Every status update since the dawn of Thomas


Wednesday, 15 July 2015

30 things I’d be happy to live without if my experience of them never occurred again

While one hates to be prejudiced, one can tell an awful lot about someone from the things they buy into – what they value or don’t value, what causes and practices they feel are important or not important.

Because it’s strange and surprisingly varied the things people care about, or more to the point how much they care about them. You think you know someone and then one day, blam! They tell you they see Jeremy Kyle as a moral compass, or never really liked the Indiana Jones films. The more people you meet the more you realise everyone’s barometer of what’s normal and what matters is different, and completely relative to the circles they are moving in.

Over the years the opinions and habits of your close family and friends get drilled into you and set a benchmark; it can be bewildering and disturbing when one day you find yourself moving in slightly different circles and find people noticing an unthinking practice, interest or attitude of yours - that has never been called into question before – and flagging it up as unwise, unattractive, bizarre or in some way tut-worthy. It’s tempting to think “OMG, I am actually a freak after all and I just never realised it all these years” – but then you get to know yet another set of people and find they have yet another perspective; and you realise perhaps you should have explained to the first lot that their ideas of what is acceptable and standard perhaps really wasn’t so f***ing universal, as they thought. The weirdos.

On the other hand, something you have been ribbed for for years by your home crowd can be immediately accepted by outsiders and that is nice, isn’t it, now.

Basically everyone thinks their shit is the norm, or what should be the norm – but my gosh, we are so tied to the culture, conditions, place and time we were formed in, even if we rebel against it. As a townie, I recall just how utterly alien it was to visit my first country show, for example, as it slowly dawned on me that much of the stuff that filled the lives of these people were things I had thus far happily lived without even being aware of, let alone caring about. And exactly the same could be said of the first time I visited, say, London, with them and their “ways”.

The following is not simply a list of things I’m not interested in. There are plenty of "life encounters" I don’t hanker urgently to experience, but I understand that one day, in a different time and place, perhaps I might.

Neither is this a list of things I hate, necessarily, and neither is it exhaustive. I don’t, for example, say I could live without racism on this list, but please don’t take that to mean I love a bit of racism or, indeed, find it moreish.

These examples are not things I wish didn’t exist – I may even feel enriched for having dealt with them in the past – they are simply things I wouldn’t miss if I didn’t stumble upon them again - a mix of either that which elicits naught but the blank face and that which elicits the weary sigh. Yes, some of this may be a mark of age.

We get so involved with our little worlds, our specific set of circs, that sometimes we forget it is possible to live a perfectly happy and fulfilled life without so many of the obsessions and so much of the baggage we insist on clinging on to as supposedly so important and essential - both physically, but more importantly, mentally. The human race is nothing if not adaptable, and one man’s gold dust is another man’s sand. It may seem sad or scandalous to you, dear reader, but seriously, I’m done with this stuff. Go on, think about it – what 30 things could you choose?


1) TV soaps

2) Synthetic handclaps used as a snare drum in modern RnB songs

3) Flag-waving patriotism

4) Inspirational quotes from Marilyn Monroe

5) Unsolicited offers to tell me “what I need to do” to sort my life out

6) Queuing to get into nightclubs

7) Going into nightclubs

8) Horseradish

9) Knowledge of flower arranging

10) De-icing my car

11) Being cold in general (that’s a bold one, but I’ve thought about it some and I stand by it)

12) Street dance

13) The royal family (that’s a bold one, but I’ve thought about it some and I stand by it)

14) Autotune used for the vocal melody in modern RnB songs

15) People telling me "everything happens for a reason" (see 4)

16) "This one weird tip to getting ripped"

17) Jeremy Kyle

18) Knowledge of bread baking

19) Details of the personal life of Lauren Goodger

20) People thinking it’s a great and admirable thing to be running around trying to impress people like Alan Sugar while being generally vile, shallow, mercenary and critically lacking in self awareness

21) The phenomenon of "beard flowers"

22) The songs of the war years

23) Motivational speaking

24) Torture scenes in films (enough, already, *yawn*)

25) Films about vampires

26) Films about men who are the best at fighting and stuff

27) Austerity measures

28) Modern RnB songs

29) Football (now that’s a f***ing bold one)

30) Your shit.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

The strange case of Kanye West

He took one of the biggest entourages the festival has ever seen with him to Glastonbury – and then performed virtually alone for almost two hours.

