Thursday, 29 January 2009

Nanook and The Onion Ceremony.

This week I bought an EP by a band called Nanook. Drummer Mike Patton and singer songwriter Colin McMurray were classmates way back! The EP itself is a fantastic piece of work! Of course, it's difficult for me to be objective but some of the songs are availabe on their MySpace site. So anyone can check it out for themselves. (www.MySpacecom/nanooklive )

One of the things that listening to this brought back to me was memories of 'The Onion Ceremony.' Mike was in my chemistry class and the last time I heard him play live was drum rolling on the wooden desks at the end of said ceremony.

Our chemistry teacher, Barney Rubble (his real name will be withdrawn for legal reasons!) had a white box he kept at the back. After every test, there was always someone who came last. On such occassions, if you were the unlucky individual, your name and the date was place on this 'hat'. You then had to wear it while you slowly moved around the class, everyone chanting 'onion...onion...onion..' When you had made your circuit, you had to knell in front of the teacher and repeat after him... 'owhatsa assama' Then he would ask, 'What was that?" to which the class would respond 'Oh, what an ass I am!" This was followed by a minute of the class drum rolling on their desks. I think it was Mike who started this aspect of the ceremony! I don't think anyone ever came last twice! And yes, it did happen to me once.

My memories of Colin were that he was a bit quieter but also approachable. I think he once promised to bring his guitar into RE class at the end of term but I missed this somehow. I think I might have had to play a football match against the teachers. When I bump into him in the street he will always say hello. He's a good guy. He has also now worked with some distinguished artists such as Iain Archer.

It's great to see people who you have known follow their ambitions and dreams. And guys, if you ever get to read this good luck!

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

The Shawshank Redemption: Hope

The Shawshank Redemption is easily one of my favourite films. The themes are almost universal, at least for people who find themselves in circumstances they are not happy with. It is a film that indicates how human beings can find vast reserves of strength through music, literature etc. What makes the film more than just a positive thinking guide, is the way it covers how people get lost. People who let hope live in their hearts can also experience greater pain. There is a hard lesson here- if one is to find a way out, this also requires great courage.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Intimacy and Contrariness

Aristotle famously defined human beings as "rational animals." With this, humanity was easily distinguished from the rest of the animal world. Within the history of western thought, it also helped forge certain allegiences. When Christian writers wanted to illustrate the uniqueness of humanity, the rational facility became associated with the concept of soul. (St. Thomas is largely credited with reintroducing Aristole as a respectable presence within the western academy.) Indeed, the German word 'Geist' means both Mind and Spirit!

There is however an arbitariness with such a defination. We can understand human beings in many different ways. One can, for instance, see the capacity of intimacy that human beings display as something distinguishable by degree. True, we can see the capacity for intimacy with Elephants and Dolphens. Yet, such intimacy is expressed physically. In human beings, it can be displayed in a manifold manner.

Before getting ahead of ourselves it is worth reflecting upon what we mean by this word. First, intimacy is generally understood to imply closeness. This is easy enough understood when discribing the kind of physical proximity between lovers. We can also be intimate with friends in a non-sexual way. We may share our concerns with a friend, confiding desires, hopes, diasappointments etc. We still may be considered close to such a friend but this 'closeness' is understood by way of analogy. Second, there comes with this intimacy, whether physical or intellectual, a measure of trust. We choose those people who we wish to be intimate with. As individuals, we do not always allow the public complete excess to our body and soul. Sometimes, we have learnt not to trust certain thoughts and feelings through bitter experience. The friend who laughs when a desire is expressed can quickly become a stranger. Such pain can also help build a wall around that which we consider most sacred.

Already we can see how different this is to the notion that human beings are 'rational animals'. Rationality is something non-personal, objective and open to public view. Intimacy, on the otherhand, is something different from the public persona, something beyond dialogues of Truth and Falsehood. It is for this reason that intimacy can have such an subversive effect.

When one thinks of Romeo and Juliette, we see the lovers rebelling against the wishes of two waring families. In George Orwell's 1984, Winston Smith tries to get beyond the eyes of Big Brother, seeking privacy in order to become intimate with a secret lover. Such intimacy is an act of contrariness, a subversive action beyond the control of the offical dialogues of history, state, meaning and purpose. The desire to become intimate is something entirely human but not in the Aristotlian sense.

Thursday, 22 January 2009


When we think of promiscuity, we most often think of sexual promiscuity. This word, however, can have a wider significance and can also be applied to musical tastes or intellectual endeavour. It is possible for instance, to think of someone as intellectually promiscous. The very existence of the word tells us something very significant about our place in the world and our mode of being. It can also demonstrate what Martin Heidegger means by the often quoted line: "Language is the house of Being."

