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Missing, Inaction

July 11, 2019 23 comments

Did you miss me, while I was away? Did you hang my picture on your wall? No, hold on, I shouldn’t be quoting him, should I! But he did make some undeniably great pop songs, before his downfall and disgrace. So, let’s start again. Had you noticed that I had been AWOL from my blog again? You could be forgiven for that: I’m not exactly the most regular or reliable of bloggers, am I? And as this hiatus was, by my standards, relatively brief, it probably wouldn’t have registered very high on the Richter scale for blogquakes, if such a thing exists. Come to think of it, very few of my posts would be likely to raise Prof Richter from his usual UK torpor anyway. But, if you cast your eyes to the right, you will see that this post is all of 18 days since my last one. Why?

I hadn’t planned on taking a break, although I have alluded in some recent posts to the fact that a lot of real life was happening around me. That in itself wouldn’t have caused the gap – but we should always be wary of gaps, as any traveller on the London Underground will know. The major real life issue was not, for once, my health, though it didn’t have a positive effect on me health-wise. It was that I had to move home. I know that all over the world this is an everyday occurrence but I am used to stability, and this was a decidedly destabilising experience! I had been in the same home for the past eleven and a half years, since my divorce, and this was only my second move of home since 1982: I am a creature of regular habits! But, since the aforementioned divorce I have been living in a flat rented from a private owner. The owners’ circumstances required them to raise the cash from selling the property, so yours truly had to go. The whole experience was incredibly stressful for me, and I’m intending to write a post about that at some point, when I feel up to it: moving home is, after all, recognised as one of the leading causes of stress. But I’ll save that for another day – it requires more care, sensitivity and thought than I can muster at present. The point of this piece – yes, I’m finally getting to it – is a reflection on how dependent we have become on something which we know is there, even though we can’t see it. But, as Joni Mitchell said, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.’ I’m referring, of course, to that modern day wonder known as the internet.

Do you ever stop to think about how much we depend on it? If not, try going without it for a whole 15 days, like I have just done. I knew there would be a few days without it after the move, but wasn’t prepared for an additional delay while British Telecom (aka BT) struggled to work out why the link from the box on the wall in my new flat failed to register any kind of score on their readings – think of it as a telecoms version of ‘Royaume Uni – nul points’ at the Eurovision Song Contest, a phrase with which we Brits were already familiar for many years before the vote for Brexit, since when even fewer countries have deigned to bestow any points on our pathetic entries to the competition. Apparently, leaving the EU doesn’t automatically mean that we leave the song contest too, as anyone old enough (i.e. me) to remember us being in it before EU membership can tell you. I wonder if anyone has done a study of the correlation between the two? I wouldn’t mind betting that the song contest is a popular entertainment choice for pro-Brexiteers: after all, if you’re a moron about one thing it’s likely that you will be equally moronic about others, and the chances are that some would have been sufficiently stupid to think that’s what they were voting for. But I digress, sorry. BT have finally solved the problem, after much testing, digging up the road and playing with cables, etc and I’m now back in the land of the living. Huzzah!

The interweb, then. It was in 1997 that we first got connected to it at home, and around the same time at work. Back then it was a novelty, but in the 20+ years since then it has become an absolutely vital part of our lives, both for work and personal use. I haven’t been completely cut off: I have still had the use of my mobile and data, but that is expensive and the screen is too small for much – it’s good for WhatsApp, texts  and checking emails, but far too expensive for any more intensive use. To avoid any language barriers I should point out, for the benefit of those who insist on using the term, that by ‘mobile’ I’m referring to what you call a ‘cell phone.’ To us, that is something a prisoner would have, but each to their own language, I guess. The ubiquity of the web as part of our lives was brought home to me by my older daughter, who asked if I could get something like a Chromecast while I was waiting for my satellite tv to be reconnected. This is a very intelligent young woman with a PhD, who is a Senior Lecturer at one of the UK’s better universities. With, I thought, remarkable nonchalance and absolutely no sarcasm, I replied that I already have an Apple TV, but it (and a Chromecast) kind of relied on the internet. The reply was along the lines of ‘🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️😂😂😂’ but that makes my point, doesn’t it: we are so used to having the web that we forget how much we use it for. Try doing any of these on a small screen when you’re trying not to go into the next band for another squillion quid of mobile data charges:

Blogging, of course, to begin with – it’s just no fun trying to read and comment on blogs on a mobile, here in my cell, and I’ve rather let things slip. Sorry, I’m sure your posts were all great but I might not catch up with you all! I wrote this piece on my (unconnected) iPad during my enforced absence, and have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to unleash it upon you. Well, a little, anyway.

