Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Struggle

Creative people have to struggle. Academics have to struggle. Performers have to struggle. If you've done those things without struggling, then you're probably on the wrong side of history.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Mars Drink

The poster in the surgery said, drink a pint a day
The man on the TV said, order an extra one
But the woman from the government took it away
And people hated her
Then she took away everything else
People hated her even more
But we still got the Mars drink.

My father-in-law milked cows when he was a boy
He used to point an udder at the local tom cat
And squirt a long jet into his open mouth
He thought it was for the cat
The cat thought it was for him
And I thought it was for me

And never again will I drink the Mars drink.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Alan Vega's Dead

I must pay tribute to Alan Vega, the legendary singer of Suicide. I've been listening to his music since I was about eighteen, and I remember fondly my high five with him when I was in the audience at their show at The Garage in London back in 2000. Vega was punk before punk, and punk during punk but he was so punk that he didn't even like the term 'punk' - for him, being called a punk was hardly a compliment. For him, the punk was the guy who runs away from a fight. Perhaps this reflected the thoughts of an older generation, but then that was the most punk thing about him - he was 39 in 1977 and he'd been doing his thing for years. As with Can, Wire, Robert Quine and others, Vega is a man before, during and after his time.

Punk did that. It discovered and scooped up many people who had been on the fringes of the creative world for some time. In the creative world, as in any other world, there is a tendency toward tribalism, and some people don't belong in tribes, nor do they thrive in them. Vega knew this. I remember an interview with him, where he and Martin Rev (the other half of Suicide) were talking about their free jazz influences, and Vega said something of the order of 'who the f*** listens to Cecil Taylor now?' That interview is the reason I found out who Cecil Taylor is, and why his albums are in my collection. One might ask, 'who the f*** listens to Alan Vega now?' I remember how underwhelmed I was by ARE Weapons, as their sound was so obviously modeled on that of Suicide, and they didn't care. Vega didn't care, but he was original with it.

I suppose the man himself would probably sum up all this up by saying:

Alan Vega's dead
Vega Vega Vega Vega Vega baby
Alan Vega's dead
Vega Vega Vega Vega Vega baby yeah
He's up in the sky
Ah why why why
He's up in the sky - ugh!
Awww because he's a dead guy
Alan Vega's dead
Vega Vega baby
Aw listen ... listen ... listen
Vega Vega Vega Vega Vega baby

And so on. Rest in peace.

Bestest wishes
James O.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

My Father-in-Law, the Marxist

 When I was a boy, my father had told me:
‘Take a woman by the waist and a bottle by the neck’
He knew about this because he was a builder
And furthermore … a builder from Penge

My first Sunday lunch with my future in-laws
They lifted their glasses so I did the same
The booming Shostakovich (or someone) surrounded the five of us
Then my father-in-law told me to hold my glass by the stem
Otherwise only four of the five glasses would clink
I was the only one who couldn’t sing in Russian
I was the only one not holding the stem

Standing outside in the semi-detached air
The swelling in my gut subsided and I rolled a cigarette
After a meal … the best time to have one
I think it was Marx who said ‘you don’t strike a match on butter’
I inhaled smoke and stared at the house across the road
And then it hit me …
Take a woman to the opera and a glass by the stem
My father-in-law knew about this because he was a Marxist
Albeit a Marxist from Penge

Sunday, 10 July 2016

New Stock

The young man was leafing through a sports magazine when the bell rang. He looked up and examined the strange man entering the store but the man didn’t notice and approached the counter. The owner stood up.

‘Morning. Haven’t seen you before. What can I do for you?’

‘I need some aspirin.’

‘Aspirin, oh gee. Gee, I don’t know, we’re kind of out of aspirin. I’ve never been too good on the drug stuff. We’re more of a convenience store than a drugstore, I guess.’

The owner smiled but none was forthcoming from the customer. The young man continued looking through the magazine, casting his eyes over a comprehensive review of new golf clubs.

