September 2010


After my lovely tour of duty at Radio 3 came to an end and I no longer had to bury my head in the on-line Goves to come up with something intelligent to say about all that beautiful classical music, I bounced out into the world of pop. It felt like nitrous oxide after the rarefied air of Broadcasting house but also played into the teenagery feel inside my head since turning forty.

I booked myself a batch of festival tickets and scrupulously avoided all but one of the Proms this year. Dancing was in the air. And as I jigged around in the sunshine or in the sweet darkness of the night, I wondered whether the culturally significant music of the 21st century would be pop or classical. Would cultural grandees of 2110 talk about George Benjamin or Vampire Weekend?

I have no illusions about the power of contemporary classical music compared to that of pop. Much as I love the music of Tom Adès, it will never have the social resonance of Dizzee Rascal or the XX. For the millions of young people who grow up bouncing or swooning to the latter, there is only perhaps a dozen who levitate to the former.

And let’s not pretend that great pop music is easy. One of the most inventive and brilliant musicians on the scene at the moment was a scholar at the Guildhall School of Music – and yet Micachu‘s music is a million miles from Anna Meredith’s. It’s pop brilliance grated through a feedback-slicer.

I was mesmerized by her debut album for about two weeks. It crept up on me and gnashed me from within. In the same way that albums from my teenage latched onto the inside of my head. In the same way that listening to Talking Heads as a teenager made me feel justified in my (gay) eccentricity, there was something about several of the bands I got into this summer, that made me feel like a better person.

Maybe it was just the pleasure of being contemporary. As Rimbaud insisted, Il faut être absoluement moderne. And while this dictum as a lifestyle is exhausting and, as Rimbaud’s life illustrates, unsustainable, it should certainly be adopted as an aspiration as often as possible.

When Joshua and I stood infront of the little Lake stage at Latitude in July and bopped around to four geeky guys from Manchester, I also felt like I’d found the new modern.

Everything Everything are part of the New Manchester scene (a label they all hate) and like Micachu seem zapped in from Planet New. Falsettos, polyrhythm, impenetrable lyrics. All the things I love and have always loved since my Talking Heads days. With Micachu they also share that home-made feel which is so satisfying to me.

So much music nowadays is made outside the purlieus of the Musical Industrial Complex. Bar the X-Factor Empire there is more independent, creative music being made than ever. Independent labels account for more than 28% of worldwide music sales and while downloading has decimated CD sales, the massive exposure that Spotify, Pandora, Soundcloud and Shuffler create allows for dedicated fanbases and income from live performance. In recession-plagued 2008 the music industry grew by 4.7% largely on the back of live gigs and merchandising.

I am living proof. I’ve shelled out at least £400 on gig and festival tickets this year and I have lovely green Yeasayer hoodie because it was getting nippy one evening at Latitude.

Aside from socio-cultural imperative, I also love pop music. Dance music in particular. This may have something to do with my lurch back towards teenage certainties as my middle age rides into view. One of my all-time favorites – James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem – sums it up elegantly in one of his tracks

Sound of silver talk to me
makes you want to feel like a teenager
until you remember the feelings of
a real life emotional teenager
then you think again

The luxury of dancing to teenage music while feeling the serenity of being 40 is hard to beat. There is a poignancy too (a poignancy which can shade into being patronising, so I rarely chose to share it): seeing the raw, aching emotion of a 20 year old through the prism of another 20 years of life makes it even more delicious. First love is so much more moving from the perspective of 11th love.

So when we stumbled into a little shack-like stage at Bestival at 11 at night, awash with serotonin and cider, to listen to the four members of Egyptian Hip Hop (who are infact teenage as I recall), we all felt a delight in their utter distainful, mardy truculence in the face of their enthusiastic audience. A sort of bastard love-child of dance music and god-knows-what, they seemed to be channelling something that evening. It doesn’t really come across on record but I reckon they’ll be washing us away soon enough.

But I suppose the ultimate vouchsafe of pop music is the fact that we listen to it in groups. I press-ganged my teenage friends into endless evenings at my house playing the latest Beefheart discovery or Philip Glass oddity. Now, it’s much simpler. You go to a gig, a field, a festival and spend a whole hour, night, weekend dancing and necking with people. Oddly considering how we’re all meant to be chained to the internet and shrivelling into isolation, music seems to be the one thing that gets us out and together.

