Saturday, March 27, 2010

Rubbish music and the cross-generational moment

The Ramones once sang: "We need change, we need it fast/Before rock's just part of the past"—and how right they were.
When you've worked all night long, then done 52 laps in the public pool (during what's known as "adult swim" time—what a great phrase; if only there were more adult-only things around) it really makes you feel alive. But once the endorphin high wears off, you feel just as wired as before—and even more exhausted.
Only one thing stood between my grocery shopping and going home and that was a pint of Guinness. As I sat in a corner booth just across from the kitchen—dear non-British reader, our pubs nearly always serve food; they are what Americans think of as taverns, and yes, you can get alcohol even at 9 in the morning—I noticed a growing irritation welling up within me at the music being played. Whoa, did I just write "music?" I meant simplistic keyboard rhythms and the shrieking of even more simplistic lyrics. I don't know quite what the term for that is, but I call it garbage. It was being broadcast from any one of a truly depressing number of contemporary "hits" radio stations. It was loud enough to begin with, but every time the door swung open and closed, which was happening a fair bit as it was breakfast time, it became even louder.
This was ruining the enjoyment of my Guinness. You've got to be in a mood to enjoy one and I was fast losing that mood. So I threw my headphones on and played my iPod while sipping my pint and working on my Sudoku. Bliss. I was now in my own little world and happy with it.
About fifteen minutes into the existence of this little universe of my own making, I saw someone approaching my booth. I don't like being approached by anyone in a pub; you never know what kind of interaction is going to ensue.
I took off my headphones and noticed a gent of about 70 smirking at me. "Don't like the music either, young fella?" he asked.
I smirked back. "No, not my thing at all. It depresses me."
"Certainly not what my generation grew up with," the elderly man said.
"Nor mine," I was proud to reply.
"Really now?" His eyebrows arched as he said this. "Young man like yerself?"
"I'm forty," I said. "I like rock 'n'roll. Real guys playing real instruments and not caring if they sounded a bit raw. That's what I grew up with."
"I'm a big band man myself. Count Basie and Glenn Miller," he said, looking away momentarily, as if in a dream or pining for the olden days. Then he looked me in the eyes again. "But at least we both agree that this stuff"—he pointed at the kitchen—"is rubbish."
I smiled at the thought that during the '70s and '80s this swing fan probably railed against the stuff I listen to and enjoy. But we found ourselves united in our loathing of the contemporary "music" on offer, a real cross-generational moment if ever there was one.
The fact is, take any song on my iPod—Billy Joel's "My Life," for example—and I could listen to it 1,000 times in a row and still not be as sick of it as I am of the first twenty seconds of anything I hear on contemporary "hits" radio. And by giving any modern "song" twenty seconds before I start thinking "next!", I'm being generous and fair-minded.
I feel sorry for kids born in the late '90s and '00s. That rubbish is going to be what they think of fondly and reminisce about when they're forty. They don't realize for one moment how laughably pathetic that is. And the reason it's laughable is because the only other alternative is to weep.
I just shudder to think how much worse the music scene is going to get under the generation being born today. It's hard to imagine how much worse it could get, but it is a comfort of sorts to think that this newborn generation might just scoff at their parents' taste in listening preferences—just as I do.
Maybe, just maybe, this generation will provide the next Ramones or Guns 'n' Roses that we so desperately need to blow every other bit of flotsam out of the water, just as those two bands did in their respective days.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Open letter to Jamie Oliver

Dear Jamie,
You recently had a tough time of things in West Virginia. Folks there gave you such an ass-whuppin' over your healthy eating campaign that you broke down in tears at a press conference. They don't understand why you're there or what you're doing, you complained.
You will recall that preaching healthy eating to children in inner-city London schools didn't go down a treat either. You put yourself in a vulnerable position and you got pinned to the mat by these insouciant youths. They considered you no better than one of their teachers.
Overall, people don't really take too kindly to being preached to by a millionaire. Don't forget, you're also the face of a supermarket. People don't want to be lectured to by big business either. Yes, I know that's an unfair connection to make—and no doubt Sainsbury's did well to recruit you, even if you have had the odd tiff with them. In fact, I'm thinking that you ought to return home and do some more television commercials for them; the chain just reported their smallest growth in underlying sales in five years, having been hammered by promotional and price campaigns waged by their rivals, Tesco and Asda. That's one difference Sainsbury's doesn't want to taste. [Dear reader, click on this if that joke is lost on you.]
But, Jamie, in all seriousness, you're trying to appeal to a population of moo-moos. West Virginia is an Appalachian state. They're quite patriotic and believe in their God-given right to consume the equivalent of the annual Nigerian GDP in food every day. These people take the phrase "fat of the land" very seriously, and for them this healthy eating and lifestyle campaign is the work of long-haired Commies who, of course, are working in league with the black helicopter brigade just waiting to kick down their doors and take their rump roasts and T-bone steaks away.
The fact that this un-American drivel is being propogated by a cocky Londoner doesn't help either, Jamie. It's only a matter of time before they start turning their hunting rifles on you. You ought to think about adopting a south-of-the-Dixon-line drawl. It might buy you more credibility. Just say you think everyone ought to be healthy enough to enjoy their guns and breed large families and they may just listen.
Of course, not to worry. I'm sure Obama-care, the most recent law of the land, will sort everything out. Talk to every medical practitioner you can find. When these people start signing up for health insurance, or face punitive action if they don't, you can have the points of your campaign rubber-stamped on to the insurance requirements. Talk about taking America by storm, Jamie!