‘New in town, huh? Well, it sure is nice to meet new people.’

The young man glanced up briefly, then turned the page to see an interview with the English golfer, Colin Montgomerie.

‘You know, I’m real sorry about the aspirin. Usually, we've got you covered. We got whatever you need right here. Take a look at these guys, they came in today.' He pulled a small stack of colorful boxes over to him. 'They're cookies, I guess. Or treats. Whatever you wanna call ‘em. To tell you the truth, I don't know what I should do with them. A friend of mine brought them in and said I should try them in the store. You in town for long?'

‘Sure. I moved in yesterday.'

‘Well, we got whatever you need. I guess I'll be seeing you around. I don't know. What do you think?'

The three of them looked down at the boxes.

'I'll take six.'
'Alrighty then.'

The man purchased the candy and left the shop, leaving the bell ringing behind him. The young man put down the magazine and approached the counter. He leaned forward to speak to the owner.

‘How did you do that?'

The store owner looked back at him, quizzically.

'Come on,’ said the young man. ‘Tell me your secret.'

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

A philosophical moment

'I was being judged by people who had less knowledge than me, so what was it truly worth? I gave Michelin inspectors too much respect, and I belittled myself.'

Marco Pierre White

Sunday, 12 June 2016

The Family Business

Aurelie’s family oozed money like beads of sweat. Inevitably, my mother went on a crash diet and forced my father to buy a new suit. She ordered him to break his bread and butter, then bite off a piece, leaving some between the fingers. He must never butter the whole slice and fold it like a ‘sandwich’, and she condemned him for resting his glasses on his head.

Aurelie explained that her family was organised by an elite group of members, who presided over the family’s wellbeing, and apparently, my dignified standing granted me entry. Although I didn’t think I was particularly dignified, I’d graduated with a first and secured a place at a law firm. Anyway, her father, Marcel, expected me at the next conference, to be chaired by her Uncle Bruce in London. I wasn’t interested in influencing family members I’d never meet, but I didn’t want to upset my in-laws and I did have a selfish interest in making connections. It would improve my standing if I could boast international contacts, particularly if this included those in the legal world, like Uncle Bruce, who wore a pinstripe suit and spoke with that voice that posh Scottish people have. Tapping his pencil, he called the room to order.

'I welcome you all to the meeting. First, we must greet a new member – Marcel’s new son-in-law, Jeremy.’ I heard murmurs of agreement. Marcel looked down while somehow noting everyone’s reaction. ‘Jeremy recently married Marcel’s beautiful daughter, Aurelie, and is becoming a barrister. Jeremy, congratulations to you both, and welcome to the consortium.’ A big hand clutched my arm affectionately – Uncle Larry, from Tennessee.

We all had matching pencils and peach-coloured notepaper so I wrote everything down. Uncle Bruce glanced over occasionally, possibly as an invitation to contribute, but I stayed quiet. Eventually, his expression darkened, he removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. ‘Now we must turn to an unpleasant matter. I need not remind you that the wellbeing of the family is the very reason for these gatherings. And there are some grave concerns for one family member in particular.’ He gestured to a middle-aged woman at one end of the table. ‘Gillian, speak freely. You’re with your family.’

Auntie Gillian swallowed. ‘It’s Steven. He’s living with a topless black go-go dancer.’

By now, I truly understood the reality of the success I’d been chasing. It circled the room, engulfed me, worked its way down my throat and into my heart and lungs.

Steven had form. Rap music. Dreadlocks. ‘Coloured’ girlfriends. It was a phase, of course, but his A-Level results were hanging in the balance. Someone suggested a discreet pay-off to the girl’s family in the West Indies, until Gillian pointed out that they were from Neasden. Perhaps the girl might listen to reason? Who best to approach her?

Clogged with the foul taste of my success, my throat contracted and I nearly choked. Then I heard myself say it.

‘I’ll talk to her.’