a strange invitation

…if you lived here, you’d be home by now
February 10, 2007, 12:24 am
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‘Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness, experiencing itself subjectively. There’s no such thing as death – life is only a dream – and we’re the imagination of ourselves.’ – Bill Hicks

It is some four months now since I traded seaside for cityscape. Yet, as i sit, illuminated by lamplight, situated just far enough away from Bethnal Green Road to feel insulated from the constant buzz of the city below, I feel unable to recount my experiences with any degree of either accuracy or poetry.

(I’m not here to tell you about my writer’s block)

I would attempt to console myself with the fact that I had no problems writing about Paris. I sip tepid coffee and watch the cursor on my screen synchronise, every third bar with the music emanating from the stereo. I’m not qualified to write about this place, I conclude. I know little of it’s art or architecture; history is too linear for my mind; politics too dry. In short, I don’t understand London well enough to frame my own perspective within this city, let alone enough to claim authority over it.

I suppose that if writing is both heuristic and didactic, then the act of committing metaphorical pen to paper serves to cement and frame the author’s perspective. Certainly, when I raised the ghosts of the Grand Guignol and witnessed the Eiffel Tower dash itself into the Seine, I was not describing the Paris which appears in encyclopedias (Metropolitan Population 2,153,600, Urban Area 2,723km2) or within which it’s inhabitants live out their daily lives. If Paris laid hidden behind the smoke and mirrors of the written word, then producing London from the wispy remnants of such subterfuge is perhaps an even more difficult task.

When I found myself talking about London with friends, I had often claimed that London was better understood as a series of villages and communities than through an attempt to produce the urban environment in it’s entirety. However, one evening after work when I decided to walk left along Old Street rather than right towards home, I realised that however I tired to recount this place, I would always be bound by the very fiction which all of us create to produce a degree of understanding in the absence of truth.

Sooner or later I supposed, I would grow tired of weighty (s)words and semantricks. I just hope that should I eventually claim a position of authority over this city, and claim an understanding of it gels in my mind, that I don’t lose the wonder which I have found through the vague sense of incomprehension, I feel as wander, bemused, through the city streets.

And I watched the city unfold before me. The Thames merged seamlessly into St. Paul’s Cathedral, and as I ambled past the Tower of London, I couldn’t help smiling as I turned the corner and headed towards the place which I now call home.

In the meantime, you can have my seat on the tube, I don’t mind standing. I’m getting off at the next station anyway.


…life rules
January 21, 2007, 10:59 pm
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I’ve always struggled to develop a coherent philosophy on life. ‘Rules’ tend to appear as vague guidelines at best, and as a result, the closest I’ve come to consistency in this area is by reducing philosophical and moral concerns into easily recited soundbites. Don’t go to go to prison is one; I’m claustrophobic for a start, and possessing blond hair, a boyish frame, and being sensitive enough to branded effeminate in some quarters, I’d surely get all kinds of unwanted attention from hairy tattooed killers desperate to relieve the loneliness of a life sentence. Unfortunately, legislation preventing travellers from smiling on their passport photographs has serious connotations on another of my favourite, and more trivial ‘life rules’. When asked to pose for a photograph for official purposes (such as an employee identification badge, or an arrest record), always present the camera with a big beaming smile. I suppose that the mugshots of rockstars and movie icons has something to do with it. The soft focus and carefully manipulated images of stardom dissolve, to reveal dishevelled and unrepentant actresses and musicians grinning lopsidedly for the camera in the face of a minor speeding charge, or a barroom brawl. Where society expects a reaction ranging from stoic efficiency to admission of guilt:

Surprise them.

Give them an expression that lets them know that you’re not taking them entirely seriously.

The Guardian reports that the legislation, supposedly passed to counter the fact that the new biometric scanners employed at border controls are only able to recognise straight faces, are actually part of a ‘New Labour drive towards public gravity’. Something that will surely have me dressed in a chicken suit the day my passport expires.

Or would it?

