Wednesday, 23 November 2011

12 Angry Men (or 11 and 1 woman)

Pop music soundtracks all moods. The celebratory and the rousing as you punch the air in syncopation, or the downcast and the blues as you mope in your bedroom with the curtains drawn.

Then they are angry songs. It's not just the usual suspects of punks and rappers either. Who of these dozen in your view is the angriest?

1) Marianne Faithfull - "Why D'Ya Do It?"
A ditty composed for her betrayal between the sheets by Mick Jagger. Pulls no punches. Trouble is, I'm guessing Mick is flattered by it. Still, great lyrics and wonderful rancorous delivery.
2) The Bug (featuring Tippa Irie) - "Angry"
The man who puts the 'ire' back in "Irie". I don't know, the singer of "Hello Darling" isn't someone you naturally associate with vexation, but he sounds proper miffed here. Respec' to The Bug for teasing it out of him.
3) The Jam - "Mr Clean"
This one sneaks up on you as Paul Weller's flat nasals build up a portrait of a drab suburbanite, before unleashing his class bile on such a lifestyle. From the 1978 "All Mod Cons" album which was full of vitriol, before Weller himself sunk into the bourgeois smugness that was The Style Council. The impetuosity of youth eh? I prefer to remember him this way.
4) Ice Cube - "We Had To Tear This Mother Up"
Rodney King, LA Riots, nuff said. Cube declares war on the LAPD. Hard to reconcile with the Cube who acts in Hollywood family friendly movies of today.
5) Discharge - "Fight Back"
Can't decide if they were angry or just had a sore throat.
6) Nick Cave - "Scum"
Cave's usual cheery Gothic demeanour and delivery here are replaced with a song that sounds like it's sung with real feeling. I like the way he clears his throat of spittle to open up the song. A touch of class.
7) Swans - "Time Is Money Bastard"
Are you listening bankers> All Swans songs were pretty damned brutal. This is actually quite poppy. But Michale Gira sounds pi**ed off alright.
8) John Holt - "Police In Helicopter"
This one goes up to 11 when it comes to anger. It's not his voice, in which you hear the adamantine resolution, just the simple formula of an eye for an eye.
9) Dead Kennedys - "Moral Majority"
I love the slow build satire of this, before lapsing into swearing and middle fingering at the target of rage. Ah, they don't breed 'em like this any more
10) Husker Du - "Broken Home, Broken Heart"
Bob Mold gives it everything and sounds pretty irritated to say the least. A fine and much missed band.
11) Linton Kwesi Johnson - "Sonny's Lettah"
Police brutality delivered in an icy cold heat, showing that it's not all about screaming at full lung capacity.
12) Crass - "How Does It Feel (To Be The Mother Of A Thousand Dead)?"
Anarcho-punks quite angry shock. I probably wouldn't include this song, other than it got banned for being unpatriotic about the Falklands' War. It's an odd structure with the female vocal section sort of fading out to be replaced by Steve Ignorant's trademark guttural snarl.

So there you have ladies and gentlemen of the Jukebox Jury. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the angriest of them all?

Friday, 18 November 2011

Dad What Did You Do In The War?

Why nothing of course son.

Merely through the circumstance of being born in the UK in the second half of the twentieth century. A country free from invasion, aerial bombardment and which maintains only a professional army rather than a conscripted one, augmented by weekend soldiers who also only did so voluntarily.

Mind you, having said that, British armed forces have been involved in bloody conflict every single year since the end of World War Two, save a handful.

Yet, while never having been exposed to a battlefield, war has still exerted a distant recoil on me.

The community I grew up in was concerned with the Middle East. I remember my parents donating blood to help the Israeli war effort during the Yom Kippur war in 1973. After that war our family housed injured Israeli soldiers for a holiday in Britain. Our first was a conscript who's war lasted 20 minutes until his tank was hit by a new hand-held anti-tank weapon supplied to Egypt by the Soviet Union. He'd suffered severe burns and bore skin grafts all over his body.