Doing general ‘business-y things’ is another thing which is made convenient by the internet. I had forgotten just how many places I had shared my address with, and almost every postal delivery brings a reminder of another. But it is but a matter of moments to update my address for them all, and I shudder to think how many letters and phone calls this would have taken back in olden times. I prioritised a few which I thought were essential – like not getting the power cut off, for example – and one of these was my TV licence. Don’t ask me why, I just did, even though I wasn’t able to watch tv. I was glad I did, though, as it seems the previous occupant of my flat didn’t have a licence so my address is now on the hit list for the enforcement people. These faceless bureaucrats work on the assumption that everyone watches tv, and that no one is so primitive as not to. Therefore we must prove that we don’t need a licence if that is the case. Police state, anyone?

Shopping – this just isn’t much fun with an app on a mobile. I managed a full grocery shop, but wouldn’t want to keep doing it that way. I have relied on internet shopping for just about everything in recent years and using only a mobile it was almost impossible to browse for the essentials I need for my new home – I really do need a new washing up bowl! I did spend some of my precious data on looking at getting a dongle for my laptop, to create an impression of broadband, but decided that I would rather not buy a bit of kit which might be inviting the Chinese government into my home to spy on me. I’ll keep my internet browsing habits to myself, if it’s all the same to you. Or them.

News – I’ve mostly been without tv for this period, too, and have come to realise how dependent I am for my daily news fix on the Guardian and Apple News apps. I’ve used radio news but somehow it isn’t the same without pictures: if someone is throwing a milkshake over a fascist I want to see it! But I did eventually realise that my portable tv did actually work with an indoor aerial, even if the main one didn’t, so I’ve at least been able to watch a bit of Wimbledon.

Sports news is the same. I enjoy a full subscription to tv sports services and make much use of them, although I do draw the line at watching those imported efforts like handegg and rounders. The cricket World Cup has been taking place and it has been purgatory for me not to be able to watch. Is it bad that I’ve been wasting my mobile data on apps that update me? I think not, but I’ve been very sparing with my use. Life just hasn’t been the same!

Music – I’ve had to actually play CDs rather than stream my music! I know, it’s shocking, isn’t it? I have a vast collection of CDs and have been reacquainting myself with them. I really should have a massive clear out, though: there are few which aren’t available on Apple Music and it is so easy to use that service. I’ve missed YouTube too – who’d have thought that people like me would spend so much time watching music videos?

Catch up tv – you can’t download without the web, or use the mobile service to watch programmes currently being broadcast. I’ve always used these as back up services, and I’ve missed them. As soon as my Sky connection is reinstalled I’ll be doing a lot of downloading: the newest series of NCIS New Orleans awaits!

Games – I don’t classify myself as a serious gamer, though I’ll admit to being intrigued to see what Apple will be offering with its new service in the autumn (aka fall, if you must!). What I mean is the sort of games you can play on an iPad. Did you ever stop to think how many of these required an internet connection? No, nor did I – until this past fortnight. Whilst much of this is for those dreadful adverts that permit you a free go, some games just don’t work properly without being connected. Now that is something I wouldn’t have imagined moaning about 20 odd years ago when the web entered my life!

Reference and knowledge: not the kind that you can get just as easily from a book – remember them, dictionaries and encyclopaedias? – but the ability to do important stuff like checking IMDb to work out where I’ve previously seen the actor I’m watching now. As I was limited to watching DVDs that wasn’t such a big deal, but I still missed it. 

Above all, and underpinning everything else, is the feeling of not being connected. It is very easy to become isolated if you rely on web based services: I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve missed Farcebook and, to a lesser extent, Twitter and Instagram. Some of my friends think I probably don’t care about them any more! I’ve dropped in on a couple of occasions but they were very brief stops. I’m now gradually reacquainting myself with what is going on, and hopefully it won’t take me too long to catch up!