After giving a particularly pleasing performance at The United States border when I lived in Vancouver, I confidently lit a reckless cigarette while I waited by our rented car for my friends to further explain what a carload of Europeans would want to do in The United States that wasn’t a threat to National Security. I barely had time to congratulate myself for so subtly subverting the system before an angry official brandishing an automatic weapon started screaming at me for loitering on government property. It was one of those moments that you could spend days afterwards considering which ice-cool reply would leave you looking like a hero. The situation was made all the more painful by my clumsy reaction, which was a result of me trying to extinguish a cigarette, put my hands in the air, and dash backwards into the building all at the same time.

…so long, it’s been good to know you
January 20, 2007, 1:56 pm
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“I was sitting on a couch somewhere, watching VH1,
When I learned that Bruce Springsteen is his mother’s only son,
I’m my mother’s only daughter; we were both Born to Run,
But even he says it’s amazing raising babies in the place where you come from”Kimya Dawson

I’ve always tried to avoid being confrontational when entering discussions with those who define themselves by the places they’ve visited, largely due to the fact that I tend to leave people to their own devices, unless they are being overly offensive or blocking my way. Yet it’s always seemed a little illogical to me that someone would travel halfway across the world to ‘find themselves’, and for a group that defines itself through a sense of adventure through ‘living on the edge’, it seemed somewhat contradictory that the majority of these people had affluent and stable middle-class families to go home to after their ‘triumph’ over adverse conditions faced in encountering ‘alien’ cultures. To an extent, travel is often undertaken so that we can return home and tell ohers about it, thus elevating our own status in a society in which, in modernity, status is increasingly dictactated, not by the position we hold in our employment, but by how we spend our leisure time. Despite these factors, I was never really able to claim a clear-cut distinction between their approach and my own, and it would rather hypocritical to claim any kind of superiority on my part: the journeys I’ve taken have become a significant influence in my own personality. Yet, these encounters were always interesting to me, and recent events have led me to question my transitory nature.

I spent a lot of my time travelling in my youth, partially due to the fact that I lacked either the ability or the inclination to support myself in the traditional ways. It wasn’t that I didn’t do well in school: the sense of rebellion that I possessed wasn’t aimed at anything as concrete as the education system, I just didn’t find that the things I learned at secondary school had any practical application in my life at the time. As a result I spent my time working menial jobs to save enough to travel, and playing guitar for beer and loose change while on the road. It was when the cheap Japanese guitar I had been carrying around with me finally disintegrated, that I was forced to take a job at a chicken factory in order to raise the funds for another.

My job, as best as I could understand it, was to make sure the hundreds of chicken carcasses that periodically tumbled through the ceiling fell onto the correct conveyor belt, to be hacked into pieces and packed into Styrofoam trays by the team waiting below. Understandably, I absolutely detested going into work in the morning. Before you got within half a mile of the factory, you were suffocated by an animal stench that was so foul, that it made me nauseous. My fellow workers assured me that after a while I would cease to notice it, a fact that offered me no solace at all, given that it came from the mouths of people that seemed the fact that their lives were resigned to being a miserable drudge, dictated by the wail of the alarm bell that signified that the conveyor belts were about to start rolling. I would see them in the cafeteria during the strict 15 minutes breaks eating discounted chicken nuggets. Grey faced and dull eyed, they sat in silence staring catatonic into the middle distance, while I sat outside and watched the crows that had taken up residence around the building. Every day that I finished was a major triumph in that place, despite the fact that seeing as I was loathe to extend my sentence by paying for luxuries…like rent, I had elected to sleep in a tent a couple of mile away from the site. Simply staying clean took up a great deal of my time.

I found myself at my usual position in the factory after an all night party in a field, and was feeling more than a little fragile, after listening to trance all night after taking acid. I figured I could hold it together: the work was repetitive, but simple, and given that the noise of the machinery made it difficult to speak to anyone while on the factory floor, I assumed that my state would go unnoticed. It was going well until the moment where there appeared to be, not chicken, but hundreds of decapitated human heads tumbling down the chute (1). After the initial shock on discovering that reality had finally decided to tear itself apart, I simply turned and walked towards the exit, hardly pausing to register the chaos that leaving my post had caused.

