Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Grace

This blog's hardly short on words about Jeff Buckley, but, still, a little over 20 years after he died, I want to write a little about the song 'Grace'.

'Hallelujah''s a bit of a shame really, because any Buckley fan knows that's not the half of it. The title track from his only full album is the masterpiece, and I don't think that's really been acknowledged enough.

Perhaps until now. When I looked it up this week on youtube, I saw to my glee that the song is being studied now for GCSE music. That's cool.

Quite a piece of music to study. Where do you start? Riff? Bassline? Lyric? Vocal melody? Coda? Probably ...

I watched the official video, and that prompted me to consider Buckley in context - making a video, maybe the record company hopes it will get on MFTV - a mid-90s rock guy, maybe like The Gin Blossoms or Deep Blue Something or Hootie and the Blowfish or Dave Matthews.



Not the legend of Buckley, just some mid-90s rock guy who never quite made it.

And, look, some of those moves, they're similar to everything we've come to hate, every narcissistic pretty boy rock boy really meaning it, and all the voices that have come after, all the good and godawful before and after, soaring tenors and squawking howlers - Freddie Mercury, David Coverdale, Axl Rose and James Dean Bradfield, metal singers, then Muse and Coldplay, Damien Rice, James Blunt and the Darkness and John Mayer or whomever, they're all in Buckley territory. All trying to do it, nearly all failing horribly.

But really, to me, there's Buckley doing Grace and then there's everything else.

The intensity, the way he uses his mouth and his whole head, again, we've seen it so many times in so many irritating ways since, but we've not heard anything like this again. He does that because he needs to, he's making a range of noises far beyond other singers.

There's so much more here than on Hallelujah, which is controlled and spooky and pretty. 'Grace' is mental, it's possessed. I've never heard anyone else sing like this. No one. There are other singers in pop music who are his equal, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin and ... (other names escape me) ... but even they, I'm not sure they're quite capable of this.

The rage ... the madness ... the echoes ... the marrying of different styles of singing, sometimes within single notes...

In terms of the song itself, it was actually the King Creosote cover which really helped me get to grips with it - one of the cleverest covers I've ever heard - he tames the untamable, and turns its into a sweetly eery folk ballad.

Then again, there's this ... http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/music/popular_music/rock1.shtml
which tells you plenty that I can't!

Monday, 23 October 2017

My Very Favourite Dances About Architecture

I just read an enjoyable book called 'Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music' by Michael Robbins.

I consequently made a list of my favourites book about music, the ones which really got me thinking what the whole thing was all about.

Michael Robbins writes with great authority on both poetry (which is his profession) and pop music, yet his view and his frame of reference is often completely different from mine. And in compiling this list, I realised how many of the supposed classic books on pop music I haven't read, though I've read a considerable amount on it.

There's a time when you're young and you read a lot and you think you might have time to read everything ever, so you put off this and that, and then you reach a time when it's hard to read one book in an aeon and you think "bugger, I'll never read all those books, I should have read faster when I was younger (oh, hang on, it's just now I'm just mainly reading shit about the same shit over and over again I find on the internet)".

The same is slightly less true of pop music itself. I've devoted myself to listening to pop music and I'm still at - sometimes I think I really will listen to all of it, all of it that matters. But then Michael Robbins comes along with his completely different frame of reference, and I realise that's not possible either.

Anyway, here are my favourite 20 books on pop music (in truth, there might have been more Bob Dylan books, I've read an awful lot of good Bob Dylan books, but I thought two would do for this list). There are lots of other good ones ... these are in no order ...


  • Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music – Michael Robbins (ESSAYS)
  • Chronicles Volume 1 - Bob Dylan (MEMOIR)
  • High Fidelity – Nick Hornby (NOVEL)
  • 33 Revolutions per Minute: A History of Protest Songs: Dorian Lynskey (HISTORY/ESSAYS)
  • The Commitments – Roddy Doyle (NOVEL)
  • A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day With the Clash – Johnny Green (ROAD DIARY)
  • 45 – Bill Drummond (ESSAYS/UNCLASSIFIABLE)
  • On the Road with Bob Dylan – Larry Sloman (ROAD DIARY)
  • White Bicycles: Making Music in the 60s – Joe Boyd (MEMOIR)
  • All the Madmen: Barrett, Bowie, Drake, the Floyd, The Kinks, The Who and the Journey to the Dark Side of English Rock – Clinton Heylin (HISTORY/ESSAYS)
  • The People’s Music: Selected Journalism – Ian MacDonald (ESSAYS)
  • This is Uncool: The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk and Disco – Garry Mulholland (ESSAYS/COMPENDIUM)
  • I'm a Man: Sex, Gods and Rock 'n' Roll – Ruth Padel (ESSAYS)
  • The Secret Life of the Love Song: Nick Cave (LECTURE - I'm not entirely sure I've ever seen this written down, but, in my head, it's become something of a sacred text)
  • The People’s Songs: The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Records - Stuart Maconie (HISTORY/ESSAYS)
  • Where You’re At: Notes From the Frontline of a Hip-Hop Planet – Patrick Neate (HISTORY/ESSAYS)
  • Stuart Sutcliffe’s Lonely Hearts Club – Pauline Sutcliffe (BIOGRAPHY)
  • The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock – John Harris (HISTORY)
  • A Bit of a Blur - Alex James (AUTOBIOGRAPHY)
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan (NOVEL)

And, while I was it, here are my favourite 15 books on sport. I could take it up to 20 but the last 5 would also be cricket and boxing. I think cricket and boxing are the most literature-worthy books, and plenty of people agree with me, but still, I think a list of 20 would over-expose my bias ...


