Friday, 25 May 2007

Thirty Years Ago

I wasn't even born when Star Wars came out. It seems kind of weird watching all of these things about it on the news. Seeing footage of people today attending celebrations and gatherings about it is kind of cool I suppose, but at the same time when you see newsreaders or reporters trying to tell you why it is all so important I just think, "Who are you to tell me this? What are you even adding to the story?"

I have trouble understanding how someone could not be a Star Wars fan. I've never understood the groups of girls (disclaimer: I have known and know girls who have seen and like Star Wars) I have known as I have grown up who had never seen any of the films, or who would say, "Meh, it's alright..." What is there that you don't get? I think (although I am sure there are people who would claim otherwise) that even the people who genuinely don't like Star Wars have to acknowledge the impact it has had on film, cinema and global popular culture.

If I were to make the breathing sound of Darth Vader's helmet you would immediately know what I was doing. Or the sound of a lightsaber as it hums through the air. How could you not? In just thirty years these sounds, never mind the iconic stories presented in the original trilogy have become seared into the collective mind.

That's why, in many ways, this story just doesn't seem to ring true. I can almost believe that he genuinely hasn't seen any of the films, but his utter lack of knowledge about the films (come on, who doesnt know that the first film is Episode IV? Or even who the characters are?) is unbelievable. Who is he trying to kid? The way the article is written made me laugh out loud when I read it this morning, simply because of the awful way that it is written.

Also, at the top of the article, "Warning: This story contains plot spoilers" - oh come on!

Thirty years ago I was minus three years old, a little glimmer of cellular potential... I never saw the original films at the cinema until their 1997 re-release. I loved them long before that time. I know that I had seen Star Wars many times before, but the first time that I remember watching them on TV was at my nan's house one Saturday afternoon. I would have been ten at most I imagine, but that is the first time that sticks in my mind.

I remember jumping out of my chair in sheer childish joy when the Millennium Falcon first jumps into hyperspace, and I still get a shiver up my spine to this day when that happens.

And in just the same way I get goosebumps during the dramatic moments at the end of The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi. I prefer Empire, and I think if I remember right noisms prefers Jedi. We're going to watch one of them tonight I think, and I am going to press hard for Empire.

"Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father..."
"He told me enough! He told me you killed him!"
"No. I am your father."

Monday, 21 May 2007


A good edition of BBC Radio 4's Start the Week this morning; argumentative and heavyweight, which is as it should be. I was interested most of all to hear that James Kent has made, in conjunction with five musicians in various "war zones" around the world, a War Oratorio of five pieces of music which are going to tell us, basically, all about how terrible war is.

I find it odd that people are still making things like this, when it seems that everything that can possibly be said on the subject of "the horror of war" has been said: We get it already, war is a bad thing, and despite his apparently novel means - telling us war is bad through music - I don't really see what Kent is adding to the contributions of Wilfred Owen, Joseph Heller, or, more pertinently maybe, Edwin Starr. In fact, the more that anti-war "art" is created, the more I feel that it becomes less about genuine pacifism and more about being hand-wringingly sensitive and compassionate and, dare I say it, holier-than-thou. There's little more satisfying than showing just how morally superior a person you are than pointing out how much you like to see wrongs righted and pain eased - and look, I've even written a piece of music to prove it!

Moreover, it has to be said that the apparent purpose of such art - making people think (really think) on some new, deeper level about how terrible the whole thing is, and thereby bringing about peace - is self-evidently false. We are awash with anti-war sentiment - barely a day goes by without some form of sanctimonious demonstration against Tony Blair or George Bush, or a new film/play/book/oratorio coming out and reinforcing our understanding of how War Is Hell - and yet wars go on being fought with depressing regularity, just as they have since time immemorial. In fact, one of the most, if not the most, important themes of world history is the very obvious truth that human beings really do rather relish the opportunity of killing each other in organized ways. This is not only evident from a cursory glance at a history book, but also from the studies of anthropologists, who have estimated that at any given time 68% of hunter-gatherer groups are actually at war, 20% have been at war between five and twenty five years in the past, and all others have been at war at some time before that (Divale, W. T., 1972); and that "conflict, rape, revenge, jealousy, dominance, and male coalitional violence are human universals" (Keeley, L. H., 1996).

The question, to my mind, should not then be "how can we reinforce how terrible war is?" but rather "why is it that we seem to enjoy warfare so much?" That is the one that needs to be answered if we are serious about eradicating warfare; and yet it is one that artists seem keen to avoid.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007


In the grand scheme of things I suppose it doesn't matter if you know who I am or not. Obviously, in order to generate something that even approximates to a readership, I have had to tell some people that I have started a blog with a friend. Given that noisms has put a picture up on his profile (and very nice it looks too) then all of you people will know that I am me and he is he; likewise, if you know him then you will know that this is not him writing what you are reading now.