Thankfully, I had managed to save enough to buy a new guitar, and after a couple of days of franticly arranging my departure, I decided to spend my last night at a pub that had an open mic night, which I knew was easy enough to drink for free if you were prepared to get up and play a couple of songs. Towards the end of the night, I had stepped outside to get some air, and was half-heartedly trying to clamber into the WWII planes that stood in the car park (2) when man I’d been talking to earlier joined me for a cigarette. He started spouting the usual spiel I had heard a thousand times before by frustrated executives that would pick me up in their Mondeo’s while hitchhiking: The joy of the open road, the freedom of youth. I listened politely for a while, until at one point I felt compelled to ask something like:

‘When do you stop? What it is it that makes you decide that
this is the place that you want to spend the rest of my life in?’

He thought about it for a moment and then claimed, that it was when you found something or someone, that you love so much, that you couldn’t bear to leave it behind.

I hit the road the next day.

(1) I was shocked to discover later that this happened in an episode of the X-files. Damn you FBI Agents!

(1) I’m not kidding

re:re:re: FWD
January 20, 2007, 12:46 am
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‘First we thought the PC was a calculator, then we found out how to turn letters into ASCII- and we thought it was a typewriter. Then we discovered graphics, and we thought it was a television. With the World Wide Web, we realised it’s a brochure’: Lev Manovich

It is true that the Internet is perhaps the greatest advance in communication since the invention of the printing press. This is obvious, and certainly doesn’t require a media degree to figure out. Across vast distances, action and reaction potentially occur almost at the speed of light; traditional hierarchies concerning linear consumption of a text have dissolved almost as quickly as notions of authority over distribution of the written word.

Despite the forecasting of changes so prolific, that New Media authors inferred metaphors so grand as to imagine the extension of the central nervous system through electronic means (1), it is of some concern to me that the ‘information superhighway’ (2) has fallen into the general use, not as a tool for increased individual production enabled by comparative freedom from both state and corporate control, but through modes of consumption set in place during the era of ‘disorganised capitalism’. While at one time, advertising executives scratched their heads as they sifted through the wreckage of the dot-com crash in the mid-nineties, they must now wonder what all the fuss was about. It’s business as usual: the general fears of the advertisers’ evaporated in much the same way as the threat to traditional adverting presented by the establishment of the video recorder. In fact, those that anticipate increased autonomy from ‘passive consumption’ outlined in previously accepted sender/receiver models as hard-drive television recorders enter the home, should take heed, the threat of increased user control over advertising for example, necessarily dictates that, in order to survive, advertising (once explicitly demarcated from program content), must retreat further from view. Convergence, it appears, is a primary characteristic of any advance of any ‘advance’ in mass of media technology, of which the blurring of programme content with the interests of advertisers’ is but one example.

The merging of apparently disparate elements is of significant importance in common uses of the Internet. If the Internet expands the author’s role to that writer, editor, and publisher at the site of production, the ‘consumer’ has similarly extended her reach, reappearing through the World Wide Web as marketing agent, advertiser, and distributor. The popularity of the FWD: is a case in point. While the World Wide Web is commonly lauded as enabling greater participation of the user, the persistent sender of the FWD, lies flaccidly between consumption and reproduction (3), in such a way that the user’s role in the exchange of information is reduced to that of intermediary, blindly recycling the ideas of others, unconsciously doing the work that was previously undertaken by boards of executives. Lynne Truss (4) notes that while productivity of businesses has dramatically increased through the ability to communicate via the World Wide Web, its overall effect is a loss in output, as bored administrators diligently pass around personality tests, questionnaires and amusing asides like worker ants, desperately trying to make it through the tedium of the 9-5.