And so Sunday evening at Bestival when the mighty Murphy took to the stage for a heart-elevating hour-long set and the drilling piano riff of All My Friends kicked in, I felt a teenage tear on my cheek.

For anyone who’s been following, this summer has been a fallow one for this blog.

Not for me – it’s actually been the most fruitful summer I’ve had in years – but for the blogger-me it’s been barren.

I was scratching my head and thinking why I have lost the inclination to post on here and that set me pondering on the whole phenomena of blogging and the blogger. Perhaps it’s my current schooling in psychotherapy, perhaps a seven-year itch, but I felt the need to sit down and sort out my thoughts.

At the time of writing this, Technorati tracks 70 million blogs on line. And they’re clearly part of our long human desire to journal and keep diaries. Diaries have always been a way of marking our trace through time. Marcus Aurelius kept a journal To Myself in the 2nd century AD and the medieval Christian mystics used the tool to turn inward. But it was only in the 19th Century that people (mainly politicians) began to publish diaries. (Peyps and Evelyn never intended their work to be read publically.) This turn of the private to public is an interesting one.

Where the cult of celebrity is nothing new (Proust was singing the Grazia style praises of Parisian aristocrats a hundred years ago) the notion of full-disclosure is. There was no sense that one had to publicize everything. Even Marcus Aurelius polished his Greek prose.

For me the pertinant question becomes: why do I feel the need to let everyone know everything that is going on?

My therapist recently enlightened me into the fact that it’s OK to have secrets. Julia Cameron, of Artists Way fame, also sings praise of the ‘dark cave’ where no one need look.

I keep a journal and I keep a blog. There is a little flow from one to another but essentially the journal is a blood-and-guts spillage for private reference and the blog is a jewel case, full of beautiful things. Polished things. In fact, looking over my blog back catalogue it’s very lapidary. Which pleases me.

Recently when I have posted, I’ve favoured making things over writing. Posting pictures, creating artefacts seemed like a more honest way – or perhaps a less media-ated way of showing what’s going on inside my heart.

And yet on reflection I can see this is where the log-jam arises. Two tendencies get tangled here. Two operating principles are at work simultaneously and they’ve been tripping me up.

The two principles are: blog as full-disclosure and blog as lapidary presentation.

Blogging can be the perfect armature of what D.W.Winnicott called the ‘false self’, the people-pleasing part of us we hone and polish over our life. (I say ‘can be’ because there are of course blogs out there that open straight up to the unpolished heart of their creators). The ‘false self’ is the part of us we put out into the World to get us what we all need: approval, acceptance, admiration. And I think my changing attitude to this aspect of being human lies at the heart of my blog

I have come to realise that it’s OK to have a false self (in fact one of my therapeutic problems with that term is that it rather maligns the perfectly natural desire to impress and present). Human beings have a innate need to relate and to create. We like to dress up, make up, polish up.

Far from seeing this as somehow a ‘falsity’ I have come to appreciate it as a delicious necessity of being human. This blog and its polished, jewel-like surface is a perfect representation of that tendency. “Look at me, look how bright, shiny and interesting I am”.

This also pertains to the job of being a presenter. (I’ve blogged before about the felicitous nature of that title: as a TV journalist, I aim to be a presenter, as a mindfulness teacher I simply try to be presenter.) I have made peace with the fact that TV presenting is a form of polish and desire to create. And i have made peace with my innate human need for that. Presenters present things and this blog is an extension of that.

The other strand – full-disclosure – is, for me, less satisfying in the blog format. Because full disclosure is something that happens in intimacy and one cannot (I venture) be intimate with 70 million people.

And likewise with my job as a presenter: from within my strange profession, I have managed to separate out the profound human need for emotional nurturance. I see that it’s something that I will never get from 2.5 million TV viewers no matter how kindly inclined they are. The fact remains that I do not know them, cannot wake up with them in my bed, cannot sit under a duvet watching Gosford Park with them.

And that’s all well and good. The fact that peacocks have beautiful feathers is not negated by the fact they also fuck.