This video gave me goosebumps when i saw it. The comment says it all: the best band in the world at the best festival in the world. Enjoy.
Well fuck me i did not think I'd be watching the final of Britain's Got Talent on a Sunday evening (i wrote this a little while ago and left it in my drafts while a found a picture, then completely forgot about it). In total i watched one episode last week and the final tonight and it was actually very good. Not because Britain has proved itself a hotbed of musical and performing ability (there was an awful lot of crap in the episode i watched towards the beginning) but because of the raw human emotion on display and the fact that it illustrated one of life's greatest lessons.
Connie and Paul were by far and away the best acts on there and either could have won. Personally I'm glad it was Paul. But i think the real reason the both of them touched everyone was not because of their amazing talent . Connie was a reminder of innocence that we have all too easily forgotten, a snapshot of a time in your life when the world is a wondrous place and when anything was possible. "what do you want to be" was a completely open ended question and it was answered without reservation, hesitation or fear.
Paul Potts touched everyone because at the beginning of the show he was unsure, hesitant and afraid. Yet over the 9 days or so since the show started he grew in confidence and began to believe in his own abilities after seeing and sensing the reaction of the general public to his singing. The performances of both Connie and Paul told great stories, and that's why people loved them.
But i think the lesson lies in something else. For me, both Connie and Paul are examples of people doing something they love, not for any other reason than that they love it. They both truly love singing and they sing their fucking socks off with a palpable joy that jumps out of the screen and grabs you by the throat.
And if we take anything away from a"Britain's Got Talent" it should be this: nothing brings us more happiness than doing something we truly, intrinsically enjoy for its own sake. When was the last time we did something for no other reason than we truly, truly enjoyed it? Not to impress anyone, not to get fit or lose weight, not because it's the latest cool thing to do and we've seen it in Heat or on Coolhunting or in the Sunday Times magazine. But because we just love doing it. We should then ask ourselves why we do not do that thing more often.
So it was Phil's leaving do on Saturday, which was great as, not only could we send Phil off in drunken style, but it was an excuse for the old school gang to get together again. Most of us are in London anyway, but we rarely all get together at the same time, so this was a rare treat. And what struck me on the night, and the next day, was how well everyone is doing.
Everyone seems to be pretty happy. i don't necessarily mean in a spiritual or emotional deep inner contentment, whatever that may be, but in the sense that where they are in their lives at the moment - 26, with job, renting or buying, with or without girlfriend, in summer, seeing friends - is where they want to be, by and large. And I'm not sure what to make of that really, other than it's really quite good. It's good to see old school friends turn out well. it's good that they are where they want to be. And it seemed particularly fitting to the fine summer day we were enjoying in the exhibition of 21st century identity, insecurity and confidence that is hoxton square on the day of Damien Hirst's new exhibition.
The other interesting thing is that we're all doing very different things. If you were to go to a hobsons career directory (the sort i used to flick through in 2003, scared shitless that i had no idea which chapter i was going to spend the rest of my life in) there is pretty much each section covered, and a few that are not in there. Graphic design, accountancy, fashion, advertising, banking, teaching, photography. nice. Mr Maddy would be suitably impressed.
photo courtesy of tennessee-mary
..i was 18/19, working in a bar in Birmingham, in the delicious purgatory between school and university, supposedly saving money to go travelling but actually spunking all the money up the wall and having a fantastic time.
With no real commitment to anything, other than having fun, work was a means to an end. I was paid at the end of the week, ensuring i had the resources to squander on Saturday and Sunday hedonism, and that was just fine.
Hanging around with school friends but no school, the independence and new world of work, with money but without responsibility, living at home but not spending any time there - it was a perfect recipe for indulgence.
I remember chatting to one of the managers of the bar after work over a beer one night. she was going on about her career: moving onto a bigger bar, getting promoted, and the acceptable trade off between working ridiculous hours and moving up the ladder to "make it".
I quite clearly remember being utterly perplexed by what she was saying. i really could not grasp why she held her job in such high regard. why she gave up the best bits of her life for the worst bits. why she traded the now for the when. was she stupid? did she not get it? did she have no friends?
I also quite clearly remember saying to my self, and possibly to her, "i hope i never end up like that".
oh how things change.
My recent love affair with books has thrown up Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks, which i picked up in a second hand bookshop on Charing Cross Road for a couple of quid.