The persistent offender in the case of FWD’s is neither writer, nor even typist, and the bulk of them that lie in my inbox go unread and unloved, and they certainly die in my hands. So I may miss out on popular cultural icons such as the hamster dance, and the StarWars kid, yet it’s a small price to pay to avoid the sinking feeling I get when I open a message from a good friend to discover some thoughtless nonsense from somebody with nothing to say (5).

1. Marshall Mcluhan
2. A highly emotive term in itself coined by Vice President Al Gore in a speech given in 1999, giving rise to the commonly held belief that Al Gore invented the Internet.
3. According to Stuart Hall’s revision of the sender/receiver model of mass communication
4. Eats, Shoots and Leaves
5. Although I have to admit, I’d like to see the swirling patterns again that make the hand you’re holding the mouse with go weird

…songs about songwriting
January 18, 2007, 6:24 pm
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Now I’m a little loathe to get into any serious Pitchfork baiting, which seems to be de rigueur amongst web loggers with even a passing interest in music. Yet I can’t help noting, with some amusement, that I am able to predict both their tone and rating for new music, often without even hearing the material in question.

If it wasn’t for the fact that my mind recoils in horror whenever I attempt to do anything vaguely mathematical with it, I’m sure I could produce a formula which the recording industry could use to predict critical reception. Given that Pitchfork has reached such an elevated status in the realms of ‘Alternative Music’, it might save many albums being released at all. Of course, given that many users tend to base their musical choices solely on Pitchfork’s ‘Best New Music’ without having to take the trouble to listen to it and make up their own minds, there would be a rapid increase in those albums in your record collection that you find technically brilliant, yet don’t actually enjoy listening to.

An artist critically acclaimed by the a large section of the music press, will score an average score in a Pitchfork review with a one or two point reduction on subsequent releases, if Pitchfork see themselves as initially responsible for breaking an artist on their debut release

A massive reduction in scores will occur, should the album be available in Woolworth’s, or Wal-Mart. Indeed, while this will only apply to artists that have achieved popularity after years of relative obscurity, the fact that a large percentage of the population will actually be able to buy a particular record in the high street, is enough to encourage a particularly scathing and venomous review

Strangely, a mainstream artist that produces a record which, after a consistent and successful career, sinks like a lead balloon as far as both the general public, and the music press are concerned, will be seen favourably by the Pitchfork crew, narrowly missing out on the ‘Best New Music’ listings.

From this standpoint, it would be all to easy to level charges of elitism against Pitchfork Media and music consumption in general, whilst simultaneously deriding the way that most people now listen music in the digital age. As I think about it further, I realise that it would be both naive and unrealistic on my part to call for a separation of musical form and content on the one hand, and the wider ‘narrative’ that gives a deeper significance to listeners on the other. In short, it is impossible to separate the form (i.e. structure, melody etc) from the society which both surrounds, and produces it. I know that this ‘narrative’ gives a certain weight to some of my own most respected artists, both past and present. This narrative history, like all art, is what gives a text both it’s merit, and it’s value. Yet, even from this realisation, it is still the unnamed track hidden at the bottom of my playlist that shocks me to attention as I go about my day. The song that wakes me from a drunken stupor at an after party is usually one that is new to me, that simple melody or unique phrasing that stirs my limbs from atrophy and leads me to ask, in almost breathless disbelief:

‘Jesus, what IS that track?’

…and the response I get in these situations is less the response of the jaded musical aficionado eager to give the entire history of the band in question, but one given with a lop-sided grin, from someone who is genuinely pleased that I am perhaps appreciating in a similar way that they do.

