Thursday, 30 July 2009

"Man is a diminished adolescent."- Michel Houellebecq

It has been many years since I had the whole summer by myself, without the necessity of work. Those two long summer months of July and August were great. Everyday, I would get out of bed, call on some friends and just drift into all kinds of trouble.

It is important to note that it was rare that my friends and I made plans. We just rolled with it. No two days were the same but they all seemed wonderfully inventive.

Then between childhood and adulthood, things became a bit more difficult. With parental presure, I had to get a job and with that came a level of financial independence. You could spend money on drink and go to pubs (even if we were two years underage)- listen to live music and fail miserabily trying to chase girls. A lot of fun.

Slowly, this spark disappears. Maybe you take on mortgage or rent payments. In some cases, children will appear and so one is moulded into a responsible adult. Even so, there lingers a desire to break free, to take a day off and do something out of sequence.

I am currently reading Michel Houellenbecqs book "Whatever" and I am amazed by it. Houellenbecq knows the score. It is a very funny read. The mundane life of office work is contrasted with the absurdity of what becomes important as an adult. The line, "Man is a dimished adolescent" says it all. It is a myth to say that the old are always wiser.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

U2 Friday 24th July: The post gig hangover

Ten years is a long time. It has been about that long since I last watched U2 play live. Having witnessed this gig, I have discovered just how much I have changed in that time.

There is no doubt that U2 put on a great show. There stage is circular in shape and this allows the band members to get closer to the audience. This is one of the things that U2 do best- work their audience up into a frenzy. The lights, the music and the atmosphere created is spectacular.

What I found cringe worthy was Bono's political pronouncements. Everything is cast in black and white.

It is true that there is a clear distinction between right and wrong sometimes but these cases are exceptionally rare. I would also hold that everyone- as a citizen of the world- should be able to express an opinion. Bono is just in a very privledge position to do so. When he utters a few words thousands will listen.

So I am not going to go down the line and say that Bono should keep politics and music separate. What I would say is that he is more circumspect and think about what effect his utterances might have, without getting carried away too much.

On the Friday night he made a few comments about the 1916 rising, which probably alientated a small section of the crowd. Irish history is an extremely contentious area still. Bono puffed with pride at being home and rightly felt honoured to have such a welcome back in his home city. Why he felt it necessary to then align the rising with his pride I am not quite sure.

U2 and Bono have an amazing reach- and their music has connected with people from both main traditions on the island. He was walking on a tightrope here though. In the words of Bono himself, "I should be an acrobat, to talk like this and act like that."

Ten years ago my response would have been different. I would have said that I did not agree with him but supported his right to say it. Now I say, you have a right to express an opinion but first put a bit more thought into it.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

U2 Live in Dublin 24th July 2009

This Friday I will travel down to Dublin to watch U2 Live. It has been over tens years since I last seen them play. That was during the Pop-mart Tour, which involved the band emerging from a giant lemon come space ship- really bizarre but fantastic stuff!

After the Pop Album, I thought the band lost their way a bit. I am all for experimenting and trying new things but I felt that the band lost their consistency. Still, there have been some great songs written since then and their last release, No Line On The Horizon, is their most consistent album since Zooropa. It takes a while to get into, but it is a subtle album. The songs have many textures that hint at different influences from Led Zepplin to Arabic chanting. (See especially the vocal phrasing on Breathe.)

I don't really know what to expect. That is part of the beauty of going to a U2 concert. I have seen some of the other 'biggest bands in the world'- but nothing surpasses the stage show at a U2 gig.

I have been told that this will be something spectacular and been advised to check out You Tube. I'd rather wait and see. I want to be blown away.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Radiohead:Pyramid Song

When I come across new ways in which artists expressed themselves, I get truly excited. One good example of this was when I heard Radiohead's 'Pyramid Song'. It opens with a piano riff that falls away at the end, as if the player is aiming for perfection but fails every time.

It is also a natural response to the song to try to link the musical imagery with the title. According to one theory, the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids in order that the pharaohs could be transported into the heavens and achieve immortality. It is believed that the pyramids pointed to particular constellations of stars and that this positioning was vital.

This of course, is a notion connected with the Persian Tower of Babel. The tower was built so that humans could find a way into heaven. According to the biblical story, God was not best pleased. So he decided to disperse humanity and created many different tongues, so that humanity as a whole could not conspire in such a way again.

We see within these stories a desire for eternity. The building of the tower and the pyramids, is an expression of this human tendency to want to remain permanent and to avoid death. The tragic aspect is that humans will inevitably fail, despite their desire and the immense intensity of work that this can inspire.

To return to the song, one can then interpret the way the musical chords are played on the piano as an expression of such failure. It is also a reflection upon the modern day striving for immortality through fame and celebrity.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Self censorship

One of the most difficult things about writing is catching your self on when you are censoring what is written. There are important things to write about that can be hampered by an already carefully crafted self-image.

We can be viewed in many different ways by many different people. The employee can have a very different persona to the one out with 'the lads' at the weekend. In work, censorship does exist in a big way- you must be professional at all times- you can not tell dirty jokes or express political opinions readily.

In our everyday lives therefore, we can become many different people. One of the challenges of a creative artist is to overcome such divisions. The thought..., 'What would x think of this?' can hamper the creative process and turn the work into an iodine peice of cardboard, without shape or character.

Neither is this simply a question of 'expressing oneself'- for the idea of a true self is a nonsense. There is no authentic self, just a different set of responses in different contexts.

I think it is important for the writer to de-personalize as much as possible. The work should remain distinct from the artist. Like a child, you might have been responsible for its very existence but you can not be held responsible for it after maturity.