Late October, 2009. It’s a week until a particularly Unhappy Anniversary rolls around and I’m feeling bad. Not sad bad, weird bad. Unpredictable bad. Incongruity-of-affect bad.
I think too much about some things, too little about others. Thoughts of the unchangeable past circle continuously in my head like vultures, shrieking and swooping and there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to scare them away.
So… I work out.
I go to my bedroom and do some warm-ups before the actual weights. I’m thinking to myself, “This is good, this is positive. If nothing means anything, might as well do weights rather than sit on my arse.”
(Secretly, I’m hoping to push things until the pain of the weights gives me something I can understand. Something that’s real. Something I can rely on. Oh yes. I’m in that zone.)
When I workout, I usually listen to the radio. It’s company in an empty house. I can have the illusion of interacting with someone.
I start. Dumbbell pull-ups, five pounds heavier than I normally go and five reps more per set. I do double the usual number of sets. Oooh. Hurty. The radio burbles in the background.
Then onto the presses. I go ten pounds heavier. I’m trying to do ten reps more than normal, which is just stupid and, basically, a waterslide into rotator-cuff injury. I’m sweating and hurting and my arms have sharp pains in them. Then I hear a familiar intro followed by these words…
“8 o’clock, Monday night and I’m waitin’
To finally talk to a girl a little cooler than me.
Her name is Nona, she’s a rocker with a nose ring,
She wears a two way, but I’m not quite sure what that means.”
And, already, I’m smiling. “I’m not quite sure what that means” – heh…
Now, I’m not a huge BFS fan, I only know the hit singles. I loved ‘Punk Rock 101’ when it came out for its sly satire of everything conventional and requisite to be a contemporary punk band. I loved the big fat dude guitarist purely for his magnificent enormity. I’m a bloater, when I see fellow bloaters doing well, it makes me fatly happy.
But this song is hitting home. Here’s me, doing my best, angsty, miserabilist Henry Rollins and here are BFS, taking the piss out of tough guys and the whole schtick around them. Making fun of me.
I can’t help it. I nearly start laughing. I’m still working out and I don’t want to drop the weights on my face so I put them down and listen to the rest of the song…
“There she goes again
With fishnets on, and dreadlocks in her hair
She broke my heart, I wanna be sedated
All I wanted was to see her naked!
Now I am watchin’ wrestling
Tryin’ to be a tough guy
Listenin’ to rap metal
Turntables in my eyes
I can’t grow a mustache
And I ain’t got no season pass
All I got’s a moped…moped….moped….. “
Yes, I’m going through some shit, yes, it’s difficult. But that process won’t be made any easier by me trying to be something I’m not, trying to grow a bad moustache and a matching attitude. It ain’t me.
Hearing ‘Girl All The Bad Guys Want’ at precisely that moment was exactly what I needed. The song became magical, more than the sum of its parts. Every lyric seemed either obliquely or directly targeted at my idiocy. And these are brilliant lyrics – you can keep all your whiney, precious schmindie, there’s more emotional honesty in the line “All I wanted was to see her naked” than most indie songwriters manage in a lifetime.
So, thank you, Bowling For Soup, for giving me a wake-up call. Thank you for making a truly great pop record with insightful and gently cathartic lyrics. Every time I dance to this tune from now on, I’ll do a little salute to you. And thanks for stopping me turning into a bad guy.
PS – couldn’t resist this before I go: “Her CD changer’s full of singers that are mad at their dad.” 😀
Lately, I’ve been re-reading Alain de Botton’s ‘Consolations of Philosophy.’ My life has, for the last year, been distinctly not-great. I remembered de Botton’s book providing me with some measure of calm previously so I thought I’d dip back into it.
Also lately, I’ve started a sociology degree at Derby Uni. I’m basically re-doing the degree which I had to drop out of when ‘Your Woman’ went into the charts.
More immediately, I’ve had two houseguests staying with me. The combination of guests, Uni and de Botton has been potent: I feel the past few days, from Saturday to this morning, have been life-changing.