Within this word there are several related associations. One of the most important is that of faithfulness. When one is faithful to a wife, one is generally not thought of as being promiscous. Within the academy, an academic will tend to stick to the topic matter that she is deemed to have expertise. And likewise, all but the most brave musicians will stick within a specific genre of music once they have established themselves and have a fan base.

I have a real issue with this. To start with, it is generally not accepted that a man can love more than one woman at a time. How many times has the following line been said in the heat of martial battle: "If you loved me..., you wouldn't have slept with her!" Human society has also developped various schools of thought with named subjects, to deliniate lines of influence and control. What can a geographer know about the sociology of post industrial society? And within the history of modern music, several genres have sprung up and cliques established. Is there not something fundamentally dishonest about this way viewing things?

The harsh truth is that it is possible for a man to love more than one woman at a time. This may be a taboo thing to admit but it does make sense. Love does not of necessity imply exclusivity. It is also possible that a geographer can know a great deal about sociology- and for individuals to make more than one type of music. We only need to refer back to the great polymaths of the past as evidence of this. In my mind at the moment is Aristotle.

Now, this does not imply that people should not choose to make a commitment of exclusivity, say in a long term relationship. That is up to the individuals involved. Nor is there anything wrong with someone pursuing painting for the rest of their life without feeling the need to pick up a guitar. It is impossible to experience everything in life and one does have to make choices.

But that is not the issue. Rather, when we tend to see people as types: (The married man, the heavy metal singer, the geographer)- we divest them of their complexity and the latent possibilities therein. There is an attraction to this way of thinking because it is easier. It is also more dangerous for we understand the world less. The people we associate with can also let us down in ways we find hard even to imagine.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

On Fatherhood.

This week another one of my friends become a father for the first time. There is some justice in this, as the last time we were in London we got stopped several times by the police for being suspected members of 'Fathers for Justice'! It probably didn't help that we were dressed in superhero outfits. The police had a legitimate reason to ask why several grown men were travelling throughout London dressed as Captain America, Batman, Thor, Robin and The Punisher..., but really it was only a stag weekend! The highlight was how popular we had become under such a transformation. The Sophia song 'Big City Rot' paints London in the following light: "No one smiles and the weather is shitty." To the contrary, every few footsteps we were getting stopped and asked for photos by tourists with grinning faces! One tourist even asked who we were and got the reply 'The Punisher and Captain A Hole'. Not a very pretty picture. And when another woman asked Thor where his hammer was, he couldn't deliver what he wanted to say. Instead he murmered, "I dropped it." Since when has Thor been so mellow and sensitive?
But in all seriousness, fatherhood really isn't about running around the streets of central London disturbing the tourists by inflicting images of pot bellied superheroes with a dial-a-thong Thor. It's actually a very scary situation. Another person is totally helpless and relies on you 100 per cent. It must also change your perspective as well, things that you once thought important are emptied of importance, while the boring stuff gets transformed into something meaningful and life changing. Fatherhood won't happen to me for a long time yet but it is a beautiful thing.

We are more than what we think

When I am in work and have some spare time, I read through online newspapers. One item that caught my attention was the story about atheist advertising on buses throughout Europe. It runs something like, "There is probably no God, now enjoy life and stop worrying!" There has been a big kick up in Spain and now more closer to home in Northern Ireland. What I have found even more interesting is the response of some church groups.

I have heard people suggest that such arguments do not respect certain faith based groups. It is an interesting idea to try and define a community by what they believe in. if a community, defined on this basis, no longer believed, it is as if they would no longer exist!

Lest we forget, human beings are more than what they think!

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Nietzsche Documentary: Human, All Too Human.

I found this really good Nietzsche documentary from the BBC called Human, All too Human. It is a fantastic introduction, welding together Nietzsche's life story with his thought. Some of the themes include 'The Death of God', 'Revaluation of Values', 'The Overman' and more broadly speaking his social and political significance. When I was an undergraduate, I wish I had came across this. It would have helped me identify some of the major themes alot quicker than I otherwise did. In saying that, there is is no alternative to the reading! I hope this whets the appetite. This is part one. The rest can be found on you tube very easily.

Just another blogger.

Most of my online activities have been on the (unoffical/offical) Sophia music website. I think it has got a pretty bad sometimes for while I do enjoy contributing my thoughts on there I have become a bit random. I have discussed topics as diverse as Paul Auster's novel "Into The Dark" to my own very personal theories of art, with bits of Nietzsche thrown in for good measure. While I will continue to use that site for my thoughts on the music of Sophia, I've also decided to get a home elsewhere for my other random musings. So here it is, home of aisforforanxiety, a place where no one probably wants to find themselves, but a place for me to let lose and write, think and feel.