Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Depeche Toi, Suckers!

Edgy (n):  nervous, apprehensive; creatively challenging; cutting edge; leading edge; on the edge between acceptable and offensive; pushing the boundaries of good taste; dodgy.

Edgy.  It’s such a horrible word.  Applied to a person it usually means that they’re rude or irresponsible or both (no thanks!)   Applied to anything else it usually means “If you don’t like this it’s because you don’t understand it – and I can’t explain it to you!”  And, yet, it’s increasingly being used as a word to describe the best in our society and our culture.  I call foul.  J’Accuse, if you will!

I’ll start by describing a friend of mine called Neil.  There’s absolutely nothing edgy about Neil at all.  He loves football, music, his missus and his kids.  And yet he is one of the funniest, most intelligent, most creative individuals that I know.  I have stood at gigs that his band did and alternately laughed at the humour and marvelled at the skill.  And I wasn’t the only one.  In fact, the people in Cramps T-shirts, standing po-faced at the back were in the minority.  I felt kind of sorry for them, really, because we were all having such fun!  (For anyone who scoffs at the idea that fun is the primary concern here, I would like to quote the greatest living American writer, John Irving – “Life is serious, but art is fun!” and “Keep passing the open windows!”)

That’s not to say I don’t like a challenge, because I do.  There are so many things that amaze and delight me with their uncompromising creativity.  Some examples?  Oh, go on then!  Sylvia Plath’s masterpiece, “Daddy”, in which she describes her father as being like a shoe that she has lived in “like a foot for thirty years, poor and white, barely daring to breathe or achoo” and then, by the end of it, you don’t know whether she is talking about her father or some other man.  Stunning.  Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse 5” which totally rewrote the rules about what the narrative of a novel should look like and, at the same time, STILL managed to be the most chilling indictment of mankind’s evil in war ever put down on paper.  Joanna Newsom’s “Peach, Plum, Pear”, with that ratchety voice and  the harpsichord being almost strummed like a guitar and God knows how many time signatures going on at the same time.  Anish Kapoor’s 2009 Royal Academy Exhibition, with that thing that looked like a giant red lipstick violating the whole space and leaving it’s red spaff all over the R.A.  These are all wonderful things.  And, in their time, they were all brand new, untried, untested and unswervingly avant garde.

And they weren’t brain farts.

It amazes me today that so many people think it is okay to cannibalise what other people have done before them.  Not reinvent those things – but literally just appropriate them. They wear Ramones T-Shirts and sneer at all the people who wore them last time and have no desire to wear them anymore.  They mix rock with electronica and pretend they are doing something really brand new - never mind that Van Halen did it nearly 30 years ago (and it didn't work any better that time round).  They work the "drunk punk" act (and apart from the drunk bit, it *is* an act) in just the same way that I did when I was 22.  I’ve had a 21 year old come up to me and tell me I should not be listening to Lady Gaga – and I wouldn't do if I had  ever listened to early Siouxsie and The Banshees?  Or Brix Smith era The Fall?  I couldn’t reply to that.  The words stuck in my throat and wouldn’t come out – but here they are: 

“Yes.  I have.  Many times.  Many times before you were ever born.  And I am delighted that you now love that music – but please don’t try to offer it to me as though you were one of the Three Wise Men bearing gifts.  And, as you may one day realise, Lady Gaga is part of the legacy of Siouxsie and Brix… and Deborah… and Annie… and Madonna… and, yes, even Britney, whether you like it or not!”

Anyway, that’s maybe (certainly) youthful folly.  And what does it all matter in the end?  Not a jot, actually.  But what does matter is when this desire to be seen as uncompromising spills over into real life.  Then it gets dangerous.

There’s too much attitude around these days.  People even talk about “having attitude” as being a good thing.  It probably is a good thing if you’re Billy Idol, but if you’re a shop assistant or call centre worker living in Northern England, then it’s a pretty bloody unattractive characteristic.  If you sneer at people, call people out for all their faults or insecurities, lamely insult them for laughs, refuse to compromise to make everyone’s lives easier, that doesn’t make you edgy – it makes you a cunt. 

Similarly, it’s possible to love and defend your friends without having to deny the fact that they, like everyone else, have fallibilities and make mistakes.  You can be part of a cohesive group without behaving like a shoal of anchovies, with one direction and one common purpose.  What the hell is edgy about that?

