Tag: Music

I got the speaker working!


I’ve never really used speakers before. I don’t really like disturbing other people, and my experience of music played aloud has always been shite through computer speakers, ear-splitting at gigs, or tune-warping when watching my mates play live. But now, armed with a naff app and a free speaker from Virgin for some reason, I’ve been able to live out my fantasy of making vegan pasta sauce while listening to NOFX.

It’s not just the speaker that’s the satisfying thing though, it’s the setting up of it. I use a lot of electricals in my life, and while I’m hardly an engineer, there is a certain almost performative element to feeding wires through gaps, swapping scart plugs for older consoles, and and generally buzzing around my gear in an effort to make it all functional and nice-looking. And while this speaker is hardly ‘new’ in the way a console is – all it’s doing is blasting my existing songs in a slightly more needlessly public way – it;s something that I’ve had to set up and incorporate into my small array of electricity bill-feeding gadgetry.

I’m also exhausted, having spent today recovering from the last week weeks of mayhem to the point where all I can write is a few lines on how I plugged in a speaker successfully. Pro writer over here, folks.

To Read With No Skill (Be Afraid)

(been a while since a lyric parody post, hasn’t it?)

Considering that tomorrow is my first day of classes after a long-bordering-on-ridiculous summer break of four months, I thought I’d write some lyrics about it, altered from Anti-Flag’s excellent The Ink And The Quill (Be Afraid).

The pages turned black,
The words just getting darker.

So be afraid, be afraid
Be very afraid,
Of the coming nightmare.

The new Romantics lecturers teach on a Monday afternoon
They welcome in medieval kids but intimidate too soon.

All that we know, all we know.

Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be very afraid,
Of the coming nightmare.

Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be very afraid,
Of the coming nightmare.

So filled with high expectation that feels like intoxication,
There’s nothing like a reading list to get your cash wasting,
Then you don’t read jack-shit, your past choices you’re then hating.

Cloud-Author to Hitchcock’s films with authority to sneer,
They are the blunt-force fist of all literature,
We’re forced to read, with no skill.

What have we learned? After years,
What have we learned? Besides fear?

Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be very afraid,
Of the coming nightmare.

Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be very afraid,
Of the coming nightmare.

The books’ touch like fly-trap teeth,
Feel them gripping, your ideas in vain.
Your page runs white, you can’t quite write,
Tomb closing, kiss your first goodbye.

Now you’re done, you’ve been taken on a ride.
We’re in debt, in debt a billion times.
A billion times!

Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be very afraid,
Of the coming nightmare.

Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be very afraid,
Of the coming nightmare.

Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be afraid, be afraid
Be very afraid…

(solo remains unchanged. Obviously)

There’s a storm cloud gathering just ahead
Ominous May, raining tests,
When it drops deadlines down on your time,
You better pray like hell you’ve kept yourself in line.
Built on arts and scholars’ scams
Our dear Provost stealing wealth,
Profits so ill-gained sweet,
Malnourished students weep.

As the storm gains strength.
The ageing unions break.
The ancient hall does quake.
And your lungs fill with your spineless pre-paid fees.

My favourite punk lyrics!

(at the moment. This stuff can change by the hour)

This could be a massive post. A whole series of posts, even. I could write a frakking book on this one. But it’s a tired evening, and this is my 600th post on this blog so I thought I’d do something a little special. By which I mean write a list of things I like as a subtle kicking to go listen to some decent bands for once.

With their kids, and plastic bags, in either hand
Polar Bear Club – The Old Fisher Burial Ground

While head-up-their-own-arse types might point out that Polar Bear Club are more of an indie band, I have no time for such nonsense; they’re loud, play guitars, and have something meaningful to say, and so are punks. This lyric is admittedly rather simple (but the implication is wonderful) but fits beautifully into the opening 37 seconds of this song, which manages to create this tragically desolate town square. that still has a few vines of humanity wrapped around its decaying brick. All of this section’s lyrics are like this, abstract yet direct, involving the listener while distancing them from the events, and I think this line is the best of the bunch.

Pick one of the above, it’s better than bowing to no-one
Pennywise – We’ll Never Know

Like the first lyric, this one encapsulates a much bigger idea in a single line, namely the idea behind the entire Reason to Believe album that organised religion is an inherently insincere and manipulative concept. Whether you agree with this sentiment or not, the trivialising of theistic belief into a statement plucked from the most mundane of administrative documents – ‘pick one of the above’ – is a chilling contrast. The emphasis on ‘bowing’ is also significant, as the choice of a single word to explain theism.