  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami (GENERAL MUSINGS/MEMOIR)
  • Full Time: The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino – Tony Cascarino and Paul Kimmage (AUTOBIOGRAPHY)
  • The Clicking of Cuthbert – PG Wodehouse (SHORT STORIES)
  • Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack (1996) (ALMANACK)
  • A Cultured Left Foot: The Eleven Elements of Footballing Greatness – Musa Okwonga (ESSAYS)
  • War Baby: The Glamour of Violence: Kevin Mitchell (BIOGRAPHY/ESSAYS)
  • Night Train: The Sonny Liston Story – Nick Tosches (BIOGRAPHY)
  • Dark Trade: Lost in Boxing – Donald McRae (HISTORY/BIOGRAPHY)
  • The Cricket Match – Hugh de Selincourt (NOVEL)
  • Netherland – Joseph O’Neill (NOVEL)
  • Beyond a Boundary – CLR James      (HISTORY/PHILOSOPHY)   
  • In Black and White: The Untold Story of Joe Louis and Jesse Owens – Donald McRae (BIOGRAPHY)
  • A Lot of Hard Yakka: Cricketing Life on the County Circuit – Simon Hughes (MEMOIR) - only just beating Phil Tufnell's What Now? when it comes to engaging memoirs by Middlesex players of the 80s and 90s ...
  • King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of the American Hero – David Remnick (BIOGRAPHY)
  • Raging Bull  - Jake LaMotta (AUTOBIOGRAPHY)

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Face Value

I wrote this yesterday. It's not a "take", I just was suddenly struck by all the meaning of "Face value" in the film business and it just poured out of me.

Though it's a bit crass to explain and justify your own writing, because I'm pleased with how this turned out, I want to say that it deliberately starts quite simply, quite prosaically, and then as it goes on the idea was for the rhymes to mount up, for the pace to escalate, to feel like they are trapping you and hurrying you.

Anyway, it is what is, it's not deep or all that clever ...

FACE VALUE

I can’t place value
On the face that god gave you,
It would grace New York and LA,
Let me tell you.
Let my people call you,
I can’t wait till they see you.
They’ll adore you, for sure, I
Can take you and make you a star,
If you let me,
If you take me
At face value.

At dinner, I’m Baloo,
You’ve nothing to fear, then
I turn into Shere Khan
As soon as the door’s shut.
It’s not in the contract
But you must have known that
The door to the lift was
A Faustian pact.
This exchange won’t kill you,
Your pride may be hurt but
The world is yours, in lieu.
I’ll open it wide if
You’ll just let me buy you …
Whatever I want to …
I’ll pay … so don’t cry.

I know how to sell you
 (you won’t tell now, will you? …
The rumour mill shuts down
As soon as I tell it).
Don’t push, you don’t get it,
I don’t ask, I do get –
I got here on merit,
The bold did inherit.
No one wants to hear it …
From you.

Smile now and bear it -
Your face is your passport,
The truth is this business
Can be a bit dirty
If you look past face value
Once you hit thirty
We’ll need to revalue
What that face can make you
And make you a new one.

Do you think that Grace Kelly
Got anywhere fast
Without kissing some ass
I laugh when they vouchsafe
That casting couch rape
Is a thing of the past.
This is the business.
It. Still. Is. Just. This.

It’s best you face facts, now
You’re getting great value
For time spent,
Now I’m meant to feel
Like the user?
You’re using me
That’s what people will see
If you dare breathe a word
Of this
To anyone, ever.

Some Recent Things

For some reason I'm in the mood to just put some of the things I've written lately on here. Why not, eh?

Some small, some bigger, not all of them are even finished, I'm just in a giving mood ...

Some haikus

When the sky crashes
We consider ourselves still
The unbeatables

_________

A pound coin buried
Half a foot beneath a beach
Never to be found.

__________

The expectation
Of imminent collision
In each taut sinew.

___________

In spite of it all
They think they are the adults
Cleaning up the mess.

___________

As the real storm nears,
I refresh, to exhaustion,
My life in fomo.

__________

.


Some others

THIS USED TO BE VALHALLA

Dripping chandeliers
shine alcoholically
on ghosts of grayscale
signed staircase photos,
Support act to drawing pins
and artless rips, likely
By young punks who now
work for Help the Aged.
They earnt their infamy
Punching out bravado
 with that tightness
 forced by limitation,
Then the hottest on the
unread pages – You were here!
I was there, for a while,
at least, grimacing
love and understanding,
Cigarette to attention,
lost in the pissy
thrill of it all.
The barstaff baffled
At the revolving door
Of subcultures only
Distinguishable
By t-shirts and beards.
Before, a cinema
or a bingo hall,
its brief glory of feedback
and wild overappreciation
the enduring shadow.

__________

IMPOSTORS
Squirrels scrabbling for their share of havoc
squabbling over November’s pear droppings,
swiping harmlessly, half-heartedly bare-
toothed; louche staring contests in undue warmth,
a neighbourhood show of animal strength
fooling no one, a merry tango’s menace
stripped; demob happy acrobats each
back flipping glee and uncommon freedom.

A back window, patio, a lush lawn;
Unlikely summer sun gate crashing,
Spectators sharing actors’ wide-eyed wild
Relish; none of this is at it should be.
Hey there, little dancers, get off our land,
Laughingly empty threat warmly ignored.

___________

MAN OF KENTISH MAN

This county, at its best, is blue and white,
Off white, and grey. The power bursts across
The stinking fields, strawberries and the ilk,
The fizzing foam of history, the plod
And pound – the passionate red of gangster class,
The waves of pride, unique and purple sky,
I’m told, you never quite know where you are,
An idyll and a sewer, port and storm.

The empty ferries bless a wedding, light
And free, a shrunken relic put to task,
A wry observer, stripped of anger, steeped
In sorrow not its own. This county’s been
Under attack from every side so long
No wonder would dare cross its borders now.



___________

Some polemic ...

LIBERTY

Give me your orange, your white,
Who look like me and think like me,
The none-too-poor and none-too-bright,
This Koutoploutoleukandrocracy,
Who’ll usher in the long, dark night.

______________

There are more stupid white men than ever
Though that goes against some intuition
Political correctness has not gone mad
And thumped them to a sweet submission

Stupid white men still shout the loudest
Whine the longest and feel the wrongedest
They puff their chests out, take the best seats,
Feel they feel their sleights the strongest.