Best of luck,

Friday, March 19, 2010

Assaulting a dragon will even land a Lord in the hot seat

Lord Norman Tebbit is an interesting man. I agree with him on a lot of things. A Member of Parliament since 1970, he has campaigned against the Maastricht Treaty (the first step in consolidating the European Union), had the guts to opine that some immigrant communities would not assimilate into the majority society, a view he claimed vindication for in the wake of the 7/7 London bombings, and once told someone that rioting, as happened in Brixton in 1981, was not a natural consequence of unemployment. Tebbit told the young man in question, "I grew up in the '30s with an unemployed father. He didn't riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking 'til he found it."
He also dared to criticize the "saintly"—and just recently deceased—Michael Foot, and was injured in the IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel, where the 1984 Conservative Party Conference was being held.
But I was somewhat bemused to read that Lord Tebbit could be prosecuted over "dragon assault" charges.
During the Chinese New Year celebrations in his neighborhod of Bury St. Edmunds in late February, Tebbit was so upset by the noise of the parade that he ran outside his home to complain. He put his hands over a drum that someone was beating, and then he was jostled by someone in a dragon costume. This did not sit well with him.
"I got my knuckles rapped for my pains. I then got jostled by a dragon. I have never been jostled by a dragon before. I gave it a shove, then got on my way."
Lord Tebbit, you're not one of the crotchety creatures I kept having to avoid in the supermarket this morning, are you? Sometimes we dragons have to jostle you—it seems to be the only way you elderly folks ever get the message to let all the younger folks do their shopping. Honestly, I am so tempted to tell your kind, "Hey, I'm sorry that I was only born in 1969—I know you see me as just another uppity young person—and I don't blame you for moving only one-mile-per-hour, but when I respectfully stand out of your way and wait for you to pass, a 'thank you' would be nice!" So much for the civility of the older generations. Grumpy old bags ...
Anyway, the story is, Tebbit didn't just shove the Chinese dragon. He reportedly kicked at it. The front of the dragon was held up by an adult; the back was being commandered by a child. Tebbit was kicking at the back. A witness at the parade reported, "'He grabbed the drum and cymbal being played and then started violently kicking the dragon itself."
Suffolk Police have simply said that "inquiries are continuing into this incident." I don't think it's a stretch to say that Lord Tebbit will probably face nothing more severe than a fine.
In Tebbit's defense, he was new to the area where the Chinese New Year celebrations were taking place. But it's not much of a defense. I mean, it was a dim moment in his life to see all the costumes and Chinese paraphernalia and not put two and two together. Here's hoping the old boy can get his dignity back.
In the meantime, Lord Tebbit, don't go kicking at dragons anymore, OK?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lesson for today: Don't try adding apples and oranges

Someone recently left me a comment with respect to my "Of Homosexuality and Ice Dancing" entry, and they had this query to pose to me: "So . . . you're bisexual yet have never had a homosexual experience. I'm sorry, but this makes you bi how?"
As the seconds ticked by after first reading that, the more stupid the question seemed. Now it's gone beyond that. I'm plain offended.
I don't like being questioned when I deign to reveal personal matters about myself. If I say I'm bisexual, I'm bisexual, damn it all. If I said I was next in line to inherit the British crown, then you may question what I say. But not on a matter such as this.
You don't find yourself looking at some members of your own sex, over the course of over 20 years, and thinking "hot damn" if you don't have considerably more than a slight touch of the alternative sexuality about you, now do you?
You bring me a 5-foot, 8-inch, pumped, surfer-dude type in bulging Speedos, and I guaran-f***ing-tee that my eyes won't stray. How's that for being up front? (You decide if the pun was intended.)
All I said was that I wasn't one bit bothered to be leading a straight lifestyle, that I love the female I chose to share my life with, and that the only sex I've ever had was with her. From this, my interrogator felt at liberty to add A (married, only ever been with a woman) + B (never had a gay experience) = C (not bisexual). You did the math, my friend, but too bad it was based on expectation and not logic. That makes it wrong. See me after class.
I suppose what bothers me more than anything was not so much the fact that I wasn't taken at my word. It's this inane theory that you can only be a certain sexuality if you've had sex. By this assessment, the 40 Year Old Virgin must have been asexual before he finally did the nasty, eh?
You want to know why I never had a homosexual experience during my single days? Because I've got this amazing, astounding ability to keep it in my pants. I didn't go looking for young men to sleep with—that didn't interest me. If at some point, I'd been with some fit, frisky and dreamy young thing who I'd known for half-a-year at least and had a good, solid relationship with, then who the hell knows? But my attitude towards my own gender is the same as it is towards the opposite: Keep it under wraps until you've got a committment.
I don't willingly give myself away to just anyone. No, sirree, you've got to work hard to get to know me. This might have put people off me during my single days. Too bad, so sad. Their loss, darling.
You know what, though? I couldn't be happier. Because my wife was entirely worth waiting for.
I hope that clears things up.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What've we got to fear from the Jihad Janes?