You tell me that I make no difference / At least I’m fucking trying / What the fuck have you done?
Minor Threat – In My Eyes

And yes, those are the first uncensored ‘fucks’ to be unveiled on this blog. This is a quote I find myself coming back to time and time again as I wonder if all of my projects and schemes are ever worth anything, much less the time I put into them. It’s an idea perhaps too simple to be applied to all aspects of life, but ‘do stuff’ is a wonderful universal solution for a lot of problems revolving around fear, indecision and regret. Also, the contrast in tenses between the active speaker in the present – ‘I’m fucking trying’ – and the passive listener in the past – ‘What the fuck have you done?’ – is empowering, as the future suddenly becomes the realm of the doers, and the apathetic are consigned to the past.

You’ve gotta pray like Hell that you’re armed to the teeth
Anti-Flag – The Ink and The Quill (Be Afraid)

This lyric unites American theocratic blindness – ‘pray’ – with the needless militancy that underpins so much of modern US society – ‘armed to the teeth’ – all while poking fun at the self-important Bible-bashers – ‘pray like Hell’. That’s three strands of the American Right attacked in a single soundbite, which is delivered with screamed vocals barely audible over a marching drum and wailing guitars, creating this desperate cacophony of rebellion that is in a perpetual struggle to be heard.

There’s space for a paper airplane race in the eye of a hurricane
Bad Religion – All There Is

This one is so important to me that I’ve stuck it on my wall! Yes, the first thing teenage James stuck on his wall is a Bad Religion lyric. This is almost the antidote to the Minor Threat one above, that instead of lionising action above all else takes a more measured approach; frenzy and relentlessness can distract from the simple and the beautiful. A lot of my life is spent filling my time to the gills with crap to do, and I often forget that taking stock of my life, and appreciating the things I have and the people around me, can be one of the most worthwhile things I’m capable of doing.

I found God in the sound of your factories burning down
Rise Against – The Eco-Terrorist In Me

In a song full of lovely  anti-industry lines, this is perhaps the best. A combination of divine purpose and the destruction of the status quo is a middle finger to the American Right that twist old teachings into scenarios and explanations for actions they were never intended to be applied to. There’s also the little contrast of ‘I’ in the nominative, and ‘your’ in the genitive, just reinforcing the material-driven nature of US society and its relentless accumulation of things for things’ sake.

How we survive is what makes us who we are
Rise Against – Survive

This is my unquestioned favourite lyric; I’ve got this on a t-shirt for god’s sake! The question posed in this line is not whether we’ll survive, if we’ll triumph over personal and political injustices in the world, but who we’ll be at the end of it; evil will fall, and it’s up to us to ensure we remain good in the process. So often, the righteous become monsters in the pursuit of monsters – look at the American response to the killing of Osama Bin Laden – and this reminds me that whatever I do, and however I do it, I need to carry myself with values important to me. Of course, this is supplemented by the rest of Rise Against’s discography that preaches humility, rebellion and a desire to fix, not flee from, problems, but that’s the marvellous thing about all these lyrics: they’re open to interpretation, and are motivators for people to be themselves, rather than a set of rules for people to sacrifice their individuality in following.

Perhaps that’s why I like punk so much, as it’s a movement about being the best version of yourself, and helping others be the best version of themselves, instead of insisting on a single dogmatic set of values, that can only lead to disagreement and resentment in the future. When I’m feeling bad, these quotes lift me, and when I’m on top of the world they remind me of why I’m there. I hope you find something like that to keep you getting up in the mornings.

I’m Not Gonna Get Angry

(at least not today, anyway)

The communicative revolution that’s swept through the human race over the last half century is, for the most part, a wonderful thing, opening up new and diverse cultures presented to us on their own terms, and allowing the gift of communication to people once rendered perpetual strangers by random geographic placement. But one impact has been decidedly less clear-cut: we’re now more aware of the problems of the world. While an optimist would point out that this allows more minds to engage with these problems, and find solutions, a realist would say that this has opened people’s eyes to worlds of suffering that they would have previously lived in blissful ignorance of; for what it’s worth, the fact that ‘rape crisis’ is a top Google autofill result has less to do with there being more violence against women in the modern day than greater awareness of the violence against women.

And, when it comes to issues as prickly as gender identity and our idiotic marginalisation for people for daring to decide on a particular identity upon that important but largely trivial spectrum, there’s a fine line between being engaged with problems very worth solving, and becoming bogged down in an endless Twitter feed of despair and misery, that can motivate and demoralise in equal measure.

