Monday 20th August
Sometimes indeed Democracy is the problem. Not the concept of Democracy, but it’s implementation. The idea indeed that Winner takes all. Democracy should be about both involving everyone and trying to take account of all differing views in decision making. But because of the mechanics and the lack of any form of Proportional Representation in electing members of Parliament we never have a Government which represents a majority of votes cast, or even one backed by more than 40% of those who voted. Governments then declare that they have a mandate for their actions, even when these were never mentioned before the election itself.
However, we also face other problems with Democracy. Brexit itself has been declared a success of Democracy; but as the complexities of the negotiations unravel more and more people, even many who voted originally to Leave, are questioning the un-Democratic way that that decision is being implemented, with all sides of the debate appropriating for their own arguments a Democratic mandate.
But there is a further problem with Democracy in that now all the major Political parties have given the final (and often the entire) say in electing their Leaders to their members. This has, and will inevitably, result in leaders being chosen who are more radical in their Political views than the general public. Anyone deciding to become a member of a Political party is almost bound to have more Politically extreme views than the general public; Labour party members are more left-wing, and Tory members are more right-wing than the general public. In fact, of course, most people are not that bothered about Politics at all, or at least until a General Election; and then the majority will vote the way they always or recently have. Sea changes, and huge landslides are rarer than one would think. Only two really in my lifetime – one, when Mrs. Thatcher won her second term after the Falklands (and even then, this may have had more to do with the SDP than people voting Tory), and Tony Blair in 1997, after 18 years of the Conservatives.
But now we have a left-wing leader of Labour, who, whatever you think of his policies, would never have been elected before ‘one member one vote’. The Tory party appears to be shaping up for a Leadership election too, as soon as Brexit (of whatever variety) is finally declared. Already there are calls for thousands of Leave voters to join the Tory party so that they can vote in a ‘True Brexiteer’ such as Boris or Rees-Moggs. So, in the name of ‘Democracy’ our Politics will be more divisive than ever. And whoever wins the next election will again declare a mandate despite in all probability winning about 40% of the vote and possibly having to cobble together a coalition of sorts. And we call that Democracy.
Saturday 18th August
I feel tired, but tired beyond tired. Nothing seems to register anymore -news, politics – all pass me by in a blur of senseless information. I feel I am running on empty. My reserve tanks are empty and I am drifting. Sometimes I am drifting in space, like Major Tom himself. Sometimes I am walking, trudging along, stumbling down a road with no direction signs, simply putting one foot wearily in front of the other, my eyes fixed on the never-ending tarmac. Sometimes I am in a car, though I am no driver – and there is no driver beside me either, but somehow the car rolls on and on. No engine noise – the car is running on empty too. I am alone, on a never-ending road. I am always alone. I have always been alone; never had a friend I could confide in; I discovered long ago that parents and teachers are not to be told things, not about your feelings, not about anything that really matters.. And sometimes I feel I have been running on empty for ever; maybe other people feel it too – how can you tell; they all seem happy enough – but then, so do I; so what does that tell you? I wake every morning and feel so old, as if my life has been draining out for days, weeks, months – and this is indeed the last day. The road stretches on but I feel the car is slowing, running out of fuel too. And there is an incline ahead, a slight slope and I can feel the car visibly slowing as we crawl slowly up. Whether the car will actually grind to a halt or will suddenly pick up speed as we crest the hill and the road dips again I am not sure. I have no control, there is no accelerator pedal this side, and no brake either. There is no engine noise – we are running on empty, gazing blankly as the countryside drifts slowly by..
And there, just up ahead the road disappears and the grey tarmac rises up into a wall and still the car drifts on, running on empty. And just before we crash and I discover pain or oblivion – I wake up. But then I wonder if I were really asleep or awake all the time.
Tuesday 14th August
A couple of years I set myself the task, though it ended up a joy, of reading the novels of Dickens. Many years ago I had read Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. I had seen numerous TV adaptations and, sort of, knew the story of The Old Curiosity Shop and Nicolas Nickleby and maybe a couple of others. It is a remarkable body of work – though tiny compared to one of his contemporaries – Anthony Trollope who wrote more than fifty novels. Still. And these were all hand-written in those days, so revision must have been a nightmare. We are so lucky today having Word to move and delete and copy several versions – but I am not sure for all that that the quality of writing has improved. Almost all of these novels were originally published in fortnightly sections, and the books are really long. You need patience to read them; the plots unwind slowly; there seem a multitude of characters; much seems unnecessary to the story – and yet Dickens, the master puppeteer, pulls the strings and makes it all hang together in the end.
There is also a progression in the books – you can feel him getting better as a writer, defining characters more subtly, relying less on crazy co-incidence – and writing much more satisfying novels. If anything his best characters however were in his earlier books – Fagin, Quilp, Uriah Heep, Mr. Squeers – stay in the memory forever.
Dickens was really a socialist, he wrote about rich and poor alike, he exposed corruption and cruelty; money is almost always a motivating force in his stories.