It doesn't matter if you guess my secret identity, but what about if you (hypothetically) guess the identity of a girl I like whose name I just give you the initial of? What if I give you a different initial, or a different name all together?

What if you are the girl?

What about a funny story, a hilarious tale that is guaranteed to have you in stitches, breathing heavy and collapsed on the floor because of your aching sides? What if it is a story that is really funny, but also could be quite embarrassing to the person or persons concerned?

Is it OK for me to just tell you the story and not worry at all about their feelings? Should I "change their names to protect their identities"? Should I not tell the story at all? Names are important even if we only use them as a placeholder, I can't imagine telling the following story without using a name at all.

At various times in my life I have been bulllied, and while I can look back on it and laugh now, or at the very least think about it without any particularly bad feelings, at the time it was a huge deal. I wonder what Raymond thinks of it all now.

Raymond was the kind of boy who was always going to come to the attention of bullies. He was a small kid, even through 'til the end of secondary school, and often circumstances seemed to gravitate towards him as if he were an attractor for weird situations. He was small, very freckly, slightly hunched and spoke very quietly except when he was particularly excited about something.

During the winter when we were about 11 or 12 there was a sudden flurry of snow one week all over the region. My memory exaggerates and tells me that it was several feet deep everywhere, but it couldn't have been more than a few inches; still for where we lived that was something.

One morning, our regular group of friends, banding together because basically we were the people not cool enough to belong to any other group, were talking on the top yard, shivering in the cold winter air when Raymond came down the steps from the crossing guard. If anything his manner suggested that he was even more dejected and downtrodden than usual, but he didn't wait for us to ask what was wrong before he launched into an angry tirade.

"Last night I was walking home," he began, "When a group of Year 8s ganged up on me-"

"What did they do?!" we all gasped, "Did they mug you?!"

"Worse," he replied.

We were Year 7s, and at this point Year 8s were pretty much the pinnacle of society's evils; for those of us who were bullied in one way or another, it was almost always by "a bigger boy," which was by definition an evil Year 8. Our minds boggled at the thought of something worse than mugging... None of us really knew what being mugged was, but we knew that it involved having all of your money taken. Fifty pence was a lot of money then.

"These three Year 8s saw me," he continued, slightly flustered but at the same time determined, "And they ganged up on me. They picked me up and dumped me head first in a snow drift."

None of us laughed. That's not because we didn't want to, it was just such a ridiculous situation that I don't think any of us could summon up a laugh. I think that we all must have just looked suitably shocked, and Raymond took that as a sign to continue.

"They all laughed at me, snow got in my eyes and mouth and everything, it was horrible! Then it was running down my back and stuff."

"You should walk home a different way tonight," someone suggested, "In case they're there again."

Raymond wouldn't hear of this. Why should he have to take another route home just because some stupid guys wanted to mess around. He shouldn't have to! (well, actually, he shouldn't, these guys shouldn't have been such jerks in the first place) Maybe Raymond should have gone and named names, pointed them out to a teacher, but at the time we all believed that "telling a teacher" never really worked (from personal experience, sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't, you just have to judge for yourself I think), and so he set off for home that evening wondering what would happen.

The next morning we were waiting for him, and he showed up around the regular time, but today with a big smile on his face.

"What happened?" we asked, The snow was still pretty thick in places, and nothing had really melted since the day before. If there had been a snow drift deep enough to dump him in earlier in the week it would likely still be there now.

"Oh, they dropped me headfirst in a drift again," he said, still grinning, "But they won't tonight."


"Because I've got protection!" he said, smile going even wider.

Protection? Had Raymond arranged to walk home with a sibling? No, he couldn't have, his sister went to another school... Maybe he had paid some other kids to act as bodyguards or lookouts? No, no, that was just silly... Well, what, what could he possibly have that was "protection"?

Raymond reached into his pocket after our questions, and pulled out his protection...

...a pair of swimming goggles.

I'm convinced that he must have taken our silence for awe. He put the blue and yellow goggles on right there and then (I can still see the light fall of snowflakes coming down as he adjusted the band above his ears), and explained it to us:

"This way, tonight, they won't dump me in a snow drift - because I've got the goggles on, the snow won't get in my eyes, so they've got no reason to dump me in the snow. Once they realise that they'll just give up!"

I know what you're thinking, this was startling logic for a 12 year old to employ. It was also, as it happened, completely and utterly wrong...

The next morning the snow had started to melt, but we still waited on the top yard to hear what had happened to Raymond. He turned up, dejected once again, slouching over the yard to fill us in.

"What happened Ray?"
"Did it work?"
"Did they leave you alone?"

"They were waiting for me, saw the goggles and laughed," he began slowly, "I told them that their stupid little prank wouldn't work, that the snow wouldn't get in my eyes. Then..."

"What? What happened?"

"Then they dumped me headfirst in a wheelie bin."

We laughed, not because we were malicious, just because it was so funny. Thinking about it now I still laugh, I'm just that bit older now that it makes me think on...