…a supermarket in california
January 17, 2007, 6:03 pm
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After walking along Western road to the beat of a strict and relentless 4/4 rhythm, I found myself in the flourescent aisles of the supermarket.supermarket1.jpg

I navigate my way through crowds of office workers masquerading as rock musicians, seemingly panicked by a truckers blockade, a fuel crisis, or a BSE scare and stumble upon Allen Ginsberg: Childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the Wild Blueberry flavoured washing up liquid and eyeing scented candles.Where are we going Allen Ginsberg? Where a movement described by J. Edgar Hoover as the ‘third greatest threat to America’ now defines itself through elitism and aloof detachment? The beatniks and the hipsters lie hollow and crestfallen at the feet of Kerouac’s ‘beatitude’; reduced to defining individuality and creativity through notions of exclusion.

The ‘Dharma bums’ who waged war, when it appeared that there was a war that could be won, who fought tooth and nail for the advancement of society as a whole (rather than for an acknowledgment of their part in the battle) have been reduced through the passage of of history to little more than ineffectual dreamers. We on the other hand, as inheritors, strive to make our mark on a society that has stretched to a point in which its own curvature is as visible to the eye as it is to the mind.

Where are we going, Allen Ginsberg? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight? (I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd). Will we walk all night through solitary streets?

The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses. We’ll both be lonely.

so you want to be a rock star?
January 16, 2007, 6:12 pm
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so you want to be a rock star?…

It’s a twisted race to the bottom, and if you’re not dead by your 28th birthday, you’ve failed…

1. Release debut album with minor label, with small initial pressing funded either by a) your part-time job in a video store, or b) your daddy’s gold card. Release your record at the right time of year (preferably at the same time as the latest Stereophonics album), and if you’re lucky, NME will hail you as the new Nirvana/Whitestripes/Strokes. (Daddy’s gold card may also be helpful again here. Commence heavy tour schedule at packed tiny clubs that you will never again visit upon reaching stage 2. Stories of riots outside these venues permeate the music press.

2. Sign multi-million pound contract for a 5-album deal with Geffen at the first possible opportunity while both claiming solidarity with the independents. Rumours escalate concerning second album, with a number of superstar producers linked to the project, everyone from Jack White to Tina Turner are rumoured to feature as guest artists. Regularly featured in Hello! magazine, blind drunk and wearing a dress leaving the Met bar with a string of A list celebrities. Frequently deny any links with a number of super models and Hollywood actresses. “Mars bar” rumours (a la Marianne Faithful) prove unfounded.

3. Second album released to critical acclaim, and reported to outsell Michael Jackson’s “thriller”. Perform at a number of large, international festivals, which are fraught with scandal and missed performances. Lollapalooza sees you perform drunk for a total of 5 minutes before climbing on top of the speaker stacks and threatening to kill yourself unless someone actually brings you the moon on a stick. At this point it would be wise to pick another group within a similar (but slightly inferior) standing in the music press, and begin a well-publicised hate campaign. The most antagonistic party in this exchange is more likely to secure their position in rock history, so play dirty…

4. 3rd studio album plagued with difficulties concerning “artistic differences”. It is rumoured that you have been through 30 drummers during the first week’s sessions. Insist that album is completed in the Bahamas over the next 6 months while you develop a healthy cocaine addiction and spend your time messing about, fat & naked on the beach for the tabloids. Frequent comments rallying against the British music press are voiced, and frequent reports in interviews about how you don’t do interviews anymore, because nobody understands you. The working title of third album is changed from something extremely offensive and indicative of your ragged and depressed state of mind at this point, to something which will have fans marvelling at how fitting a eulogy the title appears on reaching stage

5. Violent public feuds with supermodel girlfriend rumoured to be fuelled by escalating alcohol and heroin addiction. At this stage, you’re an international, star, and amidst numerous failed treatments at the Betty Ford clinic as you drop in and out of the spot-light and/or reality, you should have some time to contemplate your own suicide. Be sure to choose a method that echoes your career philosophy, as it’s no accident that James Dean didn’t choose to take an overdose of anti-depressants, nor Elliott Smith to die in a drag race. If all published pictures in the press after your demise seem to show you gazing up to heaven like an angel, you’ve made it, welcome to the rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame. Then again, you’ll never see it…..because you’ll be dead.