My favourites are of course Great Expectations and David Copperfield. These two are simply two of the greatest books ever written. I am so glad I stuck with it and read all his books. And although in many ways I enjoyed Trollope more, there is no denying Dicken’s place in English literature
Thursday 9th August
BOWIE – POP-ROYALTY
1980 saw Scary Monsters and Super Creeps; a somewhat return to normal, and David’s second number one ‘Ashes to Ashes’, a sort-of sequel to Space Oddity – 11 years on. It had a brilliant video – Bowie was now producing the schemes for his own very artistic videos. The age of MTV had arrived and records were increasingly sold as a package of song and videa – David excelled at this. The album itself is a bit of a curates egg – good in places. Brilliant singles ‘Ashes’ and ‘Fashion’. The record was much more conventional sounding – even with some Japanese on one track, but somehow it has never really been a great favourite.
A break of three years when he seemed to appropriate the mantle of Pop Royalty, along with Elton and Rod and Phil Collins and Queen and Clapton. A strange time, and even stranger when Punk had set out to destroy this very clique-iness. He joined Queen for a brilliant single ‘Under Pressure’ and ‘Cat People’ with Giorgio Moroder – a ‘hip’ dance producer. He re-recorded this for his next album – the superb ‘Let’s Dance’ co-produced with Nile Rogers of disco band Chic. The album went straight to number one, like it’s predecessor and the next one too. David was seriously cool now and had a run of number one or two singles. The title track from this album and ‘China Girl’ (previously written for Iggy Pop) and almost my favourite track ‘Modern Love’. The album was his most accessible in years – he had regained his cool ‘pop’ schtick. Almost every song off the record was excellent, his voice hovering like some exotic falsetto bird over driving rhythm tracks. Favourite track is ‘Without You’, a slower number. It almost felt that David could do no wrong…
But the following year’s Tonight, was a disappointment, although like many of his records on re-listening it really isn’t so bad – but this was Bowie, and we expected better. Or maybe it really is that bad. Singles ‘Blue Jean’ and ‘Loving The Alien’ are okay – just. Duet with Tina Turner ‘Tonight’ is pretty awful, and god only knows why he attempted a cover of ‘God Only Knows’. (maybe he had caught religion – the cover shows him almost as a saint). He said he wanted to make a straight Rock and Roll record, he made a straight down the middle of the road album instead. Things couldn’t possibly get any worse – could they?
Oh yes, they could. 1987’s Never Let Me Down let us all down, Bowie and all his fans. This is ordinary beyond belief. Hard to make out just what he was thinking. I saw him just after this album – The Glass Spider Tour, not his best show; that was in 1978 just after Low and Heroes. Oh well. After this debacle Bowie announced he was joining a band Tin Machine (see T). Generally poorly received , but compared to this record it was an improvement. We would have to wait until the mid-nineties for any new solo records.
Monday 6th August
BOWIE – BERLIN In 1976 Bowie moved to Berlin, he stayed in a flat and recorded right next to the Berlin Wall. He worked with Brian Eno, who had just left Roxy. They were influenced by the electronic music coming out of Europe – Kraftwerk, Neu and my favourite Tangerine Dream. Using synthesisers and electric piano and guitars and drum machine they worked on instrumentals. Bowie wrote words for a few of them but the resulting record LOW is mostly unsung. It was a huge departure from anything which went before, Bowie was ready to lose his entire fanbase, who were still mourning the death of Ziggy. But gradually he won almost all of them back and many more too. The album roars in with ‘Speed of Life’ and the bleak ‘Breaking Glass’ – Bowie’s voice sounds distanced, detached, emotionless – like the music itself. Even the single ‘Sound and Vision’ is bleak and dystopian. Side 2 is completely instrumental, but I love it. I can even remember the first time I heard the record, on a friend’s (brand new in those days) cassette player. This sounded suddenly so modern, so fresh, so alien even. And I couldn’t wait for the follow-up ‘Heroes’.
And, of course, it didn’t disappoint. Side 1 is all sung and 2 is mostly instrumental. Of course, the shock had worn off, and one could simply enjoy more of the same. Although the sung songs with the exception of the classic title track seem a bit mechanical. I like ‘Sons Of The Silent Age’ but not much else. The instrumentals are if anything a bit mellower, except the bleak Neukoln. In many ways I prefer Low as an album. Lodger, which came out later in ‘1979’ is maybe better. No instrumentals this time, but the sound is more varied; there is Turkish influence in ‘Yassasin’ and a classic vocal ballad in opener ‘Fantastic Voyage’. He had a hit with ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ – but I particularly like ‘Repetition’ – a tale of family violence sung very tiredly. This last album completed David’s Berlin trilogy and has consistently undersold – maybe people were just getting bored with it. In fact, all three records, though loved by the critics, sold poorly. David had certainly come a long way in just a decade, unrecognisable from his Space oddity days.