___________

LITTLE ENGLAND

England is a hot head with a cold, cold heart
Losing the fierce rows inside his slow, slow brain
Anglia is a glum man doing its sums wrong
While the sun sets on its empire of dumb umpires,
A club of toothless vampires.

England’s disconnected from its own high mind
Grabbing empty air where was a fair hand out.
Furiously bluffing as if nothing
Speaks of power like a creaking tower
On a cliff, weakening by the hour.

England, little England is now free, set free
Loosened from its moorings by its small, sad hate
Britain, a beast baffled, easily rattled,
Lost the battle, lost the raffle, in a
Baying dog pack’s dinner.

England is to Scotland David Brent to Tim,
Melchett to Blackadder, Wilson’s Mainwaring.
Britain won a greatness from its failures,
Saving graces in its late years; random
Cultures reared in tandem.
__________

THE BUMS LOST

We lost every row from a certain point on;
It was painful to see all our plastic troops falling.
We became bleating fodder for gloating deniers,
And history was written; we lost every round.
The final bell rung, and there’d been no haymaker,
We’d lost every round and limply cried fix.
Are you bored of yourselves yet? They asked almost kindly.
The seats have been folded, you lost, go home.

They wrote every line from a certain perspective,
planned each precious peak and planted each trough.
They knew how to cover and claim back their losses,
To redirect blame to the wild or the weak.
They knew when to sit on their hands and do nothing
Watching us forming precise human pyramids,
knew which feet to tickle and which mind to blow.
They deserved the win, if truth must be told.

Divided and conquered, we folded eventually
And skulked off to rot without shaking hands,
Exhausted and bitter, we shunned the prizegiving,
Made no excuses, just picked at our wounds
Ignoring the scolding of beneficent victors
The bums lost, Lebowski, your war story’s done.
Our work here is done, this world now is ours.
The world sighed, and died … we lost, who won?

____________

Like Benjamin Braddock at the end of The Graduate
The Brexiters, professional wrexiters,
they have their fun, they fuck and run
They tell us
You lost, stop whining
Like that was the end, when it's just the start.
Let them revel briefly in vampiric victory, their sham
Stand with the common man,
Oh man, those Brexiters,
Proud, in control, without a plan.

___________



__________

Some more self-indulgent ones ...

THE EXCHANGE

The last worthwhile effort 
was to the table outside the Royal Exchange
that warm September,
a triple Bells still two pound ten,
A pilfered St Marys walker obstinately
Transformed to a wheelchair
For that one short block from Star Street
The unstringed pins managed no more,
And whichever poor sap had to push.
They could have it back when you were dead,
You said -  Not long, a ghoulish smirk.
I saw you between life and death that month,
An unexpected performance artwork.
Still you dabbed at the crossword and
knew Carrauntoohil,
1038 metres, I chirped delighted,
Very much your son,
Though there you more readily erred once or twice.
I ticked the boxes I needed to alleviate
The idea of tragedy.
I summoned my sister, relayed my uncles,
Asked my mum if she wanted one last viewing (she’d seen enough).
I turned you into a completed man at the last
And we filled out a church and drunk dry a pub
As if you were a champion.
As if you’d achieved your stated aim …
Dignity … I mean, really … well, ok, if you insist,
I agree, that’s in a few vested interests.
I’ll do better. I see now why you matter.
I’ll tell myself
I can fuck up a lot and I’ll still do much better …
By certain measures.
I suppose, by some, you lucky fucker,
You were a champion of sorts.

__________



_________

This is the best way I’ve found to sum it up:
Before I had a child, I worried that, if I ever had one, it would be a burden on me, on my wife, on the world, that it would stretch valuable time, patience, resources.
Now we have a girl, I worry every second of every day that I am the burden, that I will let her down, leave her with hang-ups, that the world is a burden on her – I see all these trials and troubles the world is going through, the manifold dangers of global meltdown, only in terms of how they might prevent her from having the fully glorious happy life she deserves.
My sense of common humanity has temporarily deserted me. If the world staggers on as a serviceable entity only so long as it gives my girl the chance to live a long, good, happy, life, and not a day more, I would take that.

__________

The Day of the Girl was just like every other day round here
Where the girl is boss
But this is an island, it seems, of thugatrarchy
In a sea of sleaze
And we were told not to say “As the father of a daughter”
Which is fair enough
But everything I do and think now is defined by the daughter,
How can it not be?
The Day of the Girl was just like any other day, I expect,
Where the girl’s not boss
And the odd alpha man paid the mildest lip service
To changing his ways
But mostly he thought his ways didn’t need changing
To the way of the girl.

___________

LOOSE CONNECTIONS

I am kept alive by loose connections
Vulnerable to thunder and to lightning,
Striking each new era with new fear that
Time itself’s the only thing that’s tightening.
I’m too scared to tell you I keep seeing
Tapestry on tapestry unwinding
Faster than synapses send the charge that
our book needs updating and rebinding.

I spend my life looking for connections –
Nick, Vincent and Dylan scores a hat-trick,
Draws me back to Liam and Odetta,
Draws me home to Mary and to Patrick.
Far away, uneasy bonds are loosening,
Vast and fatal monoliths are drifting.
Superman, a shadow of his past self,
Has no urge to lift what now needs lifting.

___________

THE START OF THE GREATEST CHILDREN'S STORY EVER

“Hey chimpanzee”, he said to me
as I swung light from tree to tree,
“Oh, won’t you throw your muck at me
Like any mucky chimpanzee”

“Oh no, good sir, I must demur
And point out where you blithely err
You’d choose your words more wisely, were
We not split by this river”

So, hear me now, for you should know,
A chimp would not so calmly show
You which way does the river flow.
I am not chimp, I’m bonobo.

A chimp’s a rowdy finger-biter
A give-your-mum-an-awful-frighter,
A bonobo’s a friendly blighter.
I’m a lover, not a fighter.


Some snippets

I side with the plagiarists and dopers
And sympathize slyly with the no-hopers
Who sell their scant talent to gamblers and fixers.
I reframe the deeds of previous heroes
Who justified lying with sweaty bravado
And recast themselves as tactical tricksters.

