Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The (cautionary) Winter's Tale

Once a year, after our staff Christmas meal, I go clubbing. I don't like clubbing - I just go to remind myself why I don't like clubbing. Being teetotal as your colleagues get drunker and more argumentative usually means that you have to adopt a peacekeeping role as the night wears on and this year was no different but that's by the by. Going clubbing is not my reason for posting.

This year's foray took place last night, and I was running my usual taxi service (I dubbed it 'The Party Wagon', but this epithet somehow failed to capture my passengers' imagination was we piled into my Ford Fusion). Afterwards, while waiting for a couple of my tired and emotional colleagues to stop screaming at each other and bawling their eyes out so that I could take them home, I found myself standing on some compacted ice. Conscious as I was about the lack of traction offered by my shoes, it was still something of a shock to find myself hitting the deck so quickly and forcefully. With my hands buried deep in my pockets, I had no way of breaking my fall and landed with my full weight on my ribcage. If you've never had a serious rib injury, be thankful because it's one of the most uncomfortable things you can endure. By that I mean that it's fine so long as you don't breathe, laugh, cough or move. Having a nasty cold, then, doesn't help much. I sneezed earlier and needed five minutes to recover.

Consulting some online sources this morning, it appears that there's not much you can do except to take strong painkillers and ride it out. One site suggested that relief could be achieved by applying some ice. Oh, the irony.

It sounds trite, I know - but be careful out there.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Christmas just got good

Some very clever people are saying some very stupid things about Rage Against The Machine claiming the Christmas No.1 slot. Some stupid people too, of course, but we aren't worried about them. Most of these comments centre around the supposed irony of asking people to download a song that includes the lyric fuck you I won't do what you tell me. Oh! You've got us all bang to rights there, haven't you? You're dead right and we should all cry ourselves to sleep with shame tonight.

Or, perhaps, you should go back and locate the point that you missed because you were looking the wrong way.

If you do something without really thinking about it just because someone tells you to, you're a sheep. Downloading a piece of music as part of a protest cannot possibly fall into that category. Nobody who downloaded KITN did it without realising what they were doing. No one is now thinking 'Gosh, I was coerced into buying a track that I don't even like! They must have slipped something into my cherryade! Please forgive me Joe, you're such a nice lad and I've ruined your life!' No: people bought it because they believed in seeing real music triumph over cynicism; a song about corruption and racism triumph over a song written to help propel the Hannah Montana commercial juggernaut and appropriated by the Simon Cowell commercial juggernaut. I don't think for a minute that charity was a factor in people's decision making, but that Shelter have also benefitted is a huge bonus.

Sadly, though, some people think it's cooler to just condemn the whole thing as petty, hypocritical, cruel, vindictive or just plain pointless. Come on, think. It's none of these things. It's a huge showing of collective sanity that is very rarely seen from the British public.

Not that it wasn't funny as hell. I laughed out loud when Zack de la Rocha said: "We would like to congratulate Joe and Simon on having the number two single for the Christmas chart!"

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Faith, Ignorance and talent

Earlier this year I signed up to Spotify, which means that I now have thousands of albums at my fingertips without having to pay a penny for the pleasure, or displeasure, of listening to them. This ought to have signalled a frenzy of indulgence as I immersed myself in the aural equivalent of a supermarket trolley dash, but it didn’t. I love Spotify, but I don’t use it very much. It’s a bit like the internet in general; we all have access to information that could change our lives but, largely speaking, we’d rather spend our time on Twitter and Facebook.

Anyway, my point is that I haven’t heard very many new albums this year and I’m a bit ashamed of myself for that. The LP, as a format, is something that needs to be preserved in the face of ‘pick and choose’ downloading and I feel as though I ought to be doing my bit. Give it an airing on Spotify, then buy it if it’s any good. Easy.

Of the few albums I have heard, I would nominate Paloma Faith’s Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful? as my favourite. She’s an interesting character to say the least, and the album is a belter – especially the title track and New York. She’s one of these people whose speaking voice is so at odds with her singing voice that you wonder if she’s pulling off some insane ventriloquism act, but it works wonderfully. Another album I’ve been listening to a lot lately is Brand New Eyes by Paramore. Yes, yes, I know. I’ve tried my very hardest to hate Paramore because it seems like the right thing to do but it just isn’t working. They’re young, bible thumping Americans who have all the ingredients for being exceptionally annoying and yet they have a knack of writing very good pop songs. Ignorance and The Only Exception are just brilliant. So why do I feel so dirty?

I also have to mention the race for the Christmas number one single. I’m fully behind the Rage Against The Machine hijack campaign, and downloaded my copy on Monday, but I found myself wondering today why anyone cares what is number one at Christmas. We don’t care what’s topping the chart for the rest of the year, so why should the Christmas week be any different? Well, to be honest, it wouldn’t normally bother me that much but Simon Cowell’s outburst on the issue left me with no choice. What a complete arse that man is. If he came out and admitted that he doesn’t give a shit about his artists as long they’re making him money, I’d at least respect his honesty but pretending that The X Factor is anything but a puppet show is absurd. Along with Britain’s Got Talent he’s managed to corner the market in misnamed television phenomena. Still, moaning that no one on The X Factor has ever actually possessed said indefinable attribute is pointless because if they did have it they wouldn’t have applied for such a tacky competition in the first place. The real question is how such a show can attract 19 million viewers for its final. Why do so many people enjoy watching cabaret singers doing cover versions? When I was young I always thought famous people were a different species, somehow above the rest of us, and that was how I liked it. I wanted to be impressed by the things they could do. Nowadays people seem to prefer the idea that just about anyone has the potential to be famous. Perhaps it makes them feel like they might be next? Susan Boyle has sold over four million albums on the back of the fact that she used to look a bit rough. Okay, she can sing a bit, but if she was conventionally attractive in the first place she wouldn't have got anywhere. Being a good singer isn't that unusual, after all. John and Edward (inspired name) are famous for not being able to sing. They are famous for jumping around. Well, aren't they? Stavros Flatley plumb yet further depths.