As de Botton points out, Epicurean nowadays is a synonym for gluttony, excess, unbridled hedonism. Sad, then, that the philosopher is so mis-remembered. Here are the main requirements for happiness, according to Epicurus, via de Botton:
Food, shelter, clothes.
He thought of the above as natural and necessary precursors for happiness. Here’s what’s natural but unnecessary for happiness:
And neither natural nor necessary for happiness:
The original downsizer, Epicurus walked it like he talked it. He and a group of friends moved into a shared house and lived pretty simply, growing their own veg. The money they saved by not going mad on the steaks or caviar enabled them to not be subject to the rule of an odious employer. Y’know – like Tom and Barbara in The Good Life.
In sociology, I’m reading Zyggy Bauman’s ‘Thinking Sociologically.’ A fortnight ago, at a particularly low ebb, I made the mistake of preparing chapter five while sitting in Costa Coffee in the Westfield. I smugly thought I could get my reading done and have a coffee, maybe even meet up with some mates once I’d broken the back of the note making. But chapter five concerns love and intimacy. Here’s an extract:
“In our complex society in which most human needs are attended to in an impersonal way, the need we have for a loving relationship appears deeper than at any other time. As a result, the burden that love carries in our existence is formidable.”
(Bauman, pp. 86)
It was all a bit too much for me. I had to hide my tears, pack up my rucksack and scurry away from my half-finished decaff before the ignominy of a public meltdown. I didn’t want to be that bloke. Even though, patently, I am.
The routinely atomised existence we lead as citizens of modernity impacts on every sphere of life, including love and friendship. We don’t live in handy communities of 800 people or less. Our daily forays are most probably filled with the faces of strangers which we studiously and politely ignore. Look at a pretty face for a second too long and who knows what hell might break lose – one might be forced to smile or even, oh horror, acknowledge them as a fellow human being. The awkwardness would be as dry, cloying and indigestible as ten cream crackers in a row.
From Saturday to Monday, I had my friend Rocky staying with me. This is her:
Yes, she really is that cute, it’s not photoshoppery. And her mind is a gazllion times cuter than that picture: it hums along and effortlessly collates and references, infers and deduces, making conversation a pure, easy joy. Rocky is the least judgemental, most broad-minded friend you could have. And that reminded me of something…
“In my judgement the sweetness of well-matched and compatible fellowship can never cost too dear. O! a friend! How true is that ancient judgement, that the frequenting of one is more sweet than the element of water, more necessary than the element fire.”
(de Botton, pp. 146)
Those are the words of the philosopher Montaigne. What Montaigne is talking about is the same as Bauman: the search for acceptance, to find relations that are free from censure and instead supportive and nurturing. Our routines reduce us to fleshy automata, we hold doors open, flash our headlights in thanks at oncoming cars, try desperately to think of something icebreaking to say to that girl in that shop on that till. And we fail. Not usually catastrophically, admittedly. Unless, like me, background factors in your life have made you into emotional peanut brittle: easily shattered and nuts. And with a highly problematic wrapper.
I talked with Rocky till 6am, both nights. It was, quite simply, ace. And then, when I thought the talking was over, my friend Mattias Cosy Den came to stay over last night. This is him:
Debonair swine, isn’t he? And he’s also passionate, political, principled and a host of other great qualities that probably also begin with p. What did we do last night? We talked till 6am and I also did an acoustic recording that he’ll hopefully issue on his label. I specifically wanted to record the songs while he was there, so he could introduce them. It went very well precisely because I was singing to Mattias. Mattias isn’t fazed in the slightest by my craziness, he doesn’t baulk at my openness and ferocity. He enjoys those qualities in me. He understands. He gets it.
These guests re-charged me with their unqualified acceptance. I find it tremendously sad that neither of them live in this country. As much as the net is great for keeping touch, there is something infinitely cooler about having your friend sitting there, being able to instantly talk shit or joke around and they just get it. There’s no fuzzy tech in the way, I don’t feel the need to hold up signs with emoticons on them, they get it.
