PETUNIA PITSTOP

Overwhelmed by both a sudden injection of big-budget big bucks and the exotic distraction of tax-saving excursions to tax-haven locations, John Lennon famously reflected on the change in cinematic circumstances during the filming of ‘Help!’, the second Beatles movie. Strumming away in the Technicolor upgrade of the Bahamas, Lennon wryly remarked, ‘I’m an extra in me own film.’ Well, I’m making my second cameo appearance on my own blog since December, and I’m afraid I’m only passing through again. The kind words and encouraging response to the last post may have failed to elicit a written reply on my part, but all comments were much appreciated, as were the numerous re-tweets by long-term supporters. It’s nice to feel loved, virtually or not.

Before I go any further, I apologise. This was never intended to be – and indeed, never has been – one of those blogs that exist solely as a narcissistic outlet for an author assuming his or her life is as fascinating to the readership as it is to him or herself. I’d hate for this instalment to be regarded as the point at which a blog with an unlimited remit shrank into a narrow sequence of hastily scrawled postcards from the edge. I’m trying my best not to make this a regular habit, honest.

Of course, just as a novelist’s autobiographical journey tends to infiltrate the back story of their lead character (however hard they fight against it), identification with the subject matter under discussion on here has regularly led to vague asides – or more explicit references – to my own back story. Even a piece I wrote about the Israel/Palestine thing a year or two ago (I forget when) was given a little more emotional substance with the tale of my Uncle Joe and this long-gone figure’s membership of the Palestine Police in the years leading up to 1948; ditto the revelation of the family lineage linking me to the Enola Gay’s flight over Hiroshima in 1945. I suppose it’s only natural that many of the news stories to have caught my eye and provoked a post are stories I’ve made some connection with, thus (hopefully) elevating them above simple journalistic reportage, of which there is already more than enough out there.

I know this hasn’t always happened; plenty posts have simply been vociferous responses to events that have angered or infuriated me, fuelled by nothing more than anger or fury. And, it goes without saying, there’s always the mischievous spirit of satire on stand-by to intervene when the ludicrousness of politics – identity or otherwise – has risen its daft head yet again. Having said that, whenever my own life experience or that of friends and lovers has bled into a post with a wider surface context, I personally feel I’ve usually managed to get the balance right (as Depeche Mode once observed) and have successfully steered clear of self-indulgence.

To return to the second paragraph, I don’t believe my life is especially fascinating – though I will concede, however, that being able to view it with a degree of out-of-body detachment helps me ‘manage’ it. Watching a decline and fall through the mirror is undeniably unhealthy, yet curiously compelling in the same way one’s gaze can never be entirely averted from the bouncy genitals of a streaker. You can’t help but look, despite yourself. The fact is I tend to interpret life experience as material for ‘Art’ (no less pretentious word was available, alas), and I’m talking both good and bad life experience. In the case of the latter, it’s the kind of thing that makes uncomfortable reading for those who know me; but as I only appear capable of coping with crises if I respond to them with pen, paper or keyboard, there’s no alternative in the great battle for survival. I’m certainly not enjoying scrabbling around for tiny fragments of hope down here at Rock Bottom Central, but I do feel as though my life is out of my hands right now and I just have to deal with it in the only way I can – until the day comes when I’m in control again.

If it is true that dwellers of an urban environment are never more than six feet away from a rat, it feels right now as though I’m never more than six minutes away from remembering recent events that led me to where I currently reside – no book, music, movie or TV show can remove that from the room. Therefore, reading, listening and viewing habits work in empathetic conjunction with the mood of the moment.  It’s no contradiction that sad songs speak loudest to us when we’re sad; the last thing we need when feeling like shit is being ordered to get up and boogie. Moreover, it’s both amazing and comforting that the most trusted voices to have serenaded the listener throughout adult life have something to say for every occasion. Indeed, we are reassured when the voices that have been there for us when times are good are also there for us when times aren’t; and we know we’re not alone when our friends sing of suffering. Just listen to Marvin Gaye’s contribution to 1974’s ‘You Are Everything’, an otherwise gooey duet with Diana Ross; when he sings ‘Oh-whoa, darling/I just can’t go on, living life as I do/comparing each girl with you/knowing they just won’t do/they’re not you’, you know he’s not only been there, but he’s bought the company that made the T-shirt in true Victor Kiam fashion.