I know gay people who actually relentlessly bully other gay people for being too gay.  Or for shopping for clothes at ASDA.  That absolutely beggars belief in my opinion (and all of this, like every other entry on this blog is just my opinion, after all).  They’d deny that they’re bullies – but they are.  I’ve seen it in action.  I’ve stood back and watched while a well known alternagay on the Manchester Scene mercilessly reduced another gay man to tears.  And it was over a shirt.  And when, sometime later, that gay man retaliates, he will be reduced to tears again by that alternagay’s snapping shoal of friends, swimming like anchovies in his direction.  Or should that be piranhas?

I want everyone to get on.  Equally I won’t hold back from exposing hypocrisy and cruelty when I see it.  I want to wear the clothes that I think are pretty.  Or flattering.  I promise not to criticise your clothes if you don’t criticise mine.  And by the same token, you can enjoy all the cultural delights you like without any interference from me, as long as you leave me to enjoy Plath and Vonnegut and Newsom and Kapoor in peace.

And (although, thankfully, this last sentence is barely needed), whatever you do, if you value our friendship, don’t call me edgy.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Burning Questions

The meaning of life is obviously NOT one of the things that are bugging people's heads in the 21st Century...

Ten Things

There's a lot of stuff I want to talk about at the moment.  So much, in fact, that it was paralysing me, stopping me from writing anything at all.  I would get so far into a paragraph about one thing and then I would think I should probably be writing about something else.  So, anyway, I decided I needed to write a bit about all of them and then I can move on to something more interesting instead.  Ten things then.  It's like a list.  A very rambling one.  (Get on with it Jim!)

1.  The series finale of Doctor Who starts next week, which means this series is, by definition, almost over and I haven't mentioned it once.  It's been spectacular - so complex and emotional and rich.  I love Russell T Davies, but his era suffered a bit by occasionally lapsing into slapstick.  Moffatt hasn't done that at all.  And Matt Smith is just stunning - I am completely sold on him as The Doctor in a way that I never was with David Tennant.  Favourite episode so far?  Definitely Cold Blood - it was spectacular and the bit when Rory was killed and then erased from history genuinely shocked me, even though I was kind of expecting it.  The Lodger has been the weakest episode so far but I understand that something lighthearted was needed before what is inevitably going to be a very harrowing finale indeed.  Anyway - I'll write more about this when the series is finally over.

2.  I should probably stop caring so much about what people think of me.  The only people I have clashed with have been people who were behaving like assholes.  Everyone who matters seems to think I am pretty ace.

3.  I'm going through a phase where I am finding city living really claustrophobic.  I think it's because I can't afford to get away from here at the moment.  And then I was insanely jealous that Mark got to go to Jersey and get sunburnt on the beach.  It IS only a phase though.  I'll be back to loving being here in no time at all.

4.  This government of the ConDemmed that we have been landed with are outrageous and wrong.  They are messing with the constitution in a way that they have no mandate to do.  Fixed Term Parliaments are a good thing, but a vote of no confidence should require 50% of MPs plus 1 to bring the government down and force an election.  They are proposing to change that to 56%, which seems a really arbitrary figure until you realise that it's been set at that level because all the other parties put together wouldn't be able to reach it.  And what is all this shit about asking the public to decided what the government should be doing to save money??  That's what we pay THEM for, isn't it?

5.  I'm liking my music increasingly complex these days.  Most indie music irritates the hell out of me because it seems so banal.  And, yet, at the same time, I LOVE Gaga.   But maybe that's my queerness and very little else.  Anyway - it's a Debussy chord sequence that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end now.

6.  I would happily eat nothing but sushi nowadays.  This is strange for someone who adores French food as much as I do.  Having said that, I would sell my own mother for a bowl of moules at The Boathouse in St Aubins.

7.  I won't be watching any Big Brother, even though it's the last one.  I watched the housemates going in and there was no-one fit, funny or in any other way engaging.  I will write more, instead.  Tonight I will watch Who Do You Think You Are?, which is on at the same time.  But don't get me wrong - I wouldn't dream of dissing anyone else for watching it - I have enjoyed it myself in the past.  But I was in my twenties when it started and I'm now nearly 40, which is a real sign that it's been going on too long already.

8.  Speaking of which, I really can't decide how to celebrate my 40th birthday.  I would like to get a gang of friends together and go to somewhere like Center Parcs for the weekend - I have never been and I feel like I should.  I doubt that will happen, though - it's so hard organising people for something like that.  Other ideas include having a hen party up Canal Street, or just hiring somewhere and having a really big bash, with the only demand being that people dress as fabulously as they can muster.  Anyway - I have nine months to come up with something and that's long enough, I think.

9.  I need to be more healthy, lose some more weight, not drink so much.  But this month has been a really shit month and I think I was bound to go a bit silly and not look after myself.  I'll do something about that starting now.