It's really, really difficult to clarify my thoughts on this book. There are so many passages that you want to note down, so many lines you want to underline, so many pages where you want to fold the corner and return to, that you have to keep taking breaks so as to savour what you've just read. A 20 minute bus journey is barely long enough, because the book deserves a significant investment of your time and you don't want to skimp.
There are lots of different aspects i could talk about. The love scenes, the exploration of themes of family and belonging, for instance.
The descriptions of the battles at the Somme and Ypres left me completely aghast, yet it was the meditations on the nature of the war that were most poignant. Stephen Wraysford's last diary entry, discovered over 50 years later by his granddaughter, is just one example of the powerful commentary on the unimaginable horrors of the first world war, and deserves highlighting properly here.
I have tried to resist the slide into this unreal world, but i lack the strength. I am tired. Now i am tired in my soul.
Many times i have lain down and i have longed for death. I feel unworthy. I feel guilty because i have survived,. Death will not come and i am cast adrift in a perpetual present.
I do not know what i have done to live in this existence. I do not know what any of us did to tilt the world into this unnatural orbit. We came here only for a few months.
No child of future generation will ever know what this was like. They will never understand.
When it is over we will go quietly among the living and we will not tell them.
We will talk and sleep and go about our business like human beings.
We will seal what we have seen in the silence of our hearts and no words will reach us.
It's hard to comprehend the level of violence that was witnessed in the first world war. The Battle of the Somme had three million participants over the course of the summer of 1916, one million of those participants died. That is simply mind-numbing and something our generation will probably never comprehend. Sitting in my garden and various parks over the last few weekends, enjoying spring and the thought of the upcoming summer, it's easy to forget we are a country at war. For most of us, daily life is summed up quite neatly by Stephen Wrayford's granddaughter:
As she made coffee in the kitchen and tried to spoon the frozen ice-cream from its carton without snapping the shaft off the spoon, Elizabeth was struck, not for the first time, by the thought that her life was entirely frivolous.
It was a rush of slither of trivial crises; of uncertain cashflow, small triumphs, occasional sex and too many cigarettes; of missed deadlines that turned out not to matter; of arguments, new clothes, bursts of altruism and sincere resolutions to address important things. Of all these and other experiences that made up her life, the most significant aspect was the one suggested by the words "turned out not to matter". Although she was happy enough with what she had become, it was this continued sense of the easy, the inessential nature of what she did, that most irritated her....in her generation there was no intensity.
Is she right? Are we without intensity? Do the big questions of life and death pass us by? Reading the above passage i was reminded of the journalist John Diamond, writing one of his last articles for the Observer before he died from throat cancer. Everyone knew he was not going to be around for much longer, so his editor asked him, assuming the dying know more about life than the rest of us, "what the hell is the point of it all?". His response is below, and again deserves a long quotation.
This is what it's all about. It's about reading a paper on a Sunday morning while you're thinking about whether you can be arsed to go to the neighbours' New Year's Eve party tonight. It's about getting angry with me for having different opinions from yours or not expressing the ones you have as well as you would have expressed them. It's about the breakfast you've just had and the dinner you're going to have. It's about the random acts of kindness which still, magically, preponderate over acts of incivility or nastiness. It's about rereading Great Expectations and about who's going to win the 3.30 at Haydock Park. It's about being able to watch old episodes of Frasier on satellite TV whenever we want, having the choice of three dozen breakfast cereals and seven brands of virgin olive oil at Sainsbury's. It's about loving and being loved, about doing the right thing, about one day being missed when we're gone.
And that's all it's about. It isn't about heaven and hell or the love of Christ or Allah or Yahveh because even if those things do exist, they don't have to exist for us to get on with it.
You can (and should) read the full article here.
So who is right? I love the trivialities and the inessentials, but I despair at the realisation that news of unjustified deaths in far away places barely registers anymore. How can the two be reconciled? I've struggled to work this out, and i don't think i will anytime soon, so I'm going to leave it there. Register my confusion and move on.
My good friend Greg sometimes sends me tunes he's loving as and when he comes across them. Which is quite often as he's a cool music aficionado. The latest song he's sent me is an absolute corker. Never really listened to much LCD Sound System before but "All My Friends" is off their latest album, Sound of Silver and it is frigging awesome.
