Saturday, 29 November 2008

Silence is...difficult

I failed to avoid music for No Music Day. To achieve that, I would have had to keep out of shops and pubs. And I was on holiday, so no chance.

But thinking about No Music made me more aware than ever of the half-heard intrusion into my mental space. Sometimes I believe there really is a conspiracy to stop us thinking for ourselves.

I did eventually find a pub that has no music, just good beer and good conversation. They provide the beer: you provide the conversation. Simple really. It’s how things should be.

It’s likely I’ll also fail at Buy Nothing Day, but at least I have a choice. I’ll choose to buy things at the farmers’ market and the local fair trade shop; maybe other local independent shops as well.

Some say you are what you eat: I say you are what you buy. I don’t want to be ‘right on’ (as we used to say in the 80s) but sometimes I try to tell people that shopping is a political act. Mostly, they don’t get it.

Like avoiding music, it takes effort to get away from Tesco and Amazon. Like avoiding music, it’s about keeping out the noise that prevents us from thinking for ourselves.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Silence is golden

I’m celebrating No Music Day.

It’s another prank of Bill Drummond’s. And, like most pranks of Bill’s, it’s actually very serious.
As he explained last year to Radio Scotland:

The reason for choosing the 21st November is that the 22nd is St Cecilia's day
and St Cecilia being the patron saint of music, there seemed a logic that we
fast from music on the day before we may traditionally have celebrated and given
thanks for music.
Why do we need to fast from music? Because we’ve got a surfeit of it. There’s so much around that you don’t notice it any more. And that’s a criminal waste of something that is actually very precious.

If it’s precious, it ought to be scarce. Then we might start valuing it more.

Music, like most of what’s good in our culture, has been commodified. I know I’m not saying anything original here: a lot of other people feel the same. If they didn’t, No Music Day would not have got the support it has.

I realised how far it had gone when I stopped at a chain pub one day on holiday (I don’t usually frequent these places: I was on the road; I needed food). It’s lunchtime. There’s background music playing. It’s a loop of what the management probably call ‘golden oldies’ or ‘sounds of the sixties’. It’s probably piped in from head office.

And they are playing ‘Venus in Furs’ by the Velvet Underground.

This is not a golden oldie. This is not the correct musical accompaniment to a baguette. This was never supposed to be safe.

That has to be proof that no-one is actually listening any more.

Choose not to listen. Then you might start hearing again.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

You can't judge a book by looking at the cover

It’s weird the way Facebook asks you to make lists of your favourite music. It’s not as if it proves anything.

I could make a list, and it would (of course) be the hippest list there ever was. I’ve made plenty such lists before. But it might not be true. Or it might only be true for a day. Some days I feel like listening to Cole Porter. Some days I feel like listening to Carl Perkins. Often I feel like listening to silence.

But whatever I put on the list, it wouldn’t mean anything.

When I was 15 (things might have changed since the 70s) the first thing you asked anyone you met was ‘what music do you like?’ You might snog someone who gave the wrong answer, but you wouldn’t go out with them. Use this as a basis for a relationship as a grown-up and you’re on very dodgy ground.

I learned, eventually, that the music you listen to isn’t an indication of character.

After all, a person is not immoral or politically unsound or aesthetically challenged just because they think 1980s pop is worth celebrating. All they are is ten years younger than me.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