Although this record came out over a decade later All Saints slots in here. It is a collection of David’s instrumental tracks – everything from Low and Heroes and a few film tracks and discarded attempts. I like it ‘Crystal Japan ‘ is very good – it is quietly refreshing, the lack of vocals give you more time to think. In many ways David has always been a painter; literally he painted paintings (rarely seen) but with his music he often paints in sound collages, the lyrics sprinkled like highlights over the base colours.
But maybe, lack of chart success, or just boredom – David moved on from the pretty bleak terrain of his Berlin period and sought out more conventional ‘Pop’ sounds…
Friday 3rd August
BOWIE – America – Bowie was sinking into drug dependence; he had probably dabbled for years but Fame brings pressure – records to record, songs to write, endless touring and drugs seem to have affected almost all of the Sixties and Seventies stars. Diamond Dogs came out in 1974, and I don’t really know why but I have never loved this record. Most of the songs are of a dystopian future, many were destined for the soundtrack to a film of 1984, and then the producers chose other music. The hit ‘Rebel Rebel’ was never my favourite and seems out of place on this record. ‘Rock and Roll with me’ is quite good – as is ‘Sweet thing’ but the album leaves me strangely unaffected. David was spending more and more time in America and, at exactly the same time as Elton, he fell in love with the disco sounds coming out of Philadelphia. Under the influence of Luther Vandross and having dropped Ronson and the other Spiders (rather abruptly) he adopted a new band of session players. Apparently the recording sessions were chaotic with a few songs discarded along the way. John Lennon joined Bowie for a couple of songs too (as he did with Elton). But the resulting album Young Americans is superb. Never afraid to lose his audience and confront them with new sounds Bowie absorbed all this new music and created something brilliant. The best is the title track with it’s horns and piano driven riffs, a classic – but it would have been unrecognisable as a Ziggy song. There is the ballad ‘Win; again unlike anything he had sung before. He does a cracking and roaring version of Lennon’s ‘Across the Universe’ and finishes with another classic ‘Fame’. Quite incredible – and what a journey. This is almost my favourite Bowie record – but of course there was more to come.
The following year (1976) came Station to Station – a move on from the Philly sound, and just 6 songs this time, but what songs…The title song roars in with the sound of a train puffing and wheezing, ‘TVC15’ is another wonderful song, almost a rocker but with disco influence – it is actually about 15 channels on TV (if only, now). But the best are two slower songs ‘Word on A Wing’ and ‘Wild Is The Wind’. Although we mustn’t forget hid best single in a long time ‘Golden Years’. Bowie was filming ‘The Man Who fell to Earth’ with Nic Roeg, and he began to take on the persona of Newton – as the alien who came to earth. He also name checks ‘The Thin White Duke’ and changed his image to a more forties style with slicked back hair and wide trousers. Ever the magician he wove his spells – but for me it was always about the songs. But none of his ch-ch-changes had prepared me for what came next.
Wednesday 1st August
Bowie – Ziggy So, that seminal moment – just like ten years before when we first heard The Beatles, Ziggy arrived in 1972. And we all got it. Straight away. Ziggy was some weird androgynous creature arrived from outer space with a great rock and roll band and all the right songs and all the right moves. Boys and girls were both in love with Ziggy with his mop of red hair and white face and bright green and sparkly cat suits and white heeled boots. And of course, like everyone else I ran out and bought the record – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars. Take back what I said about Hunky Dory – this is the Bowie album….the songs are incredible; from the apocalyptic ‘Five years’ to ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’ – all brilliant. Not a poor song on the record. David’s singing is immaculate, the band really rock and Mick Ronson’s guitar floats above everything.especially on ‘Moonage Daydream.’ And listening again 46 years later – the thrill is still there. The album was supposed to be a one-off – the last song killing off Ziggy, but somehow he began to take over Bowie as he toured the country. And Ziggy stayeded for another two records.
Alladin Sane (Ziggy in another faint disguise) came out in ’73. Another brilliant album, written apparently while Bowie was touring the States. He had recruited Mike Garson, a jazz pianist – and his influence is all over the record. A very jazzy feel to some songs. But in some ways this is a more disjointed record, a couple of rockers, the singles ‘Jean Genie’ (not my favourite) and ‘Drive in Saturday’, the fey ‘prettiest Star’ and a torch ballad ‘Lady grinning Soul’/ But Bowie was God by now and could do no wrong. Listening now, I am struck by how sexual the record is, which of course was a large part of the Ziggy persona. Later the same year came ‘Pin-Ups’; a modern covers album, which may have been a cash-in disc but was actually almost as good as Hunky Dory and Ziggy itself. With its brilliant cover photo of David and Twiggy it makes up the trilogy of Ziggy albums. This is a great album, even if it is covers -Ziggy (Bowie) ‘s voice has never been better. He out Daltreys Roger on the two Who tracks. He re-invents ‘See Emily Play’ and gave us another great single with ‘Sorrow’. Best of all is ‘Friday On My Mind.’ This record always cheers me up !