And yet even at whatever tender age I was then, I couldn't buy into the mythology of the Middle East's goodies and baddies as I was supposed to. I think I just wanted to keep my head below the parapet, since I knew I couldn't voice any dissenting opinion within a community that was fervently parochial. Also, I was a bit more struck with a war occurring on my doorstep, relatively low level as it may have been.

Images on television of armoured cars, soldiers in camo with automatic rifles, patrolling eerily familiar streets, with the same makes of cars bearing the same number plates and obeying the same road signs as existed just outside my window. Northern Ireland always seemed way more relevant to my life, than Middle East colonial wars by proxy between the US & the USSR. Northern Ireland really, really troubled me for the familiarity of its settings, and this was way before I was aware that occasionally it did actually spill over on to my London streets. And yet no one, save the Republicans, talked of it as a war. It bothered the hell out of me every day, even if it didn't seem to bother anyone else in mainland Britain (outside of Glasgow).

The same thing happened with the Falklands Conflict. Not a war mind, but a conflict, due to the legal nicety that the UK hadn't declared war on Argentina and had no stated intention of invading the mainland (which would have scaled it up to a war). I remember throwing darts at the dartboard in my bedroom thinking that 6000 miles away, my country was fighting a war and yet the birds outside were singing, the cars were driving past. Everything seemed normal and undisturbed. It felt completely schizoid. I couldn't make sense of the detachment all around. The lack of televised coverage made that far away war seem even more remote.

I became politicised by the war that never happened. The third world war and mutually assured nuclear destruction. That's where I did a lot of reading and conversing and formed my world view. It was when I really turned my gaze outward from my domestic realm of school and play. Around the same time was the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia falling to the invading Vietnamese. I had been dimly aware of the Vietnam War, but I hadn't elected to invest my interest in it despite the bombardment of Hollywood movies on the subject. But the Cambodian situation, perhaps because it was so extreme, I very much did. It seared itself into me and I still religiously read any gobbet of information on that period even today. It took me 30 years to write my fictional response "1979 Gothic" to that horrendous period of history. Why did Cambodia move me and yet the wars of the Middle East, Israel and Palestine, not so much? I have no idea.

I assume there are some people who invest energy in opposing or at least taking an interest in following every single war. I'm not one of them. But I'm struck by the fact that I'll be moved by some wars but not others. Am I any different form the global media, who beat the drum for some wars, while others burn away virtually unreported.

This year, two of the best books I've read - and bear in mind I favour fiction over non-fiction- have been written by two men either side of the Russia-Checheyna conflict- sorry WARs- from the 1990s. Again, wars I was dimly aware of but unmoved by in the sense that I didn't follow them. And yet here, 15 years on I pick up 2 books by combatants in those wars and am utterly swept up (can't say blown away) by them. The first was Nicolai Lillin's "Free Fall", quite simply the best book from a battlefield I have ever read. One that updates the scene from the plethora of Vietnam memoirs, to account for the infinitely more destructive power of weapons and moves us resolutely into the 21st century. It was a dirty war, becoming elided with the global War on Terror as the Russian Federation claimed it was fighting Al Qaeda and Islamic Fundamentalists within its own borders. The other book may not even be non-fiction at all, so mesmerising and hallucinatory is German Sadulaev's book "I Am A Chechen". In truth it doesn't focus all that much on the war, but gives the contrary view of a minority culture struggling to assert its own identity. But it packs no less a punch for all that.

Again, apart from my happenstance of coming by these books, I am curious as to why now, a decade after the end of those particular wars, these books suddenly come into the light of the market. Both were published within the last year. Before that was it too soon? Not for an English-speaking audience unlikely to have had any personal stake in that conflict. Maybe it took that time to throw off the PTSD, for the combatants to rebuild their lives enough (and in exile) to feel able to write. I don't know, but the book market decided somewhere along the line that 2010-11 was the time to look back at this war. We had a spate of African child soldier books a few years back, but commercially that bird now seems to have flown. Wonder which war will be thrown up next for the literary market?