__________

Thank god for the silliness of ashes
Blowing in the mourners’ laughing faces.

__________

How we bank best the time that betrayed us –
The songs our friends played us,
The tapes our friends made us.

Now we divest of the objects that chase us,
The memories that place us,
The acts that disgrace us.

How we regret all the friends that betrayed us –
The ways that they played us,
The slow fade that made us.

__________

We have become a parody of an obscure work of philosophy
From 1973

___________

In your spiteful prime, no man outdid you
At the game “is what cunts say”

__________
Some days I can’t get to the end of a line without it becoming a different line
And a different moment in a different time

___________

Spare your outrage, I’ll spare mine,
Share your sadness, I’ll care less.

___________

39 is a strange one
The oldest bit is the ankles

___________

Smiling and kind, stupid and blind
___________

I looked upon a monolith called Kasigau
Every morning with a menthol cigarette
in my steady-sunburned sweaty fingers
eighty further miles from home
desolating its parched plains
with such clarity of purpose.
______________

Some sentences I wrote one afternoon to practice sloganeering

Arcade Fire are the new Coldplay
Bounty is the John Terry of chocolate bars
Roger Federer is the Radiohead of sports stars
Wayne Rooney is the primary receptacle for a nation’s self-loathing
We are all climate change deniers
Dave Brailsford is Bernie Madoff or Warren Buffett
Andy Murray is Gordon Greenidge but not Viv Richards
Frank Ocean is the Emptiness of the Best Intentions
Super Furry Animals are Marvellous Creation’s Jelly Popping Candy
If Brexiters aren’t racist, how come so many of them are racist?
Feudalism lives on
Of all ancient and inhumane punishments, even the most liberal of us might consider stocks for the ringleaders of Brexit

Jason of Orange was the last great pop star
Mike Teavee was hard done by

The golden age of the beard was 2003 to 2007
Bearing in mind nearly all racism in modern Britain is bubbling under the surface, it’s astonishing how many racist things you hear people say
Even now, the £35m Liverpool paid for Andy Carroll is the worst signing ever
The world is run by American golfers
They still think they’re the adults
The Sound and the Fury is the real pace of life
Nearly all the websites I come across that don’t allow adblockers are business websites
Andy Murray’s self-evisceration is a nation’s conscience
Of all sport’s “characters”, tennis characters are the worst
The Americanism I have most trouble dealing with is when a band takes the singular – eg Arcade Fire is the new Coldplay


____________


The Steady Descent of the 21st Century

I think we can all agree that things have gone to shit. Patently, massively. There isn't an easy answer to when things started going that way, and I'm not going to try and provide one.

This is a personal journey through the news of this century. I've been logging in my head those events which felt like turning points. All turning downwards.

I know things weren't perfect on January 1st 2000. A lot of the disasters described below had already been set in motion. The 20th century was, in any case, a time of unimaginable horrors, of grave injustices and prejudices, of tragedies and disasters.

Of course. But I'm quite sure I'm not alone in having entered this century with more hope than I have now, more innocence, less fury.

If you'd have asked me in 1999, I'd have said I believed in progress, in a better world. I don't now. Which is very different from not thinking people need to try and make it better, and above all fairer, but still.

This is a log of the normalisation of awfulness. Of despair outstripping hope. Of arrogance, ignorance and stupidity outstripping progress. It didn't have to be that way.

Here is a list of when bad things first came to my attention. I was never the first or the last to know, this is just my experience.

Some of these news events are comparatively trivial and won't mean much to a lot of people, some of them are universal.

This isn't about natural disasters. It's not even necessarily about wars and deaths. It's about when I saw that the deck was stacked, that what I'd hoped wouldn't come true, it's about when I burned with an impotent sense of injustice.

Perhaps this will remind you of some things and you'll feel about them the same way I did. Maybe not.

I'm left-wing but I'm, broadly, done with having time with the polite accommodation that some of these are only bad things from a left-wing perspective.

And, look, I know good things have happened too. Leaps forward in medicine, in communication, in wealth equality, gender equality, racial equality in some areas. I know this is a narrow First world-centric view I've got here.

Right, all caveats out of the way. No further quibbling allowed.

2000
March
Putin becomes Russian president
A good enough place to start. I don't know how fully I, or anyone else, realised when Vladimir Putin took over on Boris Yeltsin's death how significant/ominous he would become. I think when one heard words like "strongman" and "ex-KGB" alarm bells did start to ring. Nevertheless, for much of the last 18 years, Putin has not been the obvious bogeyman. But his presence, his influence, has been everywhere. Gradually, the "end of the Cold War" we were gleefully sold on became an illusion.
July
Concorde crash in Paris
To watch the most famous aeroplane in the world in flames near Paris was shocking and horrible in itself. But, more so, nothing could signal more clearly so early in the century that progress, thrilling progress, was an illusion.
This elegant, supersonic craft, already 30 years old but neither replicated nor improved upon, was to be taken out of service. Progress isn't inevitable. It's often a risk not worth taking.
August
Paulsgrove Riots
I was very near Paulsgrove, working with children, when these riots happened. It was a scary example of the power of the mob, stirred up by the tabloid press. The story got repeated about a paediatrician being targeted. It was prime vigilante Englishness.
September
Ariel Sharon visits Temple Mount 
I was living with a scholar of the Middle East then, so was never better informed, though have always kept my distance from strong opinion on Israel and Palestine.
But as soon as Sharon visited the Temple Mount, my flatmate knew this was a grave, historic moment of provocation, and any hopes of a lasting peace were gone for a long time.
November
George W Bush wins 2000 US Election
I have a theory (I have a theory? What does that even mean) that this is it. The starting point, the catalyst, the essence of all the shitness. This requires various leaps - who knows what would and wouldn't have happened if Al Gore had won Florida, if the Republicans hadn't done just enough of the tricky stuff to nick it?
Al Gore seems a smart, sensible, humane man. Doesn't mean he wouldn't have done lots of the same things as president that Bush and his axis of evil did. But it's not unreasonable to think it would all have gone down very differently.
I think this is when politics and the wider world came alive for me in a way it had never done before. How can this have happened? It's wrong, it's unbelievable, what damage this will do, what's wrong with these people etc. All the same feelings people now have about Trump were there 16 years earlier.
People say Trump now puts George W. Bush's adminstration in a better light. Does it fuck ...