10.  There are always ten aren't there?  Or are there?

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Bitches Categorised

Not really a lot to say this morning. But I just wanted to share with you this video by the effortlessly beautiful Colby Keller, in which he reads out a list of types of bitches. I find it strangely meditative and it's helped me combat this hangover.

A full list of the bitches can be found here.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Dear Jem

This is in response to a conversation I had with a friend of mine recently about what I would say if I could write a letter to the 18 year old me. I thought I would just try it.

Dear Jem

First things first. No-one knows better than me how confused you are generally about your life. You're sitting on a boat back from Guernsey to England and wondering why everything around you that gives you stability is falling apart. The fact is - and I won't sugar this pill because there's no point - Dad is going to leave Mum and he's going to do it within a week. There will be tears and there will be heartache. Home will not be a nice place to be. You'll wish you'd stayed in Guernsey away from it all, as you sit in your room and listen to The Fall and The Cure too loud, just to drown all the madness out. But it won't last forever and, every day, you will be one step closer to coming to terms with it. I promise.

Most of this is spoilers, of course, but I'm going to try to avoid telling you anything that will make you do things differently. Everything you do over the next 21 years leads you to the place that I am now. And that's a good place. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, so I have a vested interest in you doing all the things that fate has got lined up for you.

So let's answer the biggie. You are gay. It will take you a long time to come to terms with that fact once and for all - probably a bit too long. But I can't blame you for that. All things considered, in 2010 being gay is a pretty fantastic thing to be (more of that later), but I know that in 1989 it's anything but. You feel like you can't really tell anyone close to you about it and you know that you can't make it known to the wider world, because people are generally pretty vicious towards gay people still. I promise you that that's going to change forever over the next ten years. But here's something really fabulous (another spoiler, I'm afraid, but I think it's something you could do with hearing right now): in about four weeks time you are going to fall head over heels in love with someone wonderful. Someone wonderful who's a boy. I won't take all the wonder and excitement out of it by telling you who and when, but here's a snapshot. You will lie in his bed one night, it will be raining like the apocalypse outside, and he will read Adrian Henri poems to you while you stroke his thigh. You'll drink cheap wine and smoke spliffs and the you will kiss and, when you stop, you will realise that it's dawn and that that night felt 10 seconds long. Enjoy it while it lasts and don't be too sad when it ends.

There'll be some confusing times after that. You'll date a girl you've known for years because you don't want to lose her as a friend. It's okay, though - when you decide you have to be true to your real feelings and end it with her, you will deal with that trauma together. That will cement things - you and her will be friends for life. No-one in the world will have quite the same bond with you as she does and I doubt anyone ever will. A couple of months ago I went to visit her and her lovely, healthy, happy son. Remember that outcome.

The places you will go to and the things you will see. Wild Boars in your brother's back garden in France (yes, that's right, in France). New York City - you will actually walk around New York City and see some really famous people in the flesh who you will fall instantly in love with. Hamburg - you'll drink Warsteiner at bars in Hamburg and stare lovingly into the bright blue eyes of the American boy who will never want you the way you want him. Try not to worry about that when you realise it - a matter of weeks later something really quite wonderful will happen. Jersey - you will live in Jersey. I know that right now, on your way back from a summer in Guernsey, you're probably thinking "So what?" Well let me tell you this: you'll live on a house on the beach there. You've ALWAYS wanted that, right? You're going to get it - you're going to be able to step out of your front door and drink your morning coffee with your feet dangling in the sea. It won't last forever, but you will have done it. You'll write speeches for politicians that actually get shown on the news (never saw that coming, right?) You *will* own an accordion. You'll carry on buying everything They Might Be Giants release (and that's ongoing, you'll be glad to know) and you won't care what other people think of that.

There's going to be difficulties. Of course there are. You will have you heart broken several times, but I promise you it won't matter in the end.

I know you can't get along with technology right now. That's understandable - technology in 1989 is pretty crap. But that's all going to change. I can't tell you how (that's one spoiler too many) but technology is about to explode in a very big way and it's going to make sure that you never ever feel like the only gay in the village again.

A bit about me. I live in Manchester. I have many wonderful friends of all shapes, sizes, genders and colours who are there for me and who enrich my life more than I can thank them for. I have a wonderful boyfriend who I think I'm probably going to be with forever. I have a job I enjoy (not love, but who needs to love their job?) and a house full of art and music and poetry. I have pink china and rose petal tea. I love my life and it really is down to you to make sure I still get it. Don't let me down, buster.

Most importantly, I know you think you don't love yourself very much right now, but that will change. I love you. So it must.

Be brave