So my thoughts on all of this are just, well conflicted. Yes we make money from misery, but I am unsure as to how and why we decide on which wars to patronise (myself included). I'm glad those books have come out. They certainly had an impact on me. And yet they are unlikely to change anything of course, for all their brilliance. Wars will still be fought. Populations on the outside will still shake their heads at the misery and awfulness of them. They may even donate money to help refugees. And future generations may or may not be influenced by observing such wars being covered by the media.

Dad, what did I do in the war? Nothing son. Other than the privileged freedom of getting utterly confused and not having to pay for my ignorance.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Speak To The Monkey Not The Organ Grinder - Friday Flash

As with the rest of the species, I was to discover ones parents were capital betrayers.

For they were to spoon feed me the cod liver snake oil of language. The viral broadcasts of talk Radio Malt. The contagious pathogens of linguistic wheat germ. Antibody inoculations against self.

The inheritance conferred post-natally, rather than at the cessation of their own lives. The baby reins that shackle us our whole lives.

It commenced sat at my mother's knee. Insidiously. The incandescent glow in her face- her maternal pride before my imminent fall- a fleshy interrogator's beam blinding me. Effacing all my features, save for my mouth. Freud's psychosexual developmental continuum, freezing at the initial oral stage.

Mincing and dicing her own words into gobbet sounds. Mummy bird regurgitating the syllable boluses and spitting them into my mouth. Coated in her indelible mucus. All the while I still clamoured for the pulpy plasma emitted by the teat. But jabbed in my face now, was only the solid heft of language etched on the labial contortions of her moon-face. Duty eclipsing love.

Apparently it no longer sufficed for me to smile, blow raspberry bubbles nor catenate saliva strings of unadulterated joy. Now I must append clarifying sounds for such emotions. Ghee whizz.

Every day mother takes me through my facial calisthenics. To coax the pink fleshy worm from its lair in the floor of my mouth. To start waggling and perform a dance of the seven veils as it exposes my inner being, plastic and unformed as it is. Therefore it is what my mother tells me it is. The intravenous word stock she salts away under my skin.

Now that I am a fatted calf chock full of lexemes, she addresses me differently. Dice becomes splice, as I have to string them together like amino acid chains. Any avoidance of syntax is met with a scowling sin tax demand, rigidly posted on her visage. She will countenance no deviation.

So now I'm sat there bouncing up and down on her lap- no, since I am being armed with this depleted expressive ordnance let's wield it with laser precision shall we- I'm jouncing on her lap. Parading before house callers (not to be confused with bingo callers calling "House"). Each ruffled my hair or pinched my cheek as inspection, eliciting a forced/natural (depending on the pressure imparted to their gambit) performing monkey smile from organ grounded me.

As each well-wisher approached, I could feel mother's shaped breath parting my downy hair from behind as she went over my head. Sotto voce family lore delivered on each and every one of them. Their unimpeachable blood relationship to me, underscored with her tone indicating her judgement on their moral values and behaviour. I believe I only wanted to go with my own impressions, the moisture of their hands, the lingering dab of their fingers, the unmodulated pronouncement of their grip on me. But her cadences overrode every thought I might muster. They coloured each gladhandler's touch, so that caress could be turned into pinch just by her envenoming word.

While she layered the domestic realm with monochromal spite, my father took me out into the world and immediately shrunk any expanded horizons to be derived there.

We would go for walks and he would point at the clouds and name the object shaped therein. A veritable bestiary of terrifying giant creatures in spectral white. He would pounce on flowers, inform me of their poetic, lyrical names, before trepanning them as he plucked them from their coddling soil. Back home he revealed to me his collection of butterflies, each delicately staked out with a brutal, unseen pin on to a cork. To be named is to be tagged and labelled. To be held still and lifeless in place so as to uphold the name. No sliding off into grey areas of the inchoate. Purity and therefore no danger.