2001
July
Super Furry Animals not getting a Number 1 album
Sometimes it's the little things. Why did this matter to me? Because this was the album where the Furries were meant to make it big, where they'd bitten the bullet and signed with a major label, sold their soul for success.
The moneymen didn't let them down - there was loads of publicity, positive reviews everywhere.
Generally, I'd got used to the things I loved not becoming all that successful, but I felt that, just this once, I could bask in the success of a bunch of brilliant Welsh loons being Number 1 and the world would be a better place.
But it stalled at 3, failed to unseat Destiny's Child and David Gray even though they'd been on the charts for weeks.
The idea that, if people were actually exposed to the good stuff, they'd lap it up, fell away. The Furries were there in plain view but people weren't that interested. Simple as that.
What profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his soul? Well, more than if he doesn't gain the whole world and loses his soul, that's for sure ...
September
11th September
I was preparing for a job interview and Simon Mayo interrupted his radio show to say "News just coming in that a small plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center". I went downstairs and turned on the TV to see the second plane crashing into the second tower. The space of that short journey downstairs was the difference between "Oh dear, that's terribly sad" and everything we knew, everything we saw, everything we thought, everything we heard changing forever.
October
Invasion of Afghanistan
This seemed an inevitable consequence of 9/11 pretty instantly. The mood was widely supportive. But that acceptance that we, the UK and the US, were countries who started wars in the Middle East, somehow that led to so much.
I was so anti-war then, so horrified by it, it's awful how that horror in me was numbed in the years to come.

2002
December
Death of Joe Strummer
Because Joe Strummer was the greatest rock star going and he had way more to come. He's the kind of person the world needs when it's in strife. That's all I can say about this really.

2003
February
Disintegration of space shuttle Columbia
Like Concorde, really, the Space Shuttles seemed eminently romantic and glorious when I was a child, but 17 years after Challenger broke up after lift-off, when Columbia disintegrated on re-entry, it was clear this was a risk not worth taking.
Dan Dare, colonization, all that, it was never going to happen. We were stuck here.
July
Death of David Kelly
Still shrouded in mystery, the death of David Kelly told us that there was dark shit going on, that there was collateral, that we should question everything.
September
Publication of 'Straw Dogs'
There's a point where we all realise we're a bunch of stupid clueless fucks and we're fucked. Some of us haven't even realised it yet.
Straw Dogs was a book a lot of people read and it helped a lot of us come nearer to that conclusion. It's a pretty simple book, which makes a very coherent case for how fucked we are and how there's nothing we can do about it.
There were a lot of books around at the same time saying roughly the same thing, but this is the one that really worked for me.

2004
September
Massacre of children at Beslan
That this could happen, that anyone could do this, there would be no limit to the ends of murder in a cause, there would be no humanity.
December
Boxing Day Tsunami
In some ways, this isn't quite what I'm talking about. Natural disaster. People have not connected the Tsunami to climate change, I don't think. It was not per se a disaster of the modern world.
But to see how quickly nature could wipe out so many people was so so awful and terrifying. It was a reminder, if one were needed, that we've never been in the slightest bit of control.

2005
July
London Tube bombing
Because this terrorised me, as was intended. It affected me that this happened in my space, in our space, and that it was done by ordinary guys with families and jobs.
I was never scared off the tube, but this affected how I looked at the world around me.
August
Hurricane Katrina
I suppose Katrina made the same point to me as the Tsunami but in a different location, and in a slightly different way. America was not powerless to protect itself here, but it did not care enough to protect itself and its poor black inhabitants in New Orleans enough. Cities, great cities, great cultures will be collateral.

2006
July
Trial of Tommy Sheridan
Fucking Sheridan. Right, this was trivial, and sordid, and silly. But Sheridan became a bit of a cult hero for some of us while we were students. Socialism plus Charisma. Marvellous. No, the worst possible combination. 'Imagine' was the title of his silly hypocritical book I naively read. Don't believe dreamers, they're probably dodgy liars. Imagine, eh, Tommy ...
November
Death of Alexander Litvinenko
I think Russia by and large kept its head down for a few years - this awful case, almost comical in its blatant disregard for another country's laws, was just a reminder that the big game was still on.
December (and October 2010)
Deaths of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi
Just, you know, the spectacle of it, and the desire to rejoice in that.

2007
April
The joining of facebook
Life before facebook. Remember that. The internet used to be a place where we were cautious, where we didn't give everything way, which he checked into here and there. Then came facebook. I joined near the start of 2007. I still try to keep a certain amount of distance, and though in some ways twitter has superseded it for sheer blatantness, it's facebook that changed everything, that started the whole diarrhoea of it all.
July
In New York at the start of July 2007, my friend, with the help of the Financial Times, explained to me the word "subprime", that "subprime" was going to change everything, in such a way that the collapse of the financial system that would start to unfold in a few months' time seemed clear and inevitable.
We are getting different messages about different ways things are about to go wrong all the time. Often, the messages are wrong. Many times, we don't heed the message.
I remember this because it was so clear at that point that a massive global collapse was not a case of "if" but "when".
October
George Osborne announces inheritance tax threshold change
George Osborne's announcement that the Tories would raise the threshold for paying inheritance tax to £1m was the turning point in British politics.
I remember waking up that morning, hearing it on the radio, and my heart sinking. "That's a good policy, I thought. That will sway a lot of people." Gordon Brown had been relentlessly stubborn on this, to his detriment. It's all very well dimwits in 2016 saying "£2 million's not rich". In 2007, a £300,000 house did not mean you were rich, either outside or inside London.
Right then, as Brown was dithering about whether to call an election, this strong, simple persuasive policy but the Tories on the front foot in a way they hadn't been for two decades. Literally two decades. They'd been a harmless joke for the first decade of Labour power. No one envisaged a non-Labour government. But that all changed in 2007.
Of course the financial crisis played a big part, but this policy was the first time I realised Cameron and Osborne were a serious political force. And look what an absolute shitshow they ended up making of it.
December
Assassination of Benazir Bhutto
This was a horrible tragedy to watch in slow motion - the "triumph" of her return to Pakistan which was always, inevitably, going to end in her death. She must have known that. Bravery, dignity, boldness, leadership gets you nowhere when there's always a bunch of scumbags with guns.