Silly YouTube videos may well be the babies I nonchalantly dump in children’s homes once I’ve popped them out, but they make some people happy and – for the moment – they are serving a useful purpose that other outlets currently aren’t. They are in no way a pointer to revived spirits, merely a means of keeping idle hands away from the Devil’s gaze. Nevertheless, they have survived unscathed and perhaps act as an unexpected manifestation of the obstinate resilience we all seem able to produce when confronted by our deepest fears. Hell, I’ll take whatever I can get.

Sometimes, however, the smallest, most innocuous interventions make a difference. Old Mother Cable may conveniently sidestep his shameful role in the scandalous selling-off of the Royal Mail as he attempts to big-up the latest Lib Dem ‘revival’ by posing as a political moral barometer; but the postman (or woman, in my case) can still deliver the goods in the face of privatised indifference to the customer. Anonymous surprises through the letter-box can momentarily put the brakes on any recourse to Alanis Morrissette when the helplessness of the dispossessed is desperately seeking a soundtrack; and the anonymous have nothing to fear. I may be a wounded animal, but that animal isn’t a dragon. All this proves is that, whilst the systems with which we make contact may be myriad in this century, the oldest (well, after smoke signals and carrier pigeons) hits the mark even now, despite Vince’s best bloody efforts.

I shan’t bore you with further details, though – oblique or otherwise. Yes, I’d like to get back to the wider world and escape the confines of the internal compound (trust me, it’s crap in here); but it ain’t easy, however many open goals the media leaves on my doorstep. Bear with me if you can and I’ll try to phone home again next time I’ve got some spare change.

© The Editor

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IT’S BEEN A LONG COLD LONELY WINTER

How fatal taking for granted the loyalty and devotion of one’s audience can be was never better illustrated than in the swift falling from favour of the poor old Bay City Rollers. Almost omnipotent in 1975, the nice-but-dim young Scotsmen were the UK’s belated home-grown answer to The Osmonds. Possessing the clean-cut boy-next-door appeal guaranteed to send nascent female hormones into the same overdrive as Utah’s most famous family firm had done, the rise of the Rollers dramatically served to usurp the Mormon musical missionaries. Prompted by their astronomical British success, the Rollers then looked to replicate it on the other side of the Atlantic – despite the fact this had already proven to be a futile exercise for immediate pop predecessors like Marc Bolan and Slade. Yet the Rollers got off to the best possible start when ‘Saturday Night’ shot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 at the beginning of 1976, an achievement that naturally booked them on the next flight to America.

But the timing of the Rollers’ Stateside expedition was especially unfortunate. In 1976, two emerging musical genres that would go on to dominate what remained of the 70s – Punk and Disco – were luring away sizeable chunks of the pop audience from the hormonal cauldron of the teenybop arena; at the same time, those unmoved by Donna Summer or The Sex Pistols were mesmerised by a certain self-contained Swedish hit-machine. Rollermania was also destined to be a temporary phenomenon – a necessary rites-of-passage ritual for teenage girls before boyfriends and babies, as well as being the last hysterical hurrah of a frenzied trend that defined the decade until it grew up and moved on. The band returned home from what turned out to be a short-lived stint in the American spotlight to find their audience diminished and the zeitgeist having relocated; they never scored another No.1.

However random or irrelevant this brief detour into the reassuringly safe refuge of pop culture history might appear to be, it is my roundabout way of making a point. Deciding to tentatively return to a medium I had no choice but to plunge into suspended animation five months ago might make it appear as though I reckon it’s ‘business-as-usual’ and we pick up where we left off in December. As much as it flatters my ego to imagine it, I’m aware that assuming all regular commentators and readers have spent every day of 2018 so far scanning their inbox first thing on a morning in the hope of seeing a notification informing them a new ‘Winegum Telegram’ post has appeared – and their days therefore being ruined as a consequence of this not coming to pass – is utterly absurd. Yes, I’m conscious kind comments have continued to periodically pepper the blog during the hiatus; but to envisage lives revolving around the proclamations of Chairman Petunia, and collapsing into complementary stasis in the absence of them, is a conceit even I would never countenance.