Nouns therefore seemed wholly pernicious to me. Stultifying, static, strangling. But my muscles developed and my body began to inhabit verbs. Father couldn't just march me hither and thither through suburbia's green killing fields. I demanded to exercise my rights, wrongs and scraped knees on the playground obstacle course. All he had to do was sit down on the bench and let me run free. He relented, albeit with a corrosive parting shot. He named the bloody apparatuses. The slide, the see-saw, the climbing frame and the roundabout. Cunning devil had ginned me. All my physical surety drained from my body.

It may have been his enunciation of the word 'swing'. My favourite playground activity as I was wont to push myself to ever vertiginous heights. And yet I had also been sternly counselled against swinging my arms when walking, a most unladylike motion. In the realm of the domestic I'd been forewarned against swinging on the furniture, "like monkeys in the arboreal". Father had painted me a picture of frightening men sat on the benches quaffing from tin cans, whom he advised me would inevitably be taking swings at each other with their fists, such was the countermanding control exerted by the "demon drink" (alcohol was always diabolic, inhibition and self-restraint divine). He had further clotted up my ears on a previous occasion about swing votes in elections, demonstrating the lack of constancy and muddied thinking of "the great unwashed".

Then there was its near cousin "spring", rhyming but no more poetic in his throttling epiglottis. An even more terrifyingly promiscuous word with a welter of inferences. Spring was first and foremost the season associated with maximal tutelage as he laid bare Nature's pullulation (sans birds and bees causality). The season when father most definitely had a spring in his strident step. Then there was the spring mechanism for the rusty rocking frog in the playground, that has since been removed by Health and Safety, for fear of being a death trap. Traps waiting to be sprung. Gaol breaks springing dangerous criminals from their incarceration. A springing leap for freedom as he demonstrates his spring heels to stay out of the clutches of law and order. Mother's blessed spring clean. Springing up, springing forth, springing back in recoil. Springing for someone as you steadfastly refuse to change your nationality to Dutch. Springing a leak, like porous language itself, unable to hold meaning through its riddled apertures. Springing from the source, in this case the primordial soup of obfuscation.

With such a variety of meaning, it appears that context is all. But I want to flow free, like a babbling brook. I don't desire word lumps and slabs to be sewn blocking up my bed. Damming and channelling the course of the flux.

But parents are the organ grinders and we the children, their dancing monkeys.

Monday, 14 November 2011

A Brief Note On Identity

In the parochial world of man, I have a fair idea of who I am.

Aware of the helical stock where I hail from

I can trace the atavism and their heritable avatars

The lineaments which inscribe the lines of my face

The flushes, freckles and wrinkled folds of my skin

Well versed in my ethnicity, nationality, creed and culture

Their heritable language and those idiosyncratic flourishes of my own

I know who I like and like what I know

I'm informed whence my creativity and how it unfolds

I'm alert to my foes, vexatious or merely nettling

I'm cognisant where the moral voices in my head come from

While I'm also on first name terms with the delusional ones

I'm acquainted with my aspirations, ambitions and appetites

My drives and their inhibitors, my phobias even to their irrationality

My blindspots and prejudices and the adjustments I make

My fantasies, my attractions, my lusts and their objects

I apprehend my body's taints and physical failings

Possessing a map of how it will further unwind in time

Yet what I remain unenlightened to, is the identity of Man himself

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Why I'm Not Pre-occupied with the Occupy Protest

A protest against the iniquities of capitalism? Count me in ...

Only I hate camping, come out in hives when near religious institutions and well UK Occupy have got their tactics wrong haven't they?

The biggest problem is there is little they can offer up about their protest other than an ill-defined disgruntlement. Though they have garnered lots of media coverage, little of it engages with their purpose and few media outlets seem that interested in trying.

