Tuesday, 27 October 2015

There's more to life than books y'know (but not much more)

I knew something was up from the moment that the bookstore clerk wished me 'Good Luck' as I walked out with my purchase. Further warning signs kept coming up from there on. The reviews calling it an "unpolished turd" The Buzzfeed-esque articles showcasing the "worst lines" not even mentioning the infamous "bulbous salutation" (which sounds somewhat like a Masonic greeting)
But nothing could ever truly prepare me for actually reading  'List of the Lost.'
First, let me make one thing clear. I love Morrissey. I love his music. I love his witty, insightful lyrics, giving lightning-like vignettes into love, life, death and losing your bag in Newport Pagnell. I find it in my heart to forgive nearly all the horrendous and tactless things he says. Even this book, in time. To put it simply, being a Morrissey fan is not something you take lightly. It's a bit like being in a cult, only with more middle-aged men with quiffs.
But I can't defend this, not this.
Compared to 2013's 'Autobiography' which ran to a behemoth 480 pages, big enough to squash a field-mouse if dropped from a sufficient height (something neither I or Morrissey support) 'List of the Lost' only lasts for a scant 118 pages, in a fairly large font at that (not even large enough to inconvenience a field-gnat probably) On this first appearance alone, how can such a slim volume attract such near-universal derision?
Easily, is the answer. Despite its deceptively small size, I have never known such a small book to feel so long. It makes 'Das Kapital' feel like 'Topsy and Tim'. 'War and Peace' like 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar.'
The primary reason for this, above all others, is Morrissey's, let us say, idiosyncratic writing style. Using a dozen words when only one will do, this reader got the impression that Morrissey seemed to be writing to impress some sixth-form English teacher who had slighted him in a previous life.  The trouble is, Morrissey's writing doesn't seem to have improved much from this hypothetical sixth-form period.  There was a sentence near the very end of the book that seemed to sum this up for me.
"All quiet, all still in this decent and pleasant atmosphere of slumber and repose, where lush houses of beddy-bye shut-eye snoozled in sleepland; a smiling sleep of dreamland."
What does this mean? What does this actually mean? Really? Elaborate with examples please, ask the examiner if you require any more paper. There is a very good reason authors don't write in this style Morrissey, unless of course you're counting the time that someone slipped Enid Blyton several tabs of acid in her evening Ovaltine.
Of course, if he's not just making up words, he's bombarding you with them to the point whether you wonder you're reading a medical textbook instead.
"The inscrutable glacial coldness of the mega-gnarly cave dweller had brought to mind the snot-nosed wretch that the boys had left to the woods. But this could not be irrelevant coincidence-or, to the esoteric world, not coincidence at all."
'Autobiography' worked because Morrissey's bitter wit and flowery language helped to enliven and enrich the happenings of his own life. When this is crammed into a fictional narrative, all 'List of the Lost' serves to do is act as proof for decades of Morrissey parodyists, proving all along what they were saying, that his writing is pompous, indeciphrable, and most criminal of all, dull.
If you can bother to excavate beneath this mess of description, 'List of the Lost' does actually have a plot, though a frustratingly vague one at that. Put as simply as I can muster, Lost revolves around four all-American boys (Ezra, Nails, Harri & Justy) who run for the half-mile relay team (an event which doesn't actually exist) for a prestigious Boston college in the mid 70's. When they're not screwing girls (none of which seem to have any personality or character whatsoever) or pouting homoeroticaly, they seem to spend most of their time speaking in a manner which I'm fairly sure wasn't common for American college students circa 1975.
"Ah yes! Sorry! God forbid a leg touches another leg and the entire foundation of rigid sexual mires crash to shuddering, shamed failure!"
Well quite.
Anyway, they somehow end up killing a homeless man they find in the woods for no particular reason (though not before said hobo goes on a incomprehensible five page rant) whereupon all manner of shit goes down over the remaining 70 or 80 pages. It probably doesn't reflect too well on Morrissey's literary prowess that I had to read several other reviews and synopses before realising that the litany of death and disaster that follows the tramp-icide is all meant to be interconnected.
In fact, the plot takes a back-seat so often to the lengthy and intolerable ramblings, I have to wonder if this book originally started life as a stream-of-conscious fever-dream which Morrissey ended up smushing a half-baked idea for a short story into in order to please his publishers. At least four or five pages are dedicated to talking about the American TV Western 'Bonanza.' Another page seems to delight in telling us all about supposed gay trysts Winston Churchill and famed song-writer Ivor Novello had during the war, only to abandon this a page later when he finds time to tell us what a shame it was that Alan Turing was persecuted so for his homosexuality. Mixed messages is something of a understatement.
All the Morrissey bugbears come under attack here. The monarchy. The meat industry. Margaret Thatcher (whose mention is so poorly shoehorned in as to be painful) All of these have been addressed in much better songs than this disagreeable tumour of a text.
In short, do not buy this book. Do not accept this book as a gift. Do not ponder reading this book. Do not even get it purely for the shock value, to revel in something in so goddamn unenjoyable. Even in that regard you will be disappointed.
Maybe, just maybe, if you had a very talented editor, you could ring a decent short story out of this. But I think the rot has gone too far. It all reminds me of an exchange between two great heavyweights of literature.  William Faulkner once said of Hemingway's work that "It has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."
Hemingway’s response was: ‘Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?’