2008
January
Tribal violence after Kenyan election
The horrible violence, the 100s dead, following the 2007 Kenyan General election, was a reminder that tribalism is inescapable. The Luo and Kikuyo are the most powerful, richest people in Kenya. They'll have worked together, played together, socialised. There was something so shocking to me about this. If it could happen in Kenya, it could happen anywhere.
May
Boris Johnson elected Mayor of London
This was the first important election the Tories had won for 16 years. That's one reason why it mattered.
The other reason is, well, it's this cunt. The worst of us. Our Trump.
Now, I've got to show some reserve here. I was a big Livingstone fan, and I'm not now. Friends and family of mine who loathed him saw more of the truth about him than I did. I understand why people who weren't Conservatives voted Livingstone out in 2008, despite the fact that, whatever you think of him, he did a lot of remarkable things as London mayor.
So, London, lovely left-wing London, got Chucky the evil doll for 8 years, validating him as a serious politician. He got the London Olympics to be a clown at, which I admit he was good at.
Johnson is one of the three worst people in our recent history and this was when he really hit the big time.

2009
January
Shane Mosley vs Antonio Margarito (whose handwraps are found to have been doctored)
Quite a lot of sport in this year! Sport is a big thing for me, of course not for everyone. I've often seen the discrete realities of sport as refuge from the overlapping illusions of other worlds. So when sport is exposed, it can really feel like there's not much left.
For a lot of people, boxing is bad enough in and of itself. But I like boxing. I used to defend it. Not so much now.
A few months before plaster wraps were found in notorious tough guy Antonio Margarito's gloves before his fight with Sugar Shane Mosley, he'd systematically broken down my favourite fighter Miguel Cotto.
The likelihood is he'd ruined a great fighter by cheating - he'd caused significant harm in a way not allowed by the rules. Assault. Along with the emerging story about quite how many boxers take PEDs, you realise that the one thing this most savage game purports to have, its honour, is a lie. The hug at the end is a lie. Respect. Both great guys. Family men.  Plaster in the gloves.
March
Sri Lanka cricket team bus attacked by terrorists
Another blow to the idea that sport was a sheltered world, the terrorist attack on the cricketers of Sri Lanka in Pakistan made it clear that attacks on "events" would become the norm and not all would be foiled.
May
Chris Gayle, West Indies, captain expresses antipathy to test cricket
I put a lot of blame on Chris Gayle. Perhaps unfairly. I let others off the hook for devaluing test cricket but not him. In May 2009, while an international captain, he said didn't really want to be playing test cricket. Inspiring stuff. It was such a cynical and mean thing to say, from a guy who had his cake and ate, who was always going to make a fortune from the game but also had plenty of opportunity to make a proper impact in test cricket and (clearly, from some of his very best innings) the talent and reserves of application when called upon.
If anyone sounded the death knell for the greatest contest in sport (though it just about soldiers on) it was Gayle.
October
Nick Griffin on 'Question Time'
On to another of Britain's worst. No, not Nick Griffin. Just an ineffectual loser. A comically uninspiring footnote to history.
But Griffin's "controversial" appearance on Question Time is important because it made the greater evil seem like the lesser evil. Everyone got their knickers in such a twist about Griffin's inept representation of the far-right that the way was left open for Farage, the harbinger of the apocalypse in the cuddly guise of an Aristophanic grotesque, to dominate the BBC's flagship politics discussion show, honing his phony populist shtick, timing his distasteful sloganeering to get a just big enough round of applause from those gammon-faced goons ready to fall for it. Farage won. He'll have won for ever now. There are a lot of people to blame for this. Mainly him. But Question Time gave him the stage over and over again to make far-right vitriol seem acceptable.
December
Failed Copenhagen Climate Change accord
We can blame Trump, and we should. But the Paris Climate Accord is one thing. People needed to get their shit into gear so, so long ago. The pathetic excuses of the Copenhagen Conference were just another failed attempt to save things. Who knows when the horse bolted. Maybe it was years before, but the failure at Copenhagen gave me a rare sense of dread.

2010
April
Dust from volcano in Iceland
I think this was just a reminder that something so local could cause everyone so much havoc - for a few days everyone was stuck and unable to travel just because one volcano erupted fairly harmlessly.
Imagine if lots of volcanoes erupt ...
April
First Brown-Cameron-Clegg TV debate
The 2010 election is a strange one. It was hardly a shock the Tories won. You could hesitantly say they "deserved" to win. They were the party with momentum who ran the more coherent campaign. Of course, everything that's happened since then has been a total fucking disaster because modern conservatism is, at its best, silly bullshit for clueless morons, but, you know, Cameron and Clegg had a right to form that government. That's the way it fell.
But Gordon Brown, man, I know he made mistakes, but a lot of them are pygmies next to him. It was the TV debate when I knew Labour were doomed, because, for all Clegg's mild charm offensive, my take as I watched it was watching one man and two boys, someone with such an overwhelmingly larger grasp on and clearer answer to the challenges of the day, it was a little embarrassing.
But my view was not widely shared. Brown came 3rd, apparently. The press. The public.
September
Gliese 581 c being considered most habitable planet
So there was significant excitement that this planet was the most habitable ever discovered.
And I was, like, Jesus, that's a long way away. What are the chances of getting a few people there and saving the species? None? Yup, none, so, really and truly, moving planets is not much of an option is it? So let's stop getting excited...
November
American 2010 Mid-Term elections
There was a lot about Obama's presidency that was baffling - not least the determination of many on the left to label him a disappointment after he'd only been in the job a few months.
Perhaps that was a contributing factor to how the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010, thus stymieing, delaying and overturning so many of the things he did want to get round and do.
Of course, the bigger factor was the rise of the Tea Party Movement - just as UKIP have ended up working in the favour of the Tories here, so the mobilisation of the American far-right, though it initially split the Republicans, ended up working in their favour.
This was the start of the great white fightback.
December
Qatar (and Russia) win 2022 and 2018 World Cups
It is still gobsmacking that this happened. It would be gobsmacking even if the inevitable relevations of the details of the corruption weren't tumbling out.
I mean, Jesus, FIFA, you give that little of a fuck about the welfare of your players, the fans, the leagues, the workers of Qatar, that you'd be so blatant for a few million quid.
This, I think, was the stupidest moment of corruption I've ever come across.

