B – is for Bowie –ch..ch..changes

Saturday 20th September

Bowie was unique in many ways, no-one had sounded quite so alien and yet so undeniably English before, but he is almost unique among popular artists in that he has been prepared to lose his audience time and time again, and is never afraid to change his musical style even if most fans just wish he would keep making the same records.  I say almost unique, but both Bob Dylan and Neil Young continue to confound and follow their separate muses whatever.

Bowie could have made many more millions by milking Ziggy beyond three quick albums, but he decided to change course completely.  “Diamond Dogs” was a transitional album and though it had the big hit Rebel Rebel on it, it is one of my least favourite records, somehow it just seems to leave me cold.  He decamped to America and was completely engulfed in their music, especially the “Philly” disco sound, but absorbing and changing it to his own style he came up with the utterly brilliant “Young Americans” and followed it with the more sombre “Station to Station”, taking time out from his massive cocaine addiction to turn in a bravado performance in the film “The Man Who Fell To Earth”.

Then he moves to Berlin and under the influence of Brian Eno and obviously listening to records by Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk comes out with the largely instrumental “Low”.  This is such a radical departure that it took us a while to catch up and actually listen to this brutally modern but wonderful record.  He followed this with “Heroes” and “Lodger” where his sound became more hard-edged but with possibly better tunes.  “Scary Monsters” was more commercial and his renaissance climaxed with the monster dance album “Let’s Dance”.  Bowie appearing on the cover as a boxer (is that what he meant by dance?) and had massive hits, especially “China Girl”.  It almost seemed he was now untouchable and World Conquest was just an album away.

But this was Bowie and he had warned us with “Ch..Ch..Changes”.


The Restoration of Gordon Brown

Friday 19th September

He wasn’t actually the greatest Prime Minister we have ever had; even his biggest supporters must admit that.  He was actually torn to shreds by a biased media which wanted him to fail – he dutifully obliged.  Though his downfall was actually far more to do with the Global Financial Crisis which hit us like a tsunami in 2008.  The Tories and their chums in the media managed to pin the following collapse of the economy on Gordon; his overspending and his lax regulation of the Wankers (sorry – typo).   But only months before the crisis hit Osborne was promising to carry on spending as much as Labour, and the Tories actually voted against the changes in regulation introduced when Gordon was Chancellor on the grounds that they were too strict and would stifle business.

Anyway, that is history.  Rarely has a P.M. left office with such a poor reputation.  And suddenly he wasn’t visible at all; he simply disappeared from sight, rarely making an appearance in the House of Commons even.  But life went on and we largely forgot the Brown years.

And then we had the Scottish Referendum and a couple of weeks ago a huge wobble, as it looked as if the No campaign was in serious trouble.  Now, as I write this I do not know the result.  But whatever it is a side effect has been the resurrection of Gordon Brown.  The panic in the No camp has meant they had to call on someone the electorate in Scotland might actually trust.  And Hey Presto, it was Gordon.  And he has been marvellous.  He has spoken with real passion, from the heart and has struck a chord with many which Cameron and Milliband and Clegg and the awfully dour Darling could not.  If Scotland decides to stay it will be largely thanks to Gordon, and strangely his place in History may now begin to be judged a bit differently.  We will see.

Even the Break-up of the UK hasn’t woken people up

Thursday 18th September

Down here I mean.  In Scotland, always a more politically committed nation, it has invigorated the whole country.  But even though it has been all over the news, the papers full of it and special programmes on telly; there is a remarkable couldn’t care less attitude amongst most people in England.  Well, of course in one way they are right; if today the Scots vote for independence nothing will change on Friday.   But it will be the end of a three hundred year experiment, that may actually have been the trigger for the whole British Empire and our predominance in the World.  If we had carried on fighting each other rather than settle our differences then it is quite possible that the supremacy we achieved, largely by being able to concentrate on conquering far flung lands would have not been anything like so spectacular.  Countries in Europe were still fighting each other, whereas we were a unified nation, one of the first.

But the repercussions could be quite immense if the Scots go their own way.  There might be changes which nobody had imagined.  Devolution is now on the agenda of the LibDems and Labour, and will also be promised in some form or other by the Tories.  It could mean far more power trickling down to the Regions, with the “UK” becoming far more of a Federal State, within an even more Federal Europe.  Because of course with smaller and more powerful Regions the need for a strong centralized Foreign and Defence entity becomes even more important.   My guess is that not much will happen before the general election, but then the blame game will start in earnest .  A Coalition of sorts seems more than likely and big constitutional changes will happen.

It could even be that the Scottish experiment begins to excite real political involvement here in England.  We can but hope.

What’s Wrong With Our Politicians ?