Yes, I’ve been able to read books and magazines on my iPad during the hiatus, but only those which I had previously downloaded. There is nothing like the frustration of making a choice from my Kindle library only to realise ‘bugger, that one is still in the cloud!’ It’s just so good to feel normal again, as much as I ever do. Expect more from me now that I can see you again across the ether, as I emerge from my cocoon.

For anyone who has struggled to read this piece with the guilt from being reminded of the classic piece of pop ear worm with which I began, I can only apologise. I should, however, like to conclude by pointing out that, as a matter of fact, I’m back! By way of apology, I offer you the other song to which I referred:

See you soon, if I ever escape from my binge watching, listening, reconnecting and reading catch ups!

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Still All Right?

March 4, 2019 18 comments

With this post I’m completing the resharing of my 2016 ‘trilogy’ about when I was 16 years old, back in 1969/70. This was originally posted in my now largely defunct series of #SaturdaySongs – though perhaps it will get the occasional reprise when the mood takes me. As usual, I’ll share the post again and come back at the end to the present day. The post was based around the song ‘All Right Now,’ by Free:

I didn’t know it at the time but when I wrote Summer of ’69 back in February I was, in a way, starting what has become this new series of #SaturdaySongs. I followed it up with a companion piece – Born to Be Wild(ish) – in August, and with today’s song I am in effect completing a trilogy about the days when I was a mere 16 years old.

In those previous posts I described how I worked for the first time through the long school summer holiday in 1969, saving up to buy a motor scooter, and how this opened up a time of freedom and enjoyment for me. I described joining the local scooter club and going on long weekend rides – this took me through the winter of 69-70 and right through the summer of 1970. I also joined the local youth centre in Dover, which was based at a place called Centre 365. As well as running youth nights the Centre also provided support for the needy and the homeless. It was a great place to be at that time and, as one of the managers was a friend of my father it felt like home for me. If you’ve read Summer of ’69 you’ll know that Dad left home at the end of the week in which I bought my scooter, and I think my younger self was looking for somewhere welcoming where I could just enjoy myself, away from the new responsibilities I had taken on as the ‘man of the house’ supporting Mum.

Today’s song is this:

This was released in May 1970. It spent 16 weeks in the UK charts but never actually made it to the top: it reached as far as no.2, where it stayed for 6 weeks. Five of these were behind Mungo Bloody Jerry, the other behind Elvis in his latterday bloated crooner days. Even back then the British public couldn’t be trusted to make the right choices! But the song was the soundtrack to my summer that year, and whenever I hear it – I play it often – I’m taken back to those days. For me, 1970 was the only year in a five year spell in which I had no public exams at school, so the pressure was off a lot. The school’s own exams were much better! It was the year when England failed to defend the World Cup, but I stayed up late on many nights watching the matches being broadcast live from Mexico – it was the year of Gordon Banks’ wonder save against the great Pele, and of the amazing semi-final between Italy and West Germany that seemed to go on forever, and finished 4-3 to Italy, with Franz Beckenbauer playing with one arm in a sling. To this day, that stands as the best game I’ve ever seen, for drama. Well, so my increasingly hazy memory tells me, anyway.

You’ll see that the performance I chose to share was from Free’s appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival. This was arranged as a British answer to the legendary Woodstock, which had taken place the previous year and had helped change the face of live rock music performance in a way that had hitherto been unknown. The IoW Festival was promoted well in advance, and a mate and I hatched a plan to go to it. Like most plans dreamed up in our youth, however, it fell apart in spectacular fashion, along with the friendship. Thinking about it, I’ve long preferred indoor events anyway – the acoustics are better and I don’t like huge crowds!

The success of All Right Now is credited with getting the band their spot in the Festival, at which they played to over 600,000 people. Astonishing numbers, and you only get a small sense of that from the video. It was the song that gave them their chart breakthrough too and the album from which it came – Fire and Water – which was their third of six studio albums in their four years together, was their most successful. Forget the sales figures: it is one of the few albums which has enjoyed the ultimate accolade of having been bought by me on vinyl, cassette and CD! I still play it regularly – it is a brilliant blues-rock album, and has stood the test of time well over the 46 years since its release. Wow! Where did that time go?