Already the counter-reformation has led to media obsessions with tents being revealed as uninhabited at night, through the use of (battlefield?) infra-red cameras and questioning whether office commuters are being tripped up on the way to work in the City in the morning. The agenda is being shunted into obscure sidings. Also, if you propound the lack of leaders and spokespersons as an organisational and political strength, it does make it hard to convey your viewpoint on serious TV news programmes.

The assembly of people under canvas say that they are debating and discussing ideas. Now this strikes me as a generational thing, because I have all my arguments against capitalism long marshalled over the years. (I've written fictional books to prove it!)But it's true that pace Thatcher and merrily continued by Blair and Brown, there has been a decreasing public space for debate among the demos, as collective and social institutions are eroded (libraries anyone?) and the Executive agglomerates more and more power to itself so that Prime Ministers can take the country into openly unpopular wars.

There really is nothing new under the sun, either about capitalism's opprobrium, or the lack of any credible economic system of organisation to replace it. There has been no new political or economic thought since John Maynard Keynes. Even the radical free marketers espousing Milton Friedman in the 1980s, were only rehashing John Bright And William Cobden's nineteenth century credo. Movements like UK Uncut and Occupy display wonderful creative organisational energy in the nature of their protest, but are completely stumped for offering up alternative systems to replace that which they're protesting.

If you were going to be both rigorous and spectacular with your approach to protest, then maybe rather than occupy a cathedral's walkup space and hit the concessions kiosk takings, maybe construct a simulacrum of the Houses Of Parliament and hold a genuine discussion of politics and constitution, which in the British case is actually to figure out what our 'invisible' constitution actually is and set it down and make it accessible for all. Symbolic and practical resistance and protest all in one. So far the only casualties of the protest have been some clergymen, as the Anglican Church is further rent down the middle by the spasming twitch of its radical rump suddenly getting a jolt. This from an institution beset by strife over gender and sexuality among its own priesthood.

But in fact we don't even need this symbolic form of protest I believe, since the means for change have already been laid, somewhat unwittingly by government themselves. Before I go on to suggest what this might be, I do commend the sentiment behind Occupy of talking and debating those areas of politics and finance that the worlds of Politics and Finance don't want us to discuss and have effectively kept us in the dark about these past 30 years. For me, a crucial precursor involves a politicisation and an education of the electorate and such debates and discussions, if there is an upswell, can only help contribute to such a process. (Hence Occupy can only be termed successful if people are inspired to go and raise these issues in their Parish councils and WI meetings and the like).

I think the government have opened up a whole can of worms with their online petitions and plebiscites. We've already had the disclosure of the details behind the Hillsborough disaster finally after 22 years of suppression of information, because the public managed to get sufficient numbers of signatures online to force the issue. There ought to come a time when people realise that rather than sign up in order to have the Parliamentary talking shop discuss a particular issue, we the people are perfectly capable of discussing it for ourselves and voting online, without recourse to craven representatives doing it on our behalf and defanging anything remotely threatening to the status quo. The will of the people directly transmitted to the Civil Service who would then expedite our actual needs.

Of course the politicians may look to withdraw online democracy if it proves too menacing to their livelihoods, but the genie is out the bottle on that one and any attempt to deny us service will make them appear as craven as Mubarek's attempts to hold on to power. And yes not every household has access to online technology (didn't Gordon Brown promise every household would be digitised by 2012 and not just its television services?). And no doubt there can be fraud and technological jerrymandering, but hey there are enough rotten boroughs up and down the realm already extant.

The two greatest barriers to this bloodless revolution, are our own will, (not grasping the nettle out of timidity or deference) AND our paucity of political education and awareness of the issues and a lack of commitment to take responsibility and get to understand the affairs of government - self-government in this case. So I do salute the faint stirrings of public debate offered by Occupy, even if they seem to be starting from a very low base. But only if such a will to debate and discuss and exchange ideas grows countrywide, can it possibly lead anywhere. But oh my, how radical a destination could it take us to?

with thanks to Alex Butterworth,Bibi van der Zee, Ted Vallance and Dan Hind for panel discussion hosted by Little Atoms that helped me order my thoughts above