Wednesday 17th September

Blandness.  Corporate blandness, sameness, the same smiles, the same phrases, the same policies largely.  And the more you see of them the less you are able to believe that they are real people; they must surely have been designed by committee, by focus groups, by political scientists – who are trying to design the least offensive, most homogenized and inoffensive people ever.  Why is it that the two most popular politicians are Boris and Nigel Farage?  It sure aint for their policies.  It is because they are real people.  The minders, the PR people who are trying to make Ed or Dave or Nick electable are terrified of any blunders, any faux-pas; any possible flaws which the media can jump on and crucify their puppets with.  But you know, the opposite is actually true.  Maybe people don’t actually mind that Ed looks like Wallace, or that he pulls silly faces.  Maybe they see in these “errors” the possibility of a real person peeping from behind the mask; and actually they like it.  The press tried to crucify Gordon for his poor eyesight and handwriting, but their was a backlash; the public didn’t mind at all.

Charlie Kennedy did more for the LibDems than any other party leader, because he was recognizable, he was real.  Okay so he smoked, he drunk too much – well, funnily enough so do rather a large section of the electorate, and even those who didn’t really liked him.  But he was packed off and we got Ming and then Nick, the ultimate salesman, whose star is so diminished he is sure to be dumped too as soon as the next election is over.   I can remember Kinnock before he became party leader, and he was real enough.  But they tried to turn him into a statesman, put him in smart dark suits and stopped him telling jokes.  And he lost.   So, come on politicians, let your guard slip a bit, show us some humanity, some real passion.  Or we might stop voting for any of you and who knows a real lunatic like Nigel Farage might get in.

Never-Ending War

Tuesday 16th September

In the late 60’s there was a movement, idealistic  maybe; but heartfelt nonetheless.  It was to end War, to stop killing innocent people, to change the way the World was being run.  We were then in the middle of the Vietnam war, and while we were not actively involved (Harold Wilson was the only British Prime Minister to ever say no to a US President, but little is he remembered for that) we saw the news reports and the pictures of children covered in Napalm burns.  “Make Love, Not War” became the slogan of the hippies, and though that movement descended into the chaos of drugs and Altamont a residue of that hope has survived.  I for one have, despite bowing to convention in many things, never lost that hope and am still a hippy at heart.

Almost all Wars are actually unwinnable; the days of complete ethnic cleansing and wiping out a whole people are behind us (though try telling that to the Israelis) and there is almost inevitably a political settlement in the end.  So, why not cut out the middle bit, the bombing, the destruction of homes, the killing of the innocents, and talk from the beginning.

I refuse to believe that humanity must be condemned to Never-Ending War, though that is what is virtually promised these days.  We need real statesmen who can bestride the World and insist on a real United Nations with teeth which can send in forces to stop any small wars and force the participants to talk to each other.  Talk to ordinary people all over the World and that is what they want, not this Never-Ending War.

Atrocities We Never Imagined

Monday 15th September

We are living in truly barbaric and frightening times.  Possibly life has always been barbaric though the nature of that barbarism is changing.  When once upon a time it was armies slaughtering each other, or criminals being disemboweled in horrific ways – now it can happen to anyone.  Or almost anyone – we hope.  Before about a hundred years ago ordinary people were fairly safe.  Armies might slaughter each other, and with total wars young men could barely escape being enlisted and only a hundred years ago millions died for nothing at all.   Then it all started to change with aerial bombardment putting more and more civilians at risk.  Wars followed wars and more and more bombing was the weapon of choice; very few pilots died after all.   But thousands upon thousands of civilians did, but somehow nobody seemed to care about them.   Then we moved into the era of suicide bombers and terrorist attacks like the World Trade Center where out of the blue people were killed – for nothing.

And now we have kidnappings of aid workers and internet beheadings too awful to be watched.   What have we been reduced to?  Are humans really capable of such merciless atrocities?  Apparently they are, and all in the name of a religious idea.   Possibly this sort of thing has always happened but now with a cheap camera phone and a laptop the awful reality can be beamed into every front room.   It is up to us, as what we think of as civilized people, to not watch them and to reject their twisted logic and hope that with time and education these atrocities will end.

So, Oscar Pistorius?

Sunday 14th September

One wonders if this weekend Oscar will be relieved or full of trepidation.  After all – it could have been far worse.  The trial has kept us captivated for months and most had made their minds up long ago.  He must have been guilty; how could he have not known Reeva was in the bathroom; four shots – why four shots, etc, etc, etc.  And it must be hard for us to understand even how someone could sleep with a loaded gun next to their bed, let alone assume that a noise in the middle of the night was an intruder.  If I hear a noise in the night, I always assume it is my partner.  And after all the evidence, the relevance or not of his prosthetic legs, the angles of the shots, the various testimonies of nieghbours – were there screams before as well as after the shots; we are really none the wiser.  And we are puzzled too by the absence of a jury, but maybe the idea of a judge assisted by two assessors who calmly sift all the evidence and testimonies rather than ordinary people who may have already formed an opinion is better after all.  Can anyone nowadays say that a “Celebrity” gets a fair trial at all; is it possible to not be influenced by newspaper and 24 hour media reporting?   I have no idea if Oscar knew it was Reeva behind the toilet door, only he knows that.  And actually on reflection the verdict of culpable homicide is about right.  Whoever Oscar thought he was shooting, it was incredibly reckless to have done so.