He pointed me to this line in the song: "you spend the first five years trying to get with the plan, and the next five years trying to be with your friends again". Magic, and absolutely nails the feeling i think a lot of young people go through working in a "grown up job" for a while. I couldn't find the rest of the lyrics online anywhere, but did find this article on the album, and the song, and the line. It's from Marathon Packs, a cool but very clever music blog. The author uses the words "insidious", "sinuous" and "motif" in the same sentence, but in spite of that Marathon Packs is now a new found favourite of mine.
You can listen to it on their MySpace page.
I wouldn't normally write about a book until i'd finished it but this is an exception, as it is so utterly delicious i have to talk about it. How to be Idle is a book i've been meaning to read for a while and it might just be life changing.
I've always thought that my daytime wanderings on my own round London were a bit weird, especially when i'd meet up with friends in the evening and they would ask me how i'd spent my day. These wanderings have no real purpose, I stop off here or there for a coffee and bite to eat, people watch, window shop in a bit of a daze, occasionally chat to shop owners or waiters. I'm usually a bit hungover, which probably helps with the daze. But i'm perfectly content on my own. In fact, it's not the same when i'm with someone. It's a completely different day out. If you're with someone it gives the day a purpose. The solitude is what makes the wander a wonder.
However, it turns out i'm not weird after all. Apparently "in the pedestrian, the wanderer, the rambler...can be found the soul of the idler...he walks for pleasure, he observes but does not interfere, he is not in a hurry, he is happy in the company of his own mind, he wanders detached, wise and merry, godlike. He is free."
Wow. That is truly brilliant. The french have a name for someone who wanders in this fashion, or at least they did in the nineteenth century. He was known as a "flaneur". Apparently the word "flaneur" came to describe "an elegant kind of gentlemanly moocher who ambled purposelessly through the Parisian arcades, watching, waiting, hanging around".
I love this book.
Just finished No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. Splendid rapid fire, texan dialogue throughout, full of absolute gems, which makes it one of those books you don't want to rush because you're afraid of missing bits. A quote towards the end really resonated.
"I tried to put things in perspective but sometimes you're just too close to it. It's a life's work to see yourself for what you really are and even then you might be wrong. And that is somethin i don't want to be wrong about."
Perspective made me think about distance, about how you get a different, and usually much clearer picture of something by taking a step back from it. Like the perspective you get on work while on holiday. This definition talks about perspective being the context for a belief or experience. Which makes sense. Taking a step back is all about seeing something from a different viewpoint, seeing something in a different context, which then alters your belief or interpretation of the experience. Like when workaholics have a near death experience and realise that family and friends are the really important stuff.
Talking to a friend about a problem, or decision, is great because they have a different perspective becuase they are not as close to it. It frames the problem in a different way.
Seeing your life, or what you have, from the perspective of those who do not have what you have can put things in perspective.
Or learning a bit about how other people view the world - seeing how and why others look at things in a completely different way.
I remember moving to London a few years ago and jumping at the chance to doing loads of different stuff. Happily trekking across the city to see people and places. It was all new and exciting and worth doing and easy. After a while though, yuo get to a stage where you know what you like and it's comfortable and near and easy. Going to new things and new places is harder than going to to the place that is known. Getting some distance and perspective and looking at something in a different light gets harder - be that getting some physical distance away from work or London, or putting yourself in someone else's shoes.
However, going across town to new venues, catching up with old mates, gogin on holiday,chatting to slightly weird strangers - it's all a fresh perspective and it's ultimatgely pretty rewardign and it all helps us make better decisions.
Reading this back the last bit sounds a bit like a school assembly - the moral of this story is...
...I think i need a holiday. Distance, perspective, context, all that stuff i just said. I basically need to go on holiday.
Last year More 4 screened a documentary following the Young@Heart chorus touring round Europe.
This is no ordinary choir, all the members are above the age of about 75 (one of the first members had fought at the Battle of the Somme as a 16 year old) and they sing well known cover versions by the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Ramones and Frank Sinatra. I wanted to write about this before but i couldn't find any footage of the documentary. However, i received an email alert recently with a link to some footage on You Tube.
This is a clip of one of the most moving parts of a truly moving documentary. Fred Knittle and Bob Salvini, two members of the chorus, were scheduled to sing a duet of Coldplay's "Fix You" during the tour but Bob passed away in the run up to the show, so Fred had to sing the song on his own. I'm not a big Coldplay fan, but Fix You is a one of their best songs, which becomes even better in the context of Fred, Bob, and the whole Young@Heart chorus, who prove that it is never to late to do something great.
Magical stuff. You can download the track, and learn a bit more about Fred Knittle, here.