And that is precisely is what Morrissey has failed to grasp.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

'Something to do with Writing'

(Something I meant to post around 2014)
Bit of a weird title, don't you think? It's what I usually fall back onto when people ask me what I want to do in life. It's vaguer than a smudge in a blur factory, but it's a catch-all phrase which I hope at least captures the essence of where I want to go in life. The response I usually get in return is 'Ohhhhhhh....That's nice for you. What are you going to doing aside from that?' Upon which I usually stab their eyes out with salad forks. But lately, I've pondering whether there isn't some grain of truth in their moronic babblings, that any writing I will do is mainly for my own self-delectation, or if not for an absurdly small audience.
Hell, I don't even know if I'm going to post this, what I'm writing now may more be a way to vent and bitch and spleen about my wretched and grey life without incurring the wrath of others too much. So what went wrong you may say? Well lets go back around two years, back to around the last time I actually wrote on this blog to honest.
I was an optimistic sod back then, my brain full of rapidly evolving ideas of success and mild fame (less 'name up in lights', more 'name printed in Helvetica in the sideline') and I decided once I graduated university to try and see if I could get a writing portfolio together, maybe try applying for a graduate internship for a magazine or something. Of course, that germ of an idea got defenestrated as soon as I picked up my diploma.
That was when I realised there were a million and one other people in exactly the same position as me. All angling for their best shot at garnering the attention of someone important in the world of media, then riding that inevitable rocket-ship towards getting invites for Radio 4 panel shows and regular slots in the Guardian's 'Comment is Free' section. Not only this, these others, these hypothetical bastards, were all much better than me. Much better writers. Much more talented. Much more mentally well adjusted. The uber-mensch of those in their early twenties.
This was when I realised that perhaps my dreams were perhaps a tad less realistic than I had been thinking.
I mean, of course, gentle reader, you may rightfully judge me for this. It sounds awfully pompous and self-righteous to ramble about hopes of attaining fame and fortune without having done anything to merit it in the first place. But haven't we all harboured similar thoughts? Not just of being rich and famous, which is standard enough I suppose, but of considering ourselves 'different' and of a higher rank than anyone else in our field? That our obvious special qualities set ourselves apart from the rest of the riff-raff, and of course ensure that success and happiness lurk just around the corner?
Don't we all experience a similar experience like the one I have just outlined? Where we are brought back down to earth with an uncomfortable jolt, to be faced with the equally uncomfortable fact that there are others doing what we wish and yearn to do at a much higher level of skill and quality? Where we are faced with the cynical comments of parents and loved ones that is 'all well and good to do x, but you need to pay the bills as well....'
We are forced to set aside our hopes and dreams, partially through the exhortations of a generation who no doubt faced the same conversation with their parents some thirty or forty years earlier. And so the cycle continues.
We apply for soulless jobs at soulless businesses. We let pieces of our love, our passion for things in life, drain away each and every day just so we can help maintain the status quo.
This is why I grow so depressed at the growing contempt anyone who wishes to work within a creative industry faces, that this is a hobby, a worthless trinket, something fun to do at the weekends, not worthy of respect or a decent wage. I mean, 40 hour a week admin jobs are ten a penny, any miserable sod straight out of university can do those. But doing some like writing, or working in theatre, or art, or dance? Pffshaw! Those are something reserved for a select few! You shouldn't concern yourself with their doings! It's not like anything you do would be up to par anyways!
And so people find themselves feel themselves tacitly nodding along, agreeing with these bastards even though they know they're wrong, and any hopes and dreams of actually doing what they enjoy in life gets swept under waves of apparent 'responsibility' and trying to get through day-to-day life.
Eventually, such hopes and desires kept swept under the metaphorical carpet, shunted aside in favour of focusing on getting that promotion to unit supervisor (it comes with a £200 pay increase!) only to be shared with others when you become drunk and embarrassingly gin truthful, as you desperately try to either lie, or even worse, become melancholy about the whole thing with friends
That's why I say, fuck it. Ignore those spurious bastards. They have no music in their souls. Keep fucking striving. Keep writing awful fan-fiction. Keep throwing yourself into auditions that you know won't probably lead to anything. Keep pressing your unlistenable demos onto anyone who stands still for more than five seconds. I don't know whether it's realistic anymore to keep striving for success and fortune and fame and riches. But at least I'll be fucking happy this way, alone, screaming into the ether.

