askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 I'm currently going through a Bowie phase so intense it is only rivalled by a three month period in 2005 in which I ate only beans on toast and ryvita and listened only to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

I've been scavenging the net, and newly bought 'Starman: David Bowie - The Definitive Biography' for all the ins and outs I need.  I am a big believer in finding the music of an artist before you read up on the mythology and political wrangling that brought them to the fore because it can have such a dramatic impact on your relationship with the music.  This impact isn't always negative (just last year Nailed to History: The Story of the Manic Street Preachers prompted in me a new openness to the Manics commercially disastrous Know Your Enemy) but it can be and I think the immediacy of music in coming through your stereo in a closed room is something that should not be compromised by critical analysis in the first case.

I am struck by the similarity in the story of Bowie's rise to fame with the Manics upward trajectory; from letter writing campaigns, to form coming before substance as they both proclaimed themselves to be - not the next big thing - but the big thing.  I find it fascinating that whilst it takes time - both Bowie and the Manics taking several years from inception to record deal to mainstream recognition - pure, unwavering self belief, self aggrandizement and ruthless ambition is truly the best policy.

As far as my own relationship with Bowie and the Manics goes I think the similarities in their stories are striking; from modest backgrounds, determined to not just transcend those roots but to realise their individual love affairs with rock n roll in it's most idealised form.  Glam rock - 'high glam' as Bowie apparently termed it once, given it was primarily a conceptual statement - of this ilk is borne out of frustration and ambition, and as such is much more seductive than any other music genre I have encountered; perhaps the reason I am only obsessive over these two acts has more than a little to do with that.  Yes, in my youth I donned the uniform of baggy jeans and jumpers for Sterophonics, Coldplay, Travis, Mull Historical Society, Embrace, and Easyworld gigs, but the defining and enduring relationship has and always will be with the glam of the Manics and David Bowie.

Such preening, extroversion, and posturing are at odds with my own natural state.  At my core I am an introvert - and I'm ok with that - but somehow Bowie and, to a greater degree given their continued live presence, the Manics, provide a safe framework within which something in me cuts loose and I am free - eyes blackened with eyeliner, hair glossed and often dyed, short skirts, 'DIY aesthetic', pressed to the front of the stage calling out lyrics with all the simultaneous seriousness and irony required of a good Manics fan.  

Bowie's honest/dishonest declarations on his sexuality and wilful visual confrontation provided me with a much needed touchstone for queer identity when I was a teenager living in a world stripped of any alternative influences or role models.  That his purported bisexuality may have been nothing more than a calculated technique to court publicity is, to me, irrelevant - it provided me an image and a route into a world I inhabit now.

It struck me as ironic when I was watching a late night repeat of Radiohead at Glastonbury in 1997 and the crowd sang to 'Creep', that a song about isolation and alienation could unite so many people without any apparent hypocrisy for them.  That is the remarkable thing about music - it starts off purporting to be about alienation, outsiders and otherness and creates, as it gains momentum, an entire sub culture -membership of which depends on correctly enacting that same 'otherness'.  I do wonder at what point it stops being true - how many of those people repeating the lyrics of Creep like a mantra have any connection to the content? When does belonging obscure identification?

I think that, almost uniquely, glam does have an honesty in its performance because it is founded on artifice.  The whole intention is to create a new reality which stands both in parallel to, and above, the norm.  Followers of glam, recreating themselves to attend gigs, are aping their idols in every respect - stripping it off to go back to work on Monday is in keeping with the artifice.  Many people speak of coming to glam through one defining realisation after a single spectacle - for many with David Bowie I understand it was his 1972 performance of Starman on Top of the Pops that changed their relationship with fashion, sub culture and music.  When that is the case, when one moment draws you in, and you can dress yourself in that moment, I propose that you are recreating the moment of epiphany.  A genre which makes you see the world differently in one move can, therefore, offer you revelation every time you dress.  And you can dress a hundred times, a hundred different ways.

Bowie recognised that - that's why he was able to reinvent himself so many times and why the Manics duplicated so many of his statements (from replicating a certain image in You Love Us (Heavenly Version) from Bowie's Boys Keep Swinging amongst many, many other visual statements).  It's a vocabulary of outrage, confrontation, statement and, above all, freedom.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
In response to some persistent themes being expressed on various platforms of late, or, the 'feminist' return of body fascism;
I shave my legs because I want to.  I like the way skin feels against skin. I like the way clothes feel against skin. I do not like the way hair feels against skin or clothes.  I shave my arm pits because as clean as you are, you'll never find an anti perspirant that works as well when it is applied to hair covered skin.  All the hair removal and trimming I do is because I like it.  Society has not compelled me to do it.  My bare legs are not representative of my subjugation to pervasive beauty narratives.  My clean shaven armpits are indicative only of what I find to be aesthetically pleasing and what gives me confidence regarding my personal hygene.  Do not assume differently without asking me, or any of the other women you are battering with your rhetoric.  Thank you.