Apart from the sheer irony of that fact, Mr West’s Glastonbury performance was the man’s whole thing right there in microcosm – the sheer ego of insisting on holding a headlining slot at one of the world’s most high profile festivals on his own on an empty stage; the grand statement in artistic minimalism that only partially worked; the disjointed flow of someone insisting on doing their own thing without any concessions to the audience; the fact that he looked rather lonely and painfully like he was trying to prove something amid the grand scale of the set up... and yet - whether wholly successful or not, he undoubtedly did end up having done something really quite unique and distinctive in the history of Pyramid Stage bill-toppers.

Not Fiddy Pence

I admit that I am utterly fascinated with Kanye – equal parts appalled at the oh-so-LA materialism, arrogance and excess, amused by his repeated foot-in-mouth buffoonery and absurd pomposity but, in spite of all that, still grudgingly impressed and intrigued with his originality, balls and, let's face it, strangeness. Whilst his mass populist appeal may belie the fact, it's pretty clear by now that the guy is pretty weird.

Say what you will about Kanye, he does have an artistic vision – I suspect a lot of those who signed the 100,000-odd petition against him headlining Glasto saw him as no more than an arrogant rapper – you know, one of those hiphop types who steal other people’s records and talk over the top about cars and shooting people, whilst being frightfully disrespectful about women and overly impressed with flashy jewellery. Not like a nice "real" band who diligently learnt to play instruments quite well n that.

But oh, though. While there is plenty of hiphop trope-ery in his music (The late Lou Reed was spot on describing some of the more offensive lyrics on his Yeesus album as “it might be (funny) to a 14-year-old — but it has nothing to do with me”) Kanye is so not your typical “Fiddy Pence” hiphop cliché. The man reads up on minimalist architecture and wants to design high fashion in Paris for crying out loud. Pretty much right from the outset he distinguished himself as a bit odd and high-minded in hiphop circles, to the extent his middle-class producer ass really wasn’t taken that seriously as a rapper at first – nowhere near “street” or gansta enough. Until he started selling records. And yes, the Glastonbury debacle, whatever you made of it, pretty much showed that – whether you rated it or not, he’s going off somewhere on his own these days.

Imma mention "Imma let you finish"

I suppose one of the things that keeps me interested in Kanye, despite having written him off as “just a knob” countless times, is the tantalizing explanation for how a man can be so utterly, complacently, self-deludedly certain of his own unique greatness, way beyond even the massive egos of his contemporaries – and the answer is of course, that he clearly isn’t. I have never known anyone so desperate for the affirmation and approval of others, an unquenchable hunger that speaks of a deep, deep insecurity – that if the arbiters of art aren’t saying he’s THE BEST, it can never be true. Other artists rise above, and pooh-pooh the validity of, mere popularity, titles and awards - but it really, urgently matters to Kanye.

The key to understanding his attitude goes way back. He mentions in interviews his eighth grade basketball coach who, without explanation, didn’t put him on the team, making him realize if he doesn’t fight for recognition himself, he will not get it. And no matter how successful he is that seems to remain. Today this extends those he sees as "his people" as well – he has apparently offered to stage “Imma let you finish”-style protests on behalf of others aside from Beyonce (his mentor Jay-Z’s wife) whom he keeps white-knighting for at awards ceremonies.

He also keeps claiming those who don’t immediately bow down to his greatness and let him do whatever he wants must be prejudiced against him. While I’m sure he has a point that there are still race issues in the upper echelons of showbiz, and there is a sneeriness at a rock star trying to do fashion and so on, there is something a bit rich about one of the most rewarded and privileged men in music claiming he’s hard done by – when his success has opened up so many more opportunities than the vast majority of anyone could ever dream of - and to add to that, he happily tramples over and dismisses the efforts of others (Ms Swift, Beck?). He has a persecution complex on a par with a UKIP MP, which he doesn’t seem to realize is only made worse, not better, by his constant fronting.