2011
March-July
Awareness of Syrian Assad government killing protesters
We don't know what's really going on in other countries, even if we try to follow the news pretty closely. A global good guy one year can be a bad guy the next.
The news (or lack of it) can give the impression that one country/dictator is relatively benign.
The points are that when the Arab Spring happened, it was reported broadly as a good thing, and also that there had not been that much bad publicity about Assad of Syria since he took over until 2011, silly as it is to say now.
And as the reports began to come through of the brutality of the suppression, the methods used and the numbers being killed, there was something hard to deal with. There still is.
May
Ryan Giggs superinjunctiongate
To a lot of people this was hilarious, and rightly so. It was desperately seedy too.
But Ryan Giggs was my favourite footballer, and for two decades I'd invested far too much of my time and brain cells in him. I didn't really care if he was a good guy and a role model, but it bothered me that he was exposed as such an utter rat.
I mean, what's the point of hating John Terry after all?
It was just a reminder that most people are getting away with what they can and that it is worth investing precisely nothing in anyone famous. A good lesson, in a way, but still a burn to my worldview.
July
Anders Breivik mass killing
A rank weekend of sadness and horror. I cannot pretend this was anything other than a feeling of the awful ways youth can be destroyed - the same weekend Amy Winehouse died - either by evil or by itself.
August
Riots
There was something a little bit scary and fascinating about the 2011 riots. Made you realise how quickly people can mobilise and how much damage they can do.
It made you realise how angry and disenfranchised a lot of young people are.
It also made you realise (via facebook) how quickly people become reactionaries who would happily dismiss a whole generation and race to protect their favourite coffee shop from a smashed window.
October
Death of Steve Jobs
What bothered me about the death of Steve Jobs? Well, I appreciate he was a world-changer and a clever man, I do.
But I just remember when he died, my facebook was fuller of tributes and sadness than it had ever been for anyone else dying, be it poet or prophet or priest.
And I just thought, you know "one bit of one shitty song on my ipod is worth more to me than the device itself". It's technology, it's fine, but, dudes, it's the art that matters, don't forget that.
October
World Population reaches 7 billion
Kind of obvious. Jesus, it was only 5 billion a few years ago. Too many people! How does one process the thought "there are too many people". But in a few years, there really will be too many people.

2012
March
Jeremy Hunt at the Leveson Enquiry
There's a lot of talk at the moment about the disappearance of political accountability, and, sure, people have always got away with things, but Jeremy Hunt's shambling, lying, embarrassing, confused, blatant, shameful, shameless appearance at the Leveson Enquiry was a real marker for me.
This is amazing, i thought. Everyone can see this, he's exposed, he'll lose his job, what a blatant stitch-up for the Murdochs it was.
But no, nothing of the sort. He sneaked through. Or maybe not, maybe he breezed through. Maybe he was obviously lying and everyone knew it and could do nothing about it, or maybe he was obviously lying and no one cared enough.
September
Savile scandal breaks
The shadow of Saville hangs heavy. As the full, grotesque, horrific details gradually unfurled, it bothered me no end that the BBC website would have his leering face on it every day, like there wasn't an other image they could use for the story. Anything. No one wants to see his triumphantly evil face.
Such was the scale and what else it uncovered, I've now become someone who basically believes all conspiracies. Yes, I think there's one big ongoing establishment cover-up of all manner of evils, top to bottom. How can one not? They'll keep telling us there's not, people will get found not guilty, people will get apologies, but what's to believe now? All of it, all along, was darker than we possibly imagined, and it still is.

2013
January
Cameron promises a referendum on the EU
Yup, this was when douchebag Number 1 didn't care enough about anything not to give in to the nasty nutters who everyone else had successfully ignored for so long.
My instinct had always been that if there was a referendum to get out of the UK, then Britain would vote to get out, because, you know, that's British people, always has been. I allowed the narrative of the campaign to persuade me otherwise, but, really, why take the risk? Cameron, who blithely and wilfully fucked everything up, like a cool guy like him can if he's in the mood.
February
A large meteor strikes Russia
Armageddon isn't going to happen. Or rather 'Armageddon' isn't going to happen. We won't be able to stop a big meteor if it should happen to change direction and head towards us. Here was a pretty big one, just a reminder that the enemies can come for everywhere, anytime.
April
Death of Margaret Thatcher
Some people were overjoyed that Thatcher died, some were devastated and I was just a bit depressed - depressed at how many people thought she was great and couldn't understand how so many people didn't, but also depressed at how childish the vitriol was - it wasn't a righteous anger, it was a pathetic splurge. We'll be forever divided, we'll forever bring out the worst in each other.
May
Edward Snowden whistleblowing
Mass surveillance, our every movement being monitored - I mean I guess it was probably always on the cards, but it was still chilling.
July
Acquittal of George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin
White people have never stopped getting away with killing black people in America. George Zimmerman getting away with killing Trayvon Martin was so straight out of a Robert Zimmerman song it was unbearable. And Robert Zimmerman's doing Sinatra covers ...
December
Kim Jong-Un apparently "feeds his uncle to dogs"
When Kim Jong-Il died, there will have been a few folk hoping that North Korea might become a little bit less mental. Sadly not. That was probably pretty obvious fairly quickly - I think it was the story (true or not) of Kim Jong-Un feeding his uncle to dogs that tipped me the nod that we weren't entering sanesville any time soon.