The title of the news article in this week's Sunday Times said it all: "Jihad Janes spread fear in suburban U.S."
It refers to those whackjobs of the "fairer" sex, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez and Colleen LaRose, who were both arrested for taking part in an Islamic fundamentalist conspiracy to kill the editorial cartoonist Lars Vilks. Vilks' supreme crime against mankind was to draw the prophet Muhammed's face on a dog's body for a cartoon in a Swedish newspaper.
Vilks has said of the threat he faces, "If anyone comes I will be able to fight for 30 minutes. I won't hesitate to use the axe if it is a life-or-death fight."
However, I don't think we necessarily have to fear legions of stay-at-home women bored with the daily litany of housework, game shows and grocery stores. Most of them are smart enough to drop chill pills and go to the park to feed pigeons and squirrels.
As for these sad-sack domestic terrorists: you know how to deal with them? Strip them of their citizenship. Now, don't get all Constitutionalist on me. They've obviously taken an oath against their country by committing themselves to the enemy cause. Then you lock them up in a mental institution for the rest of their lives, because it's obviously where they belong.
Of LaRose, a former boyfriend of hers said, "She was no rocket scientist." And how. The closest she ever intended to study jet propulsion theory was to strap TNT to herself and let the body parts fly.
Sue Myrick, a Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, who said, "I think these [LaRose & Paulin-Ramirez] are just the tip of the iceberg ... [P]eople in this country are in denial. They don't want to admit what's happening and it scares me." No offense to Ms. Myrick, but I honestly don't think we're about to see hundreds of thousands of women across the country, coming out of the Al Qaeda-inspired on-line network like carpenter ants from the woodwork, swarming us with chants of "Allah akhbar!" (While, of course, demanding that we stop calling their kind terrorists.) It would make a cool zombie movie though. We could call it "Hassan of the Dead."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mr. Health Care Reform topples to tobacco

Fidel Castro has reportedly not smoked since 1985 (amazing when you consider how iconoclastic he is with his cigar). Now, the 64-year-old Brazilian president, Lula de Silva, has given up smoking, something he's done since his teenage years.
Barack Obama, meanwhile, is struggling to give up. He has tried since attaining office to quit and hasn't been successful yet. "No, I can't," Mr. President?
De Silva takes a detached point of view on the issue. "On these sorts of things, you don't give advice," he said, referring to Obama's apparent lack of will power. "Everyone can do what they want if they're of age. Everyone knows that it's not good for your health." No arguments there.
The Guardian newspaper opines that if smoking provides the Messiah with stress relief, then it may be good for him, despite the fact that he may be seen as a bad influence on impressionable teens. They related a tale of Lyndon Johnson who didn't smoke once as President, but engaged in an orgy of tobacco upon leaving office and died four years later.
It is hard to know if The Guardian is being serious here—certainly not the first time I've felt that way about them—but I do know how hard a habit it is to kick. I smoked off and on myself for five years, and, like de Silva, I preferred cigarillos, sucking on rough, unfiltered smoke. Enough was enough, though; after five years of trying to beat a habit I had stupidly been sucked into, and being quite depressed about it, I gave up for good in February 2008. It has now been over two years. I still have a penchant for nicotine gum—don't know when I'll kick that habit—but my lungs are recovered; I hardly ever cough and I'm passionate about running.
Obama wanted the Presidency, and now he's dealing with loads of fallout that seemed inconceivable the day he was elected. He reminds me of the head of air traffic control in the movie Airplane: "My cabinet's in disarray, I'm still struggling to pass health care reform, Republicans are winning Senate seats, got this war in Afghanistan to figure out ... Looks like I quit the wrong year to quit smoking!"
So, I agree (for once) with The Guardian. Let the man smoke. America can ill-afford a twitchy, nicotine-deprived grouch at the helm.