Whatever, Kanye is an angry, troubled man, and it’s right there in the music. His confidence is hollow and vulnerable, which is never clearer than, say, in the contrast of the messiah-complex lyrics to “I am a God” with the panic-attack screaming and panting that inexplicably accompanies it. Again, in the words of Lou – who, by the way, was actually a fan – Kanye’s last album was full of “I’m great, I’m terrible, I’m great, I’m terrible - that’s all over this record”.

Neither Finn nor Freddie

And it was right there in the Glastonbury set too. The first and last parts were a greatest hits package that at least proved that Kanye is a bit like Crowded House (probably the first and last time he will be compared to the lovely, low-key, down-to-earth Finn brothers) – you know more than you think. There is quite a variety of sound and style there for those who will listen - but overall it was a glimpse into quite a cold, steely, serious world of one man’s angry head-space.

When I tuned into Glasto on the dear old BBC my initial reaction was “OMG, this is a bit of a mess”. Never mind Lee Nelson’s stage invasion (Jarvis Cocker would be proud), there were bits where the momentum just completely dropped: Partly as he insisted on an extended auto-tune ballad section in the middle that just made it plain he couldn’t sing; partly as there were drops and disjoins as it seemed he'd only decided on the set list in the dressing room 10 minutes before going on; and partly due to technical errors (he abandoned "I Can’t Hold My Liquor" after barking out a couple of lines and letting the guitar bit run). It simply wasn’t as slick as you might have expected, given that f***ing entourage.

And, as social media lampooned, it really didn't demonstrate that he was “the greatest living rock star on the planet” as he claimed – he just doesn't quite have the effortless showmanship of say, a Mick Jagger or James Brown or – yes – Freddie Mercury. In fairness, I don’t really think his intention was to sing a cover of Bohemian Rhapsody at all, he was just joining in karaoke-style as he span a bit of the record in the middle of his gig - ‘cos, why the hell not. But never mind his singing, his stage presence wasn't quite Freddie either, though there was something hypnotic about seeing what he would do next - earlier he had abruptly left the audience hanging, stage in darkness, for minutes before reappearing on top of a f***ing cherry picker. This was not Kiss – no pyrotechnics, no costume change, no zip wire. Just Kanye up a crane. But it was when I noticed he had left the stage lit but completely empty during this for two or three songs, that the contrary pervert in me giggled with glee at the audacity – while it might not have been “history in the making” as he meant it, I think he may have been right, in a way - that had probably (certainly) never happened before in a headlining Glastonbury slot.

Where was "Mike"?

More than a week on and the more I think about it, the more I think the whole thing might have been brilliant. People are still talking about it. The image of him in his bleached double-denim under those ludicrous banks of lights is burned on all our mental retinas. It was utterly simple, yet utterly unique. When Jay Z did Glasto, he turned up with a full band, turned on the charm and opened with a deliberately shambolic few verses of Wonderwall in a cheeky nod to his critics which won everyone round. Not Kanye. No, the massive ego took to the stage, barely acknowledging the audience, with only those huge f***-off whirring modern-art-installation lights, an Akai MPC sampler which he used for about three seconds, a fleeting side-stage visit from a man from Bon Iver, and the shady, hidden-away (imaginary?) “Mike” for company. It was bonkers, really, and it split Twitter in two like samurai sword.

He will never endear himself to people who like their rock stars nice and pleasant and down to earth, and I am sure he is quite a horrible human being to do any kind of business with. No, he can’t really sing, he can’t really play and he can’t really dance. He is a deluded cock.

But there is something of the classic, larger-than-life, maverick rock oddball about him - the combination of ego and art, the clash of the crass and the highbrow, striving to reach beyond the confines of his genre with one foot (or two) planted in a fantasy world of his own making, in the vein of a Prince, Bowie, Gaga, Bush or, um, Trent D'Arby. And while the music might not be to everyone’s tastes, I’d go as far as to say I think he is the real deal as an artist – he is genuinely a bit strange, driven to change, full of fire and a-buzz with unusual ideas and creativity - and he has the balls and passion to do his thing, whatever anyone else thinks.

I’m never sure if I’m laughing with him or at him, but I’m quite glad he exists – in world of increasingly styled, tried-and-tested, as-expected, by-the-numbers acts, he’s at least reliably different and interesting. All day, n****.