However, I’m stepping away from both of these responses today, and I’m not gonna get angry, either as the springboard for constructive action, or for the base delight in raging at someone with idiotic things to say. Specifically, this piece of news annoyed me, that some people feel the need for cultural products targeted directly at men when the majority of culture is so aggressively indirectly targeted at men that ‘men’ has become too established of a demographic to really function as a niche for an artist to shoot for. By all means, fire up your keyboards in outrage at this latest example of Poor Men Oppressed By The Victorious, Misandrist Feminists, I just won’t be joining you this time.

Problems aren’t there to be ignored, and certainly not to be run away from, but constantly committing oneself to single-handedly righting one’s perceived wrongs of society can be draining. People aren’t machines to wage war against organisations and institutions they find harmful, but complex collections of personal desires and societal goals, with the equal potential for massive outputs of energy for a certain agenda, and long periods of deep, Netflix-binging rests. Often in my life I’ve neglected the latter, and ended up as the bitter, anti-social punk fan sitting moodily at the end of the table spouting feminist rhetoric while expressing disgust at the lack of a vegan / vegetarian / James-centred menu at the pub we’re at.

For every Anti-Flag moshpit I’m in, I have a file on Mario Sunshine to waste a few hours with; for every chapter of my novel I write, there’s a local park that needs someone to wander through the trees of; and for each shitty piece of lad culture to rear its head from the cesspool of the Internet, I’ve got a dim light, a silenced phone, and a copy of Jim Lindberg’s Punk Rock Dad to relax to.

Why Do I Write?

(asking myself makes this a meta-post! Probably)

I’m a creative person. I don’t think it’s narcissistic or inaccurate to say that I like playing around with ideas and forming them into these things called ‘creations’ that other people stare at and derive meaning from. But there’s a disconnect between the ideas that make up a piece of art, and the piece of art itself; in the past I’ve looked at those pieces as wholes, and discussed things like writing technique and forms of literature on this blog, but I’ve never explicitly taken a step back. I’ve never looked at the kind of art versus the original ideas. Essentially, if I am a creative person, why have I chosen to write, as opposed to paint, or draw, or sing?

A lot of it comes from the lack of barriers between written word and thought: the fact that language is not only the tool used to create art, but the tool used to create thought – do it now, try thinking without words, and you’ll see how reliant on language you are – means that turning thought into art is a less convoluted process when I’m writing. If I want to create an ominous setting, I write ‘this was an ominous place’, rather than faffing about with appropriately ominous shades of burgundy when painting a landscape. Part of this is laziness, sure, but a bigger part is that I think my ideas are quite specific and, to be honest, confused. Take my ideas on education – that learning is an inviolable human right but university, in its current format, cannot and should not be made available to everyone in the country – that are simultaneously leftwing and elitist, inclusive and snobbish; I feel like my message comes across if I present this complex stance through words, rather than adding in an extra level of complexity and confusion by introducing additional mechanics like rhyming lyrics or brushstrokes.

Related to this is the fact that I’m a bit of a control freak regarding matters relating to me. Obviously I’m not opposed to debate, or other people to have different ways of looking at my ideas, but I want conversation and interpretation to be based around those ideas, not the medium I use to present them. I can’t control how you respond to a thing I produce, but I can control the thing you see to generate that response, and if a key feature of art is to blast the artist’s ideas though a loudhailer, writing gives me the control that other mediums lack.

But I’m aware that writing is a deeply flawed medium. As well as the social problem that people don’t read shit any more, writing is intrinsically inferior to music in that it lacks a performative element and writers are often devoid of a personality while musicians are encouraged to indulge in theirs; writing has much less of a mass appeal than a painting that anyone can see, and the difficulty of sharing a 600-page tome over a single-sided picture makes writing one of the more elitist of art forms; writing is far less collaborative than acting or directing; and writing can very easily be ignored altogether, unlike larger forms of creativity such as sculpture or even architecture.

So I guess I write not because it’s a good art form, but because it’s the one I’m most comfortable with. I was writing my own comics and gamebooks from when I was about eight, I’ve had poetry and journalism published, I’ve put over 550 posts on this blog alone, and I’ll have written a novel by September. Be it childhood experience, genetics or dumb luck, I have always written, and words are my go-to medium when I’m feeling creative. I can pontificate all day on the importance of spreading one’s internal ideas through the external mediums of art, and weigh their relative flaws and advantages, but I don’t really create for your sake. I don’t create for the sake of making something perfect. I create because the process is deeply satisfying for me, and written creativity is the most therapeutic, empowering form of addiction I know.