Now there will be a long wait for the sentence, and arguments from both sides as to the rights or wrongs of whatever is handed down; none of which will make the tragedy any better, or the fall from grace of Oscar any easier to bear.  Or will probably deter any other rich white people from keeping guns at home in a society of millions of poor black people.  But it will at last close the chapter on one of the most talked about cases for a long time.

In the words of Oscar…

He Does Bang His Drum Rather Well

Saturday 13th September

They have tried everything, from scaremongering to bribes, appeals to the head and to the heart and nothing has really helped.  The march of the Yes vote has roared on relentlessly.  Alec Salmond doesn’t seem at all concerned.  And the more they throw at him the happier he looks.  They cancelled Prime Minister’s Question Time and all three leaders descended on Scotland.  A whole train load of Labour M.P.s went to bolster up the vote.  Alec still smiled.

And now at last the secret weapon of the No campaign has been un-leashed, or rather he has unleashed himself.  Mr. Nigel Farage, of course. The one-drum banging politician has gone to Scotland and with a a very simple message.  “Vote Yes, by all means” he smiling tells the Scots, “but please be aware of exactly what you will be voting for.”  And then he explains that if they vote for so-called Independence from the U.K. they will have to apply as a new country to Europe and as such will have to agree to the Schengen open-borders policy and be a member of the Euro-zone.  Whereas, he hopes, that in the rest of the U.K. they will be voting to come out of Europe completely, a choice that will be denied to the Scots completely.

Very clever indeed.  He is the only “No” politician who smile and says “Go Ahead and vote yes if you want, but be sure just what you will get.”  He only has one drum to beat, but he beats it remarkably well and seems to get a tune out of it every time.  If I were Alec I might be slightly concerned.

Feeling Rotten

Friday 12th September

What a difference a day makes.  Tuesday I was fine.  No, really.  Wednesday morning I woke and was a bit blocked up, but otherwise feeling normal.  By the afternoon I was sneezing all over the place and by Wednesday evening I had a full-blown cold; streaming nose, sore eyes, sore throat and all – the whole shebang.  Rarely had a cold come out of absolutely nowhere to strike me down so quickly.

So, today (Thursday) I have been feeling grotty.  Falling asleep in the armchair with a blanket over me, making endless cups of tea and dosing myself up with Lemsip.  Hopefully the worst will soon be over and I can start feeling better.  Such a pity as I was looking forward to a work-free day on which to try to review what I have written so far of the new book.  Oh Well, it will just have to wait.

Even the news on TV has bored me, and I am trying to summon up the strength for a walk into town.  I am wondering if I had stayed in France I would now be full of cold, or is it a natural consequence of travelling on the tube every day, breathing in everyone else’s fumes.  Who knows.

B is for Bowie – part one – the life and death of Ziggy Stardust

Thursday 11th September

You have to hand it to the young David Jones, he was certainly a try-er.  From the early 1960’s he formed several bands and made a handful of singles which all flopped, and an album which sounded like Anthony Newley on speed.  But despite failing he believed in himself and especially that he could write and play great music.  Completely out of the blue he came up with a mini-opus about a Major lost on space and recorded it with an orchestra (or five orchestra’s double tracked if he is to be believed) and Space Oddity was born.  It was a top five hit.  Then I heard nothing until the single ‘Life On Mars’.  This was more interesting but it wasn’t until ‘Starman’ his first single from the album ‘Ziggy Stardust’ that he truly had arrived.  Like almost everyone else I was hooked, by this strange and beautiful man in a green sparkly jumpsuit and bright red spiky hair singing incredible songs about a pop-star from Mars.  I bought the album and then worked back through “Hunky Dory” and “The Man Who Sold The World” and ”Space Oddity” (the album) itself.

Wow.  Incredible changes of style and music, but all shot through with a weirdness and an incredibly expressive voice.  We had quite simply never come across anything quite like him before.   Bowie was morphing into Ziggy before our very eyes and continued with the album “Aladdin Sane” and then “Pin Ups” – a tribute to his favourite songs with a brilliant photo of Ziggy and Twiggy on the cover.

Then suddenly Ziggy was dead, killed off one night at Hammersmith Odeon in 1973.  And Bowie attempted to extricate himself from the madness that he and Ziggy had created.  Not that that was the end by any means, Bowie was unstoppable and raced off to pursue other musical styles and personae.  But the Ziggy period was truly remarkable; he almost single handedly invented Glam-Rock, he spawned many many bands of imitators, his hairstyle has been copied by millions and through it all like gold through quartz his songs shone through.  My favourite record is actually Hunky Dory, the precursor to Ziggy, with songs like “Kooks” and “Ch..ch..changes” and “The Bewlay Brothers”.    Sheer sheer brilliance.   And this was only the start…..

Ziggy Stardust Ziggy