I'm not saying anything new or interesting here and I'm not trying to, but it's all a bit sad. These programmes won't stop people with real ability from doing their thing of course, but it does rather devalue their achievements. And, if it's getting easier to be famous, what incentive is there for future generations to try any harder than they need to? I just have this chilling vision of parents in 40 years' time bemoaning the music of the day and harking back to when we had 'proper' artists like Girls Aloud and Take That. Or perhaps this is what every generation says. Is that what happens? Have I taken the cheese?

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Further thoughts on Project 2010

I asked, in the preceding post, for your thoughts on my next project and I'm grateful for your comments. I wasn't expecting a consensus of course, but some ideas clearly have more potential than others.

I'm quite keen on doing part two of Creative Year. It irks me a little that I never finished it, although I know that I had to stop when I did. If I were to resume, therefore, it would have to be under less pressure. Perhaps there would only be five posts per week instead of seven, and I'd definitely want to build up a buffer to avoid pulling late nighters. The only sticking point is coming up with a sufficient stock of new ideas to ensure I don't end up rehashing old ones.

The letter writing idea interests me as well, because it really could lead anywhere. There's a series called The Timewaster Letters in which a guy assumes a false name and sends out all manner of daft correspondence, but I wasn't necessarily thinking along those lines. There could be a serious point to it, at least some of the time. I quite like the idea of writing to people who wouldn't normally expect to receive letters, just to bring some light into their lives.

Volunteer work is something I'd never considered until very recently. I've always been obsessed with making some kind of artistic impression to the exclusion of everything else, but it's becoming clearer every day that fulfilment doesn't reside there. Even if one achieves success, there's very likely to follow an undignified effort to maintain it. And for what? I can't imagine myself ever sitting back and feeling sated, so it's a very odd thing to pursue. I'm coming round to the fact that creative ambition should be a passenger to, and not a replacement for, personal relationships. I need to meet more people, make more friends, expand my experience. Volunteering for something, on the face of it, appears to be a good way of doing that.

As some of you pointed out, there were other things on my list that can be dropped in here or there without necessarily turning them into a project. Or they could just be combined as part of something else. In any case, I feel rather more positive about things now which is a decent starting point.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Project 2010

I have decided that I would like to do something significant, interesting and fulfilling in 2010. Unfortunately I have left it rather late to start the decision making process, and I'm not very good at making decisions anyway, so I thought perhaps you guys could help me out. Come on, it'll be fun!

Some things I have ruled out:

  • Pasta collage (lacks scope)
  • Flower pressing (could go a bit flat)
  • Learning to play the harp (probably wouldn't work with offcuts of 4 x 2 and some fishing line)
  • Finding love (too ambitious)
  • Carving a miniature chess set from mice teeth (hard to source supplies)

Some things I am genuinely considering:

  • A visual (comic strip) journal
  • Poetry
  • A novel
  • A year long letter writing campaign with no particular agenda other than to see where it takes me
  • A year of doing kind things for people
  • Volunteer work
  • Changing my name and pretending I'm someone else in a futile attempt to escape the unbearable drudgery of being me
  • The New Trash Radio almanac of rare vinyl recordings
  • A series of short films
  • Actually using the camera equipment I spent £3,500 on
  • Finishing Creative Year

I think that covers the most plausible options. My problem is that I cannot make up my mind, sometimes relinquishing what previously felt like firm conviction at the drop of a hat. And I don't even own a hat. So, if anyone would care to offer an opinion I'd be very interested to hear it.

What the hell should I do next year? You decide!

[Applause. Fireworks. Everybody waving. Credits. Voiceover announcing that Songs of Praise is running five minutes later than scheduled.]

Friday, 4 December 2009

Emergency dialogue

I had to call an ambulance this morning for a work colleague. It was more of a precaution than anything else, and I should point out that he's going to be fine, but I'd never dialled 999 before. I naturally expected the operator to be helpful, because that is their job.

His first question was obvious. 'Can you give me the full address of where you are please?' Now, when you give someone an address over the phone in normal circumstances, you read it out one line at a time and wait for them to write it down or type it in. When they've done it, they give you an affirmative noise to indicate that you can continue. That's normal, right? I'm not just being stupid? So I told him the first line of the address and paused for his affirmation. It was a long pause. Bloody hell, I thought, they ought to employ faster typists for emergencies. Eventually he just repeated: 'Can you give me the full address of where you are please?' Ah. Perhaps he hadn't heard me. That would explain it. I gave him the first line again and paused once more. A couple of seconds later, he said: 'Can you give me the full address of where you are please?' At this point I just thought he was some kind of idiot so I said 'Would it help if I gave you the postcode?' Clearly not. His reply was: 'Can you give me the full address of where you are please?' So, as requested, I blurted it all out at once which seemed to work. But would it have killed him to engage in normal conversation? All he had to do was say 'yep' after I'd started telling him and I would have continued. Or he could have just told me there was no need to pause. Something to gently steer me into union with his needs. Am I not right about this? If it had been a more serious matter and I was stressed and agitated, I think I'd have found it very frustrating.

So, Mr Ambulance Man, I think you ought to realise that people only call you when they need help. It's not something they do everyday and they aren't necessarily familiar with your methods. It would therefore be quite useful if you could make it easy for them instead of reading through your list of questions like a fucking robot. Thanks.