In answer to that initial question, then, I write because I think it’s bloody awesome.

I’m Enjoying Playing Bass Again

(the goal is to learn the solo to 88 Finger Louie’s 100 Proof. Then I will rest)

I used to play bass. Long ago. Before this blog. Before my A-levels. Before the glorious York save on Football Manager 2013 even. I was part of a music group up in Ponder’s End (a group that I attribute almost all of my social skills, ability to make new friends and attempts to treat others as complex, inherently valid individuals to), that was a very welcoming and accepting of people who aren’t musicians but are willing to learn. I found out about it through an old school friend who was a member (the means of this finding out is another story for another post), so I tagged along, with my mum’s rather superb bass, and about a half-term of half-arsed plucking in year seven as experience.

I bombed out of the group pretty quickly, lasting just two months over summer before A-levels got in the way and I had to quit, and never really went back to playing music. Although that group was brilliant in so many ways, the fact that our social interactions were based around a skill – playing an instrument – that I was so desperately inferior in meant that I always had a nagging sense of inadequacy whenever I thought about playing the bass again; my only memories of playing it were playing it badly.

This was also the point in my life where I started to take writing pretty seriously (this blog started thirteen months after this flirtation with bass-playing), and was quickly drawing comparisons between the artistic craft of writing and the artistic craft of music that left music looking a bit naff. To produce a story, one must have ideas; technical skill is important, sure, but you can create a finished product without much redrafting or rewriting if you’re only interested in that story. Yet a piece of music physically cannot exist without a certain level of technical competence, i.e. the ability to play that piece of music. And it wasn’t like I was afraid of hard work, but putting hours into a novel meant creating new worlds and new characters, while putting that same into a song meant going over the same parts again and again. It became an exercise in repetition, not creation.

But recently an odd thing has happened, namely that I’m really getting into music. Like really. There’s been the Savage music writing for UCL all year, but now I’ve got a job writing for a new music magazine that’s insanely promising, and I spend hours reading and annotating write-outs of Rise Against lyrics, breaking them down as poetic narratives rather than just fuel for moshing. And, having exhausted this vein of interaction to the point that I’m seriously considering writing a book on the relationship between religion and American hardcore punk since the 1980s, I decided to move on from responding to music to creating music.

Sure, I’m not writing my own songs as such, just learning Rise Against’s 1000 Good Intentions, but it feels good to make things; that sound coming from my living room that sounds like a cat purring into an early version of a Guitar Hero mic to only score 70%? That’s me. That’s my sound! And it sucks, and it’s unoriginal, and it’s probably annoying the neighbours because I’m practicing at like 3am, but it’s something I’m doing.

This is all a far, far cry from making my own songs or, gods forbid, forming my own band, but as someone who is vaguely arty and creative, it’s a great feeling when you engage with a new kind of art.

And for the record, some of you may know my buddy Izzy, from blogging and Zone Of Proximal Development fame? Yeah, I met her at that music group.

Financial Stability Is Burning

(it was surprisingly hard to make that title work with the singular ‘is’)

At this point, the only response to George Osborne’s debt-raising, student-frakking, ball-kicking budget is to apply these twisted policies to Bad Religion’s superlative Los Angeles Is Burning. The original lyrics can be found here.

Somewhere deep in the City in a tie painted blue,
Thatcher’s chums are grinning
But up here in the flat-shares of Camden,
The hope of uni students is withering.
And you can’t deny that living is easy
If your Daddy makes a hundred grand yearly,
It’s eviction time for young lives
And students are dreaming of pay.

When financial stability is burning
Tories tug purse-strings in the murder wind.
So many lives are on the breeze,
Even Corbyn is ill at ease
And our finances are burning.

This is not a test
Of our prepped-up outraged hashtags
Where the economic right and Thatcherites
Conspire to win again.
And I cannot believe the media ignores
How a few mates can’t afford university,
Read it online, Cheryl’s waistline
Owen Jones must be going insane.

When financial stability is burning
Tories tug purse-strings in the murder wind.
So many lives are on the breeze,
Even Corbyn is ill at ease
And our finances are burning.

The red box reads
“The end of days”
Old Labour folks are turning in their graves.

More a question than a curse,
How could Hell be any worse?

The cuts are coming,
The Tories laughing,
So take warning!

[solo remains unchanged]

When financial stability is burning
Tories tug purse-strings in the murder wind.
So many lives are on the breeze,
Even Corbyn is ill at ease
And our finances are burning.