I went round town this afternoon with four local friends and my mood was elevated by the weekend that had passed. These poor souls have each, at different times, dealt with my least optimistic, most miserabilist moods. So I felt happy to be so happy with them. We walked, pointlessly, round the Westfield. We talked shit and ogled passing boys and girls. We went lingerie shopping and coffeeing. It was a good day.
If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering why you have. Why have I written this? Well, for a start, I’m a songwriter. I earn money by taking my most private feelings and splaying them out in public. It’s my job. Or, as Montaigne would have it:
“Many things I would not care to tell to any individual man I tell to the public, and for knowledge of my most secret thoughts, I refer my most loyal friends to a bookseller’s stall.”
(de Botton, pp. 148)
But I’ve written this in the hope that maybe it reaches you in the same way that de Botton and Bauman have reached me. I know neither of these men and yet, in a way, they’ve made me feel a little less strange and alone. Obviously, not as much as my Derby friends or Rocky and Mattias have but… y’know…
There wasn’t one best new track, there were three! All from the featured album by Vitalic, ‘Flashmob.’ I’m guessing it’s not inspired by Larry Niven but even so, it’s my fave electronic record of 2009 (so far!). It’s dancey, demented, dissonant deliciousness. The track ‘Flashmob’ itself sounds like Louis and Bebe Barron discovered the funk in a Krell basement somewhere, humping some fat Idmonsters. It’s such a good album, a perfect antidote to the reams of generic electrodancewhatnot out there.
The best old track is kind of a cheat. Because it’s new. The recording is, the song is old. Well, I think it is… The track is ‘Three’s A Crowd’ by The Dorktones. It’s off an album by them that you can listen to here. (And buy!) As far as I can make out, this is a covers CD. Certainly, it’s got classics like ‘Girl That I Knew Somewhere’ and ‘Girl Don’t Tell Me’ on it. But I’ve googled the lyrics to ‘Three’s A Crowd’ and got nowt. Nuffink. I know I know it but where from?? Can anyone elucidate? Whatever, it’s a wonderful old… er new or old track!
There’s no season I particularly dislike but I do have a fondness for Autumn. I love the colours, the chill in the air, Bonfire Night, the noise of walking through piles of dry leaves on the pavement. Click the pic above to see some autumnal pics I’ve taken recently!
Wow – what an excellent Halloween! I was going to stay in for reasons I won’t go into here but after talking it over with mates, I just thought, fuckit – go out. And I’m glad I did as I danced till my knees ached and saw some absolutely amazing costumes, the majority hand-made.
I hope you check out all the pics from that night because I think they show how wonderfully creative people are. Day by day, we’re squashed into greyness, squat, normal and uniform. On this one night of the year, ordinary people are given the freedom to express themselves pretty much exactly as they want. And the resulting explosion of colour, pattern, shape and symbolism is awe-inspiring. If only we were this free to be whatever/whoever we want every day of the year.
All those wonderful people in the photos are now back in “normal,” mass-produced, corporate clothes, the Nikes and the Levis. Drone wear. I wouldn’t even notice them now in the street if I passed them.
But I like to think that, inside, they’re still zombies and vampires, robots and superheroes. Secret dreams, or real selves? Where others see a load of pissed-up kids dressed-up in daft outfits, I see a tiny bacillus of true anarchy, sending out cilia.
In the rush for the train, I forgot my SLR so I grabbed a few pics on my iPhone, please forgive the fuzziness. Click on the pic to see a gallery.
On Saturday, I travelled down to London to take part in the Troops Out demo (details here).
And amazing demo. It was so moving hearing both the families of dead soldiers and soldiers themselves speak. Soldiers like Lance Corporal Joe Glenton who was risking court martial for speaking out against what he thought was an illegal and immoral occupation.
When the relatives spoke of loved ones they’d lost in Afghanistan, the crowd became eerily quiet. It was horrible, heart-rending testimony of how Bush and Blair’s post-9/11 adventurism has ruined the lives of ordinary people. Whether we’re Afghans, Iraqis, Americans or Britons, none of us is safer, none of us is better off as a result of these new crusades. In fact, it’s probably increased the terror threat or ordinary Westerners.