How do I explain why coming back to this has been so difficult? Oh, well – think of string and the length of it. Perhaps it’s been so difficult because ‘gifts’ that previously provided satisfaction and a sense of purpose (if an absence of income) lost their collective value for me. Experiencing a severe dent to self-confidence re my ‘creative capabilities’ was one reason for ruling out a return; recent reunions with old posts on here – read for the first time with real detachment – left me impressed albeit simultaneously disbelieving I’d written them. Yes, each element is connected and affected. One particularly devastating bombshell can have a big enough impact to bleed into every facet of one’s life, even areas that have no direct relation to it, triggering a chain reaction that can leave one pretty bloody winded. Until the event that knocked me for six, I could write a post for this, put a jolly little satirical video together for YouTube, and maybe even work on a novel – all in a day’s work. And now, everything has either slowed to a snail’s pace or ground to a complete halt, which is a crippling state of affairs for someone whose identity is defined by his creativity; this is actually the first prose I’ve written since December. Noting regular references to depressive bouts in past posts, I feel almost envious of the author’s naivety, realising I had no real idea how low I could go; but even someone with ‘previous’ isn’t prepared for the kind of emotional meltdown I’ve undergone, and Nietzche’s assertion that ‘if you stare long enough into the abyss, the abyss will stare back at you’ has been an unwelcome guest at my dinner table of late.

Don’t think I haven’t noticed news stories that I would no doubt have penned plenty posts about had I still been active; but being relieved of my duties has spared me extended exposure to items that would only have added to my unhealthy state of mind had I had to immerse myself in them via the compositional process. The necessity of such survival tactics means I’ve allowed the opening months of 2018 to pass me by in a way I never have with a year before; but I’ve been powerless to prevent my paralysing inertia. Having said that, I did manage to condense many of these headlines into one video a month or so ago, which felt like a small step in the right direction; it says what I felt needed to be said without having to devote a dozen posts to the subjects featured, so it was a tiny triumph of sorts.

Even with the invaluable support of close friends, however (many of whom have revealed touching depths of understanding and empathy), I remain frustratingly entrenched in a Groundhog Day distinctly lacking colour or joy and where the only thing I’ve been able to detect around the corner is a bloody great brick wall, forcing me to adopt the ‘one day at a time’ approach to life – one bereft of forward planning and predictions, though also, mercifully, devoid of Lena Martell’s greatest hit (Sweet Jesus).

During the darkest sections of this extremely dark tunnel, the only contemporary cultural artefact that seemed capable of holding my attention was BBC4’s French police series, ‘Spiral’ – and that was mainly because any wavering from the subtitles would bugger-up the plot, so I had no alternative but to concentrate. Otherwise, unable to focus for long on a book, I lost myself in a steady diet of DVDs that provided nostalgic comfort food for the head as well as solid no-nonsense drama that has stood up remarkably well 40 years on. Give ‘The Sandbaggers’ a try if you enjoy old-school Cold War espionage in the le Carré mode; one of you out there already has – that much I do know (according to the latest memo from C, anyway). Similarly, a superb album of eccentric curios and buried treasure unearthed by St Etienne’s Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs titled ‘English Weather’ got me through the winter on a loop, whereas Joni Mitchell at her mid-70s peak is easing me through the spring. Only wish these healing hands could carry me back to where I was before I needed them; but they can’t.

Knowing not if this post is one-night stand or series reboot, I can’t guarantee when the next one will be; but architectural historian Jonathan Glancey’s reflection on the sad descent of architectural critic Ian Nairn into drunken disillusionment and an all-too premature end feels relevant. ‘If you do fight continually against the things that make you angry,’ he said, ‘you get exhausted…exhausted in your mind, exhausted in your heart, and exhausted in your soul.’ Modesty prevents me from placing my own humble kicks against the pricks in the same league as Nairn’s poetic tirades aimed at architects and town-planners from the 50s to the 70s – tirades that graced the pages of national newspapers and networked TV screens. I do recognise a kindred spirit when I see one, however. Symptoms of Nairn’s downfall seem uncomfortably familiar as well, which is why any return to regular writing on here has to be motivated by a genuine compulsion to do it (rather than a misguided sense of obligation), believing I can do it, and being convinced people actually want to read it.

So, that’s the best I can do right now. You heard it here first. Okay. Until we meet again…soon, I hope…

© The Editor