The joys of that summer were, sadly, never to be repeated for me. Later that year Mum sold the family home and moved us back to where she had spent her childhood, and the geography just didn’t work any more in respect of the scooter club or Centre 365. Still, it was one of the best summers I’ve ever had – it was all right then and it’s still All Right Now 😊

I hope you’ve enjoyed joining me on my three-part journey down memory lane. That post was written in Autumn 2016 and I’m not sure that I’d still use the song title to describe how I’m feeling about life just now. I am about to face one of those life changes that are always rated high on the list of stress factors and, without attempting to be melodramatic or pathetic, I really do feel more than at any time since I went back to work in 2012 that my mental health is under pressure. To be totally honest, it doesn’t feel good, but I know I have to get through it and will need help to do so. I have a feeling that you may be hearing more about this from me in the coming months! But for now, the jury is deliberating on the question of whether I’m ‘Still All Right.’ Keep your fingers crossed for me, please.

Icons And Lesser Icons

January 14, 2019 11 comments

Three years ago, almost to the day, I published a post titled Starman on the death of one of my musical icons. As many of you have started following me since then you may not have seen this before, so I thought I’d share it again. At the time I had intended to write a piece honouring the memory of one of the true greats of rock music and in a way I did. But it developed into one of my occasional rants. Take a look to see why, and I’ll return after to explain why this has become relevant for me again:

“Over the past two days I’ve been doing what I expect many have been doing: I’ve been playing David Bowie songs and reminding myself just what made him such a special musician. I also spent a lot of Monday watching the TV news and the various tribute pieces that were being broadcast. Yesterday, once the print media had the chance to catch up, it was the newspapers’ turn. My newspaper of choice is The Times – coincidentally, also Bowie’s choice, according to their obituary, although I’m not sure how they knew that. Yesterday’s issue came in a lovely wraparound, which featured a portrait of him with a cigarette – an image that would have been commonplace until he gave up his 60 a day habit when his daughter Lexi was born. Inside, they reproduced the lyrics to three of his most famous songs – Space Oddity, Starman and Life On Mars  – together with some more pictures of him and the album sleeves. Tastefully done, I thought, and a fitting tribute. Turning to the paper itself, there were a further twelve pages of tribute and obituary and a news story on the front page which carried onto page 2. There was also a full cover picture on the Times2 section. As I read through this I began to feel something I wasn’t expecting after the loss of one of my musical heroes: I was getting annoyed.

This feeling had begun on Monday evening, as I watched a special 30 minute programme that had been slotted into the BBC1 schedule. On the whole, this was a far better effort than Sky News had managed earlier, but there was one part that really irked me: the BBC6 Music DJ Sean Keaveny having the audacity to talk over the famous video of the 1972 performance of Starman on Top Of The Pops. For those who weren’t around at the time, this performance is largely credited with making Bowie’s career: his only previous hit, Space Oddity, had been three years earlier and Starman itself hadn’t exactly taken the charts by storm until this appearance, after which it climbed into the Top Ten. The rest, as they say, is history. So what did Keaveny tell us while he was preventing us from watching the video? Did he mention its significance to Bowie’s career? No, he told us that because Bowie had declared himself to be bisexual the fact that he put his arm around Mick Ronson’s shoulder while they sang the chorus made this a trailblazing video for gay power. Nowhere, to my knowledge, is there on record any suggestion that Ronson – who was married once and fathered children with three different women – was gay or bisexual, so where did Keaveny get this idea from? I guess he must have been ‘in the know’ at the time, right? Er, no, not quite: he was born two months after the record was released, so he must have been quite a prodigy! Maybe the gay community can tell me that this is indeed true, but I didn’t need Keaveny talking about it all over the video. So here it his, without his act of destruction:

The second dose of annoyance was served up for me by Caitlin Moran. I am a big fan of her writing, which always amuses and entertains me whilst being thought-provoking. Her piece in yesterday’s paper was heavy with suggestion about how important this music and its era were in her teenage years, but she was born three years after Starman was a chart hit! Of course, I won’t deny that she could have been listening to the music as she was growing up, probably because her parents played it, but to try to appropriate the timeframe for this as being part of her own youth is, to my mind, at best disingenuous and at worst, dishonest.