On queer liberation;
It is no doubt the proliferation of mediocre to poor dramas on tv of late centring on both fictional and real life gay men and their lives and loves, but increasingly I recognise and understand why lesbians wished to campaign for gay lib separately than gay men.  I also feel the strong tug of obscurity as the voices of queer women throughout history go largely unrecorded and so the obsessive bio-pic making so recently in vogue has no material from which to draw.  I sense also that - in the programming directors minds - the 'edginess' of making a film about men having sex and putting it on at 9pm on BBC2 would be lost were it instead about two women.  Female sexuality is, after all, neither urgent nor insistent nor selfish.  Women do not fuck but make love.  Or so social norms would have us believe, and to counter those ideas is to shoot too often over the head of the viewers,  How to explain that urgent sexuality and sexual satisfaction is not an exception to femininity or characteristic only of lesbianism?  On the occasions strong representations of female centred sexuality occur it is, more often than not, presented cheaply and sordidly - the atrocious scripts and production values on both the Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet serve as excellent examples.

I cannot think of a single film which concerns a lesbian relationship as it's primary focus which is either beautiful or moving.  I can think of plenty which are trite and poorly executed and a hundred more which have only sold because queer women are so desperate for filmic representation they will buy and watch any old crap - I count myself among that desperate majority.

I have lost interest in stories about gay men struggling in historically-hostile times; they speak to me no more than a mediocre romantic storyline in a heterosexual drama does.  I always felt that LGBT history was a shared discovery, that hearing from one group can tell us about another/our own, but I see now that was naive.  I want to know about the lives of the women who have brought the world to the point it is at now for me - as a queer woman.  My social ancestors are silent - or at the very least silenced - in the current trend for period dramas about minority groups.  

On the ignorance of youth
I was in STA Travel today with a friend from work; we are probably going on holiday for a fortnight in July/August.  The travel agent was suggesting modifications/changes to the route I had in mind, after she mentioned Prague and I rejected it as I have already been there and she went back to furiously tapping away on her computer I turned to my friend, pointed to a photo from the old square in Prague and showed him the hotel I had stayed at for 2 nights.  I commented, in telling the story of how we ended up there and not in the hostel we had booked, that 'and they were also lovely there; they didn't bat an eyelid at the fact we were gay and sharing a double room".  He replied, shocked "is that something that happens then - is that a problem?".  "Yes," I said "indeed, in Paris we were initially refused the key to the double room we had booked (at a major hotel chain no less) until another member of staff intervened".  I watched the information processing on his face; I'm not sure he really believes the world is like that, even now.  Maybe another day I'll tell him about my friends who got beaten up by some thugs in a gay bar, for being gay, whilst the bar staff looked passively on.

On what my life is like of late;
I wake up every morning before my alarm goes off.  I trudge to the bathroom to shower.  I cry as I wash, dress and eat before leaving the house.  I pass through my days like a zombie and I am ready to go back to bed and to sleep at 3pm. I force myself to stay up until 10pm.  I cannot sleep.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
I was discussing with a friend the other night the implications of the sentence "I love my country". The main gist of the conversation was that we could not recollect ever having heard a British person say that and suggested that, were we to hear such an exclamation, we'd become extremely suspicious of that person: meaning second guessing their intentions, motivations, intelligence....the works. A notable inclusion to the group of Brits who regularly assert their love (or wish to love, after certain conditions are fulfilled) for 'their' country is the BNP. We really felt that the only implication of making the assertion "I love my country" in the UK - or even just in England - is that such nationalism implies an absolute rejection of a multicultural society and an implicit expression of xenophobia. In other words, the expression of national pride eclipses the motivation for that pride.

We went on to discuss how hard we found it to understand why Americans in particular were so comfortable with that phrase and what it meant to Americans that it doesn't mean to us. We did not reach a conclusion but did hypothesise it relates to the relatively recent emergence of the USA as a nation and that it happened in such a way that the citizens understood the notion of being a part of a single entity. Contrastingly, the UK evolved for so many hundred years that the point at which it became a nation [state] is not just hard to pinpoint but also largely irrelevant to the island's inhabitants; they did not need to state an allegiance in order to ensure national development occured in a desirable and sustained manner. In short, such expressions were and are an organic part of the evolution of national identity but in Britain they are a contrived and Americanised expression of an emotion which is not universally felt.

But that's just a tentative hypothesis.

Tonight was the Last Night of the Proms. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say it's a national institution; the Proms themselves embody the idea of classical music for the masses and in so doing, hit the mark and offers a moment of unity pretty much time. Most distinctive about the music included is that it is largely of a patriotic flavour. Like pretty much everything in Britain, this is a tradition that has been observed for....well I'm going to say a million years, I think that's about accurate....you get the idea. To give you (= non Brits) some sense of the immediacy of such music upon Prom goers I bring you this little tiddbit of trivia from tonight's broadcast:

At the first Prom performance of Land of Hope and Glory (or, to give it it's proper name; "Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1") it is reported that the audience "simply rose, and yelled".*

And those people, the ones who rose and yelled, were Victorians (!)

Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia are probably the most popular regular components of The Last Night of the Proms. Both feature rather rousing lyrics, such as my favourite; Rule Britannia/Britannia rules the waves/Britons never ever ever shall be slaves. Britons are rarely offered a non-politicised opportunity to consider their nationality, but a song which lauds the historical achievements of an empire than no longer exists seems to sit quite comfortably with us/them. The music itself is the definition of grand and, like all the best [classical] music, washes over you and completely saturates the senses; coupled with the choral power in the delivery of the lyrics I think it is hard not to be swept up in the spirit of optimism and pride that piece contains.  Perhaps then, we Brits can only express pride in our nation through traditional [archaic?] routes, easily dismissed as 'just a song' if anyone raises an eyebrow as you frantically wave a flag and shout "God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet".

I think that really sums up something quite base about an incredible piece of music and how it can touch people. And I think it also says a lot about how national identity is most easily expressed en masse. I find this particularly interesting because the only time I have been conscious of and indeed pleased to call myself British is when I was out of the country during my 6 month jaunt back in '07. Distance from my country of residence (a passive term if ever there was) was the only point at which I was conscious of all the things which could be considered as making Britain worthy of that modifier 'Great'.  The reasons for this are complex but can be summarised as 1. recognising the stark differences in personal and social liberty available in Britain in comparison to certain countries I visited - a slap in the face to the hysteria of British press who assured us that Britain was a dictatorship/police state/no freedom left etc etc.  2. speaking to citizens of other nations and comparing cultural notes and experiences - or having arguments with them about certain 'inalienable' truths.

I don't think it is a great stretch to suggest that most citizens of the United Kingdom are conscious of** the freedoms they enjoy and the comparatively high standard of living available, in theory, to all.  And I believe it is this...conditional satisfaction (but not adoration) of/with their country which is what Prom goers wish to express in their raucous renditions of the aforementioned songs - rather than the inevitable crushing defeat of their naval enemies, for example.  Perhaps most illustrative of this is that the National Anthem gets nowhere near as raucous a response, nor as much audience participation when the opportunity to sing-along arrives as Land of Hope and Glory or Rule Britannia do. Our national pride is discerning, it is not focused on a figurehead and it is far from absolute.  Which is, this humble blogger wishes to propose, why we are so unwilling to express anything near as unequivocal as 'love' for our nation.


If anyone wishes to answer the question "What does the phrase 'I love my country' mean to you?" I'd be extremely interested to read it.


* One assumes they yelled out their delight, rather than expressions of displeasure.
** although I would not argue they are satisfied with them, nor should we ever be.

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Friday, June 4, 2010
What's the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of your father? 

It strikes me that lately I have been thinking a lot about where I come from, I thought it didn't matter.  Who I was, I was quite sure, was contained in who I am now.

More and more I am reflecting on what it means to be part of my family, to have grown up in the little village I'm from...

It struck me the other day how absolutely unique to country kids my childhood was - from stomping about in the river all summer long, to peeing in the bushes of the nearest field when our ancient school bus broke down for the hundredth time that month in the middle of nowhere.  And when I thought about this, as I sat on a Brighton and Hove bus filled with school kids, I felt glad in the deepest parts of my being.

And where all of that came from, that uniqueness of experience, is tied completely and absolutely to my family.  On the most basic level my parents are to thank for my country upbringing as they decided to up sticks - and in my Dad's case, transfer his job - and move to the country so that I could grow up, as they had done, in a village.

For years I put pretty much everyone I was close to ahead of my family - my friends, partners, even the parents of partners and friends.  But quite suddenly, after me and Ali split, I found they were more important to my happiness than I had ever imagined.

Most vital in this discovery was my Father's role in the weeks and months following my breakup.  I found I was more like him than I knew. I found our lives were taking eerily similar paths at the same respective points.  I found him to be wise in the ways of people and the world - a well of untapped wisdom just waiting for to turn the constant presence in my life and recognise both what I needed to acknowledge and where I could find all the things I needed to form a sense of who I was in the world and start forming an identity as who I was now.

I never thought that at 25 I would be reevaluating my identity and starting to add new explanations to my mental image of who I am and how I became that person but here I am.  The biggest prompt to this...soul searching is the wrong word, it implies too much angst, but something like that...has been thinking about the people who made me who I am, the place that made me who I am and the ways in which all these factors continue to shape me.

So what comes to mind? Stability, warmth and helping me find a way to start all over again but do it in a new way. Someone who made me the person I am, and continue to discover.

Oh, and the man who subjected me to about 4 times the amount of his music taste as my Mum did (the first song I learnt was Yellow Submarine, taught to me by my Mum, the first singer I ever imitated was Crystal Gayle, go figure) which, after about 20 years of loudly rejecting, (but being quietly influenced by - my music tastes are guitar based indie, folk...)  I suddenly realised I both loved and missed it.  Which is why, tonight, I'm watching 'Queens of Country' on BBC4, singing along to every single song with an almost innate knowledge of the lyrics.

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askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
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