Maybe at the time it wasn't funny for Raymond. For the most part I think that he was a fairly happy guy, he was odd (and by all accounts I think he still is), but he was harmless, he didn't have a malicious bone in his body. Is he able to look back on these things now and recognise them for the trivial incidents of an otherwise happy childhood?

Would Raymond (clearly after my preamble, this isn't his real name) want this story to be told? I don't know. Should I have to check with everyone who is going to be mentioned in a post before I tell a story or recount something that has happened? If there are secrets or confidences involved perhaps I should say nothing at all, but what about a story like this?

Raymond is a part of my life story, and surely that gives me a right to talk about him. By the same token I should be able to talk about Jimmy, whose father was an author and had a basement full of old shop mannequins...

Or Frances, who at 15 would spend every Friday evening waiting for "her boyfriend" to come and pick her up from youth club in his red sports car. We never met this phantom, every week her explanation was "I don't know where he could have got to, he promised that he would be here!"

Or the guy who at 16 didn't look before he leaped, and foolishly jumped down some stairs at a youth weekend away. It was only four or five steps, but the stupid guy didn't notice the low overhang. His head went straight into it and he just dropped like a rag doll to the floor, waking to see his friends anxiously hovering around him, asking "How many fingers am I holding up?"

It makes me wince just thinking about how much my back hurt from where it hit the steps...

Anonymity and privacy are important, and I think they should be respected. I hope that that doesn't infringe on anything I want to say though.

Monday, 14 May 2007


So. Introductions.

Nah. Let's talk about
Everything But The Girl instead, for no other reason than they're playing on my ipod as I write this, and that listening to them is a weirdly evocative experience for me; press a button and there I am, back in 1996, fifteen years old, spotty, greasy and walking to school in the rain with Walking Wounded on my personal stereo, thinking how poignant and melancholy and wonderful it was.

And the thing is, unlike most of the Britrock music I liked back then and thought was good (Geneva, anyone? Mansun? Spaced?), EBTG really were. They really were poignant and melancholy and wonderful. They were trip-hop but with better tunes, pop but with better lyrics, electronic but with impeccable taste. Everything they did exuded emotion and grace.

Better still, half of them was
Tracey Thorn, a woman with a voice all at once smoky, sweet and soothing, capable of lifting the most mediocre song or lyric to something pure and beautiful and yearning: in her hands, Rod Stewart's hoary old I Don't Want to Talk About it becomes the dreamy, heartbroken plea that it should be; the one softly sung word "mirrorball" becomes a metaphor for nostalgia and regret.

The oddest thing to me at fifteen (and which is still rather odd to me now to, although I should know better) is that despite the utter sexiness of her voice, she is in fact one of the least sexy women in pop. The sound that I found, and find, so sultry and alluring, comes from a woman who, if I passed in the street, I wouldn't give a second glance. That isn't so unusual in itself - I know that looks have nothing to do with talent - but it tells me something interesting about myself, in a kind of roundabout way; I love EBTG for their music and lyrics and the way they seem to really mean something, and I suspect that it's precisely because I don't find Tracey Thorn at all attractive. Whereas with most other female artists I usually think about how much I'd like to get them into bed when I listen to them, and probably don't take them very seriously as a consequence, with her I think about what really matters - the music. It's the same with all the other female musicians who I've ever genuinely liked - Beth Orton, Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell - and I suspect that if they were better looking I never would really have gotten to like their music very much in the first place. I just would have put them in the box of 'women who are quite fit', and missed out on some of my favourite songs.

Which makes me think. Almost all of the female musical artists who have really been critical successes - asides from the ones I've mentioned, Chrissy Hynde and Billie Holliday spring to mind - have been so in spite of the way they look. I'm sure the success is due only to talent as much as it is to the fact that men will take a woman more seriously if they don't want to sleep with her

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Whys and Wherefores

Last week I sat in noisms' kitchen, playing Scrabble with him and his fiancée. We were talking about this and that, and the subject of this blog came up. noisms and I had been talking about doing something like this for a while, making an outlet for the kinds of things that we talked about all the time, and this seemed like the thing to do. If everyone else in the world can put themselves out there, why not us? "What are you talking about?" asked noisms' fiancée. "We're talking about the blog we're starting," he replied, "We're going to write a blog together, the pair of us. We're going to write about all of the things that interest and confuse us, all of the weird stuff that people take for granted and the crap that people go along with because they think that that's what they have to put up with these days." noisms said this in the same way that I had been telling people: saying it with the expectation that we would be recognised as creative individuals, people with something to say who were making themselves heard, who were taking the bull by the horns and doing it their way.

"Oh," said his fiancée, "So what?"

It said it all really. We're not special - no, correction, we're no more special than anyone else. We're just two guys who want to write about things that are important to us, things that we think are interesting, things that make us laugh and things that we want to share.

That's all.