Why is it that whenever a rock icon dies everyone has to take their piece of him or her? The Times even gave us a comment from Tony Blair, that well known musical expert and purveyor of truth. And the music critic Charles Shaar Murray telling us that other journalists used to refer to him as ‘Bowie’s representative on Earth.’ Funny, I thought that role was played by Tony Visconti, Bowie’s long time friend and record producer. Whether that is true or not, it illustrates my point. The death of an icon is important for all of us who were fans, not just for those who are being paid to go into print or on screen about it and feel the need to boost their credentials. He was our icon. We all have a part of him in our memory, and we don’t need the self-appointed steamrollering over that, claiming territorial rights over the deceased and telling us what we should be feeling or thinking. I won’t be reading any more, if I can resist the temptation. Well, not until the next icon departs……”

Little did I know it that early in the year, but 2016 turned out to be an annus horribilis with the passing of several of my favourites. Look back through my catalogue and you will find tributes to Glenn Frey, of the Eagles, who wrote the song which gives my blog its title, and Dave Swarbrick, of Fairport Convention who, along with Steeleye Span, were at the forefront of the English electric folk-rock genre. Then, to round the year off, came the sad news of the death of Leonard Cohen. All of these had been extremely significant to the development of my musical tastes, but only one provoked a rant. Why? The short answer is that the outpouring of grief for David Bowie wasn’t matched by the coverage given to the other three. They were all accorded a fairly full obituary in The Times which, back then, was my daily paper, but nothing like the coverage elsewhere that he received. I put that down to the fact that two of them weren’t British, so the innate parochialism of our media didn’t regard them as all that important, and Swarb was a folk musician so wasn’t considered to be of sufficient stature to merit much coverage. Sorry, my bunker mentality showed through a bit there! But the points I made in the piece about Bowie are still valid: I know that journalists and media commentators make their livings by hanging on to the coat tails of those who are far more talented and famous than they could ever hope to be, but I don’t need them to tell me what I should like, or feel, and I can certainly do without the blatant stupidity displayed by the likes of Sean Keaveny and Caitlin Moran!

It is probably the fact that I grew up listening to their music, but there have been other losses in the musical sphere which have been poignant for me, notably Tom Petty, whose passing I covered here. We have lost other greats in recent years: Aretha Franklin notable among them. Her death resulted in possibly the most ridiculous piece of coat tail hanging that we have ever seen:

In case you missed it at the time, those were the words of Donald Trump on the day Aretha died. Not quite the same as Tony Blair raising his head above the parapet to claim a deep and abiding love for Bowie but, in his own inimitable fashion, Trump was claiming the importance of an icon for himself – as a former ’employer’ after she sang at one of his casinos (before they went bankrupt), giving him the perceived right to claim that he knew her well. Somehow I doubt the veracity of that – but he doesn’t tell lots of lies, does he?

But what about the lesser lights of music, whose passing is barely noted by the media? Does that make the loss of them any less tragic? Where are the likes of Sean Keaveny and Caitlin Moran for them? Presumably they are making the decision not to bother, as no one will pay them for their opinions if many in the audience will be asking ‘who was that?’ about their subject. Yesterday, I learned of the passing of ‘Beard Guy.’ How many of you know who I mean? Mike Taylor, to give him his proper name, was a member of the Canadian band Walk Off The Earth (usually abbreviated to WOTE), who have had a fair amount of commercial success in their homeland but relatively little elsewhere – though they have a loyal following which enables them to tour worldwide.

Mike died in his sleep during the night of 29 December. He was 51, and had two children. Where was the mainstream coverage of this, outside Canada? Why did I need to be following the band on Facebook to hear this sad news? To his family, friends and fans this was no less upsetting, but I guess it all comes down to scale: far more people will have been affected by Bowie’s passing, and those of Tom Petty and Aretha Franklin, than by Dave Swarbrick or Beard Guy. I find that sad. Yes, I know that the bigger stars are more newsworthy, but don’t we all deserve to be remembered kindly for what we have done, especially when that has brought pleasure to many – but just not enough for the media to make money out of the passing of a lesser light? WOTE may not be the biggest band on the planet, but they have certainly made their mark. They first came to prominence in 2012 when they released a video of their version of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know. This went viral, and has so far been viewed more than 185 million times, plus a further 12 million when shared by someone else. So, to redress the balance a little, here in Beard Guy’s honour is that video:

I wish he had been somebody that I used to know but, in a way, he was, as I’ve watched many of their videos multiple times and think of them as ‘friends’ whose sense of humour always brightens my day. Every passing is mourned by someone, and every individual is important. We shouldn’t need paid hacks to remind us of that. Take care of your loved ones.

RIP Mike.

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