Monday, 17 August 2015

British Leyland Blues

As unreadable as it may be to blog about a throwaway comment Yvette Cooper made over a week ago, 'unreadable' is generally what I aim for with my infrequent postings, so I might as well remain consistent with my ramblings, if nothing else.So, to start with, we have Ms Cooper,  Labour leadership non-entity, and as a friend of mine once said 'someone who talks with a lot more conviction than she votes.' She, among the other two candidates (I think the last time I checked they were an android minus a personality chip and a female Dick Dastardly) are spending the majority of their leadership campaigns either maligning, bitching (or otherwise comparing to a baby-eating lizard) at the only genuinely socialist candidate within the whole proceedings, Jeremy Corbyn.Now, the strengths, principles, and luxuriant facial hair of Mr Corbyn have been commented on in far greater detail in other areas by far better writers, so I'll just concern myself with the matter at hand. Cooper, along her other candidates, poured scorn on recent statements made by Corbyn regarding his desire to see utilities and other erstwhile public services such as the railways to be re-nationalised. Again, aside from the fact that this is something widely supported by both the general public  (not to mention Labour members) I shan't comment much on that.No, my attention is drawn more towards a comment made by Yvette Cooper regarding Corbyn's mooted plans. She said- "The British economy needs new high-tech entrepreneurs, innovation and growing business, not a return to the days of British Leyland."What a stupid thing to say. What a moronic, wilfully ignorant, mind-numbingly stupid thing to say.
British Leyland has been a punchline for decades. It shall be for decades to come. Ever since the cheap, boring gags the Two Ronnies made in the 70's, up until now with the cheap, boring gags that Jeremy Clarkson et al make today. Everyone's heard the horror stories. Of the Allegro with 'the square steering wheel.' Of militant trade-unionism, endless striking and 'Red Robbo.' And of course of  'the nationalisation.' I mean, of course, that's what ruined it in everyone's eyes. Nationalisation doesn't work at all! Look at British Leyland! Look at those strikes! Look at those crummy cars! It must have been nationalisations fault! I mean, why else would such a big company go down the plug hole like that?
Why indeed. 
What absolutely no-one seems to understand at all is that nationalisation wasn't the thing that destroyed British Leyland. Oh no. Nationalisation was the thing that saved it, that allowed what was one of the largest employers in the UK to remain afloat. British governments did this quite a lot at the time. The bankrupt aerospace division of Rolls Royce was nationalised by Heath's government in 1971. The bankrupt British Aerospace was nationalised by the Callaghan Government in 1977. The bankrupt defence company Johnson Matthey was bought by the Thatcher Government for £1 in 1984. Politicians don't tend to mention these companies when rallying against the evils of nationalisations, for they were successful, nor do they tend to make such a large hub-bub against the bail-out and nationalisations of Northern Rock and RBS during the last financial crisis. Those are sacrosanct and kosher. I mean, those are 'high-tech entrepreneurs, innovation and growing business'! The protection of the banking and financial industry comes before all else! I mean, it's not as if the protection of hundreds of thousands of jobs and strategic industrial capacity with the nationalisation of British Leyland is in anyway comparable to these nationalisations! Oh no.
What people refuse to understand is that British Leyland was doomed, not because of its nationalisation, nor indeed because of its militant trade unionism (a factor which anyone with even an inkling of industrial history can see is greatly over-emphasised) but due to its sheer size. At the time of its formation in 1968, British Leyland was a business that encompassed everything from refrigerators to Rovers, from double-decker buses to dump-trucks. It had over 25 factories in the UK and over 100 overseas. It was the second largest company in Europe, and the fifth largest in the entire world. Exactly the sort of bloated, jumbled and confused company that New Labour would have liked to cosy up to. It would need an exceptionally talented team of managers to keep such a behemoth under control. Unfortunately, it had no such thing. A series of woefully out-of-their-depth executives, more interested in paying dividends to their share-holders (whilst meanwhile their continental competitors re-invested the majority of their profits instead) and pursuing severely lacklustre models, already outdated by the time of their release (the Allegro, Morris Marina and Maxi were already established parts of the model range by the time of the nationalisation) It didn't help of course, that any focus on industrial diplomacy with a growingly militant workforce was abandoned. I mean, in the face of such dizzying size and wealth, who wouldn't?
Perhaps it wasn't a question of what caused British Leyland to become bankrupt and then nationalised, but more why didn't it occur sooner. Even after the nationalisation, Leyland continued to decline. A proto-Thatcherite manager in the shape of Michael Edwardes closed down perfectly usable factories (some only built less than ten years previously), slashing the workforce and destroying well known brands such as Triumph and MG for good. I would say it's only by luck, renewed success in the early 1980's with the introduction of the Metro, Maestro and Montego, and the successful re-privatisation of companies such as Jaguar and Land Rover that any component parts of what was once British Leyland still exist today. 
And all this, all this tortured and complex (and unless, like me you have a thing for industrial history) and boring history is merely skimming the surface. I dare not even approach such topics as the 1975 Ryder Plan, which rationalised a monstrously over-bloated company down to size for instance.
This is what irritates me so when Yvette Cooper makes her ludicrously simplistic comments. It's all well and good to say what is effectively "BUSINESS GOOD, 1970'S BAD", but to do so is to willingly ignore the truth of what actually occurred, to wilfully ignore the fact that nationalising a bankrupt business is completely different to nationalising something within the public interest like the railways or utilities, and it is holding the manufacturing heritage and history of this country in complete contempt. Shame on you.