2014
March
Ebola outbreak
Whenever there's a hint of a pandemic, even if it's brought under control very quickly, we're told that a larger pandemic is inevitable at some point.
The Ebola crisis was so horrendous in itself, and affected so many people, it just made you realise something may come along which acts even faster and is even more evasive.
June
Declaration of Caliphate
ISIS crept up on those not concentrating pretty quickly. Suddenly, in the absurd way we measure things, Al-Qaeda was the lesser evil. The totality of their aims was not encouraging to rosy thinking.
July
Shooting down of plane over Ukraine
The shooting down of a passenger plane. In Europe. And no real repercussions. We're safe nowhere.
October
Virgin Galactic Trial Accident
I seem to be putting a lot about the vain hope of getting to space.
I suppose going to space has been one of the big dreams of the last century, and it must have felt pretty good in 1969, and Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future must have seemed a pretty good shot.
But gradually we've realised it just ain't going to happen, not for any but a tiny few, and an unacceptable percentage of those will die. We're stuck here. We're not galactic, we're terrestrial.

2015
March
Germanwings crash into Alps
I don't want to be glib about this. This seemed like what the end of the world might feel like. Calm, steady, oblivious, controlled, then sudden.
May-August
Destruction of Palmyra
Like the Library of Alexandria 2000 years ago, everything can be destroyed and then forgotten. Some people just want to destroy art and culture - the physical and the nebulous.
July
The Rise of the Robots
Look, they've been telling us the robots are going to destroy us for ages, and they've made some fine films out of it, but that doesn't mean it's not going to happen.
The time it really got to me was an exhibition of all these robots which we were meant to be impressed by, and they all looked really tacky and shit, and I thought there's no way the egos of these geniuses will stop at this level, they'll be determined to outdo each other and they will go too far, and someone will create something so amazing that it will just destroy us just like that.
July
Nick Cave tragedy
This was a private tragedy, I don't really want to make anything of it. I just thought "not Nick Cave, not that guy with that life and those songs and that redemption and that appearance of a late discovered peace. No, let him be, let him free of it"
November
Increased resistance to antibiotics
A post-antibiotic world. Of all the things to creep out, few were more frightening than this. Gradually, people are realising we're not the ones one step ahead, all the monsters, like the drug cheats, are just ahead of us.
November
Bataclan (and Charlie Hebdo months earlier)
To use the parlance of the times, this terrible event was about the invasion of safe space. This was a nightmare scenario - I have had nightmares since this event, I'm sure I'm not the only one.

2016
May
Mossack Fonseca scandal
Just because, after the initial scandal, nothing, inevitably, has come of this. Hmm, how embarrassing, now let's just get on with exactly what we're doing.
August
Hottest month ever, month after month
You know, when every month in turn is the hottest month ever recorded, it doesn't take a maths genius to figure out where that's heading fast ...
August
Rio Olympics
When the London Olympics came together, I couldn't help feeling a sense of both national and sporting pride. As in, I was proud of sport. Look how great sport is, ye doubters, look, it's good for London, it's good for everyone. But by the time of the Rio Olympics, my national pride was gone, and my sporting naivety was further chipped my scandal on scandal.
And these Olympics, they weren't good for Brazil. They pretty much brought down a government. Bad feeling and indifference were everywhere.
And now no one wants the Olympics any more.
September
Fancy Bears hack
I think this hack, this demonstration of how TUEs are used, did exactly what it intended, it showed that huge grey area, it explained how so many people could be taking advantage but also convincingly acting innocent, because they were telling themselves they were doing nothing wrong. It was the cynicism of it all, really ...
November
Ed Balls dancing
Our opinions are nothing. They're as changeable as the wind. Received opinions for over a decade was that Ed Balls was a jumped-up prick. His loss at the 2015 Election was everyone's favourite moment. Then he did a crappy dance to a crappy song and suddenly he was a beloved national hero.
Both opinions were nonsense. I'm not immune to this groundless changeability. For years, for no solid reason, I loathed Ricky Ponting. Then I heard him do a bit of punditry, then immediately he seemed to be the smartest, most likeable and grounded man in sport. There you go. None of us know a thing, and more importantly most of our opinions are grounded in nothing.
November
Trump wins
So this is the nub of it. Or at least up to this point. How did that country end up electing its very worst person at its most critical time? How did that end up happening? How much damage will it do? How quickly?
I cannot say I saw this happening, even with hindsight, unlike with Brexit. Even on the night, I was entirely confident Clinton would win and win well, like Obama won and won well, despite all the lies and the bullshit told against her.
But the fucking worst guy, the worst nightmare, is president. He's doing it every day. Jumping up and down like a mad bully on a seesaw.
The thing is, he tried a few times before and got nowhere. Even Republicans, even the dumbest of all them, they seemed a little bit above it, above the guy who barely constructed a coherent thought, barely seemed human, on his own TV hot freakshow of cuntery. But they weren't. You can say it now. They're all irredeemably awful, all those millions. They're the poison. It can now be said without equivocation.

2017
May
Ransomware cyberattack
Just that these will get bigger and bigger and of course at some point they'll disable everything and goodness knows what happens then.
June
Trump withdraws from Paris Climate Change accord
Yeah, you know, probably too late anyway, but just, in 2017, to put a nail in the idea that there'll ever be any kind of coherent attempt to save the world.
July
Detachment of Larsen C
Jeez, I'm starting to get my phlegmatic self down now. Yeah, big ice shelf breaks off, you get the picture ...
August
Mayweather-McGregor Pay Per View figures breaking records
Because, really, people are that stupid. The worst sporting event in history which the most people paid the most money for.

Such a trivial way to end, eh?  In the last month, there've been about five more awful things I could add, five more events which might ordinarily be considered the worst, most frightening news story of any given year. You'll notice there's been more and more as it's gone on anyway. That's just the way it is. Nowadays, every day which is the day before today seems a more trivial time.

I saw Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on Saturday.
He sang
They said our gods would outlive us. But they lied.