with a solid fusion of scrumpy and James Brown) gave me a similar story, and I may have once again been talked into getting a puppy. However, neither he nor I are sure if the puppies will even exist yet, so nothing is set in stone.

The cats do try and fill the big dog-shaped hole in my life. Duchamp regularly takes a massive dump on the living room floor, Bitey insists on coming for walks with me, and George Orwell stretches out over the entire sofa revelling in his spectacular flatulence. I didn't realise quite the extent to which Rizla was keeping them all in check until spring burst forth recently. The glorious spectacle of life bursting out in all the hedgerows and moorland by my house is transformed into a macabre carnival of death and horror. Every morning, without fail, I have to scrub the blood off the walls, pick up the carefully arranged intestines (I'm sure they spelled out 'you're next' this morning), hoover up the feathers and try to locate any survivors for relocation to somewhere far away - where doubtless some other evil murderous feline will finish the job, but I will feel better about it. I always thought the dog was being a dick when she used to bark at the cats and send them straight back out of the catflap again. I suspect it was just because she had magic dog ears and could hear the terrified cheeping and squeaking of the victims they were carrying. So far this year we have had rabbits, moles, all types of bird, and most impressively, a squirrel. I am still convinced that there will be a sheep one day, or even a cow, if they can get it through the catflap. It's not their fault, they don't realise that my gift preference is for French Disco records, not corpses.

Yes, we took a photo of Bitey with the squirrel, (it was far too late to save it at this point) at least it still had it's head on, George Orwell and she both have two bells on their collars now, short of attaching one of those supersonically-high-pitched electronic rodent repellers to them, or some kind of siren, I am at a loss as to how to stop the murder. And yes, I am old enough to rock those slippers now.

The reality of all pet ownership is spending hours of your life elbow deep in offal, vomit and faeces, but for some reason we keep doing it. Today I realised the extent of the dog-shaped hole in my life, as I had to force myself to walk away from a hamster in a pet shop that I had formed an unshakeable bond with. He was ginger, and trying ever-so-slightly too hard to get on with me, and I had already called him Ron Weasley and planned our long and exciting friendship before I realised he was a hamster, and I live in a house filled with evil, plotting murderous bastards who need to be stopped (they already tear baby rabbits limb from limb in front of our guinea pigs and rabbits, in some kind of 'look what we're going to do to you if we get in there' display of power). The only way to do that is probably to get another dog, let's hope my friend's puppies are real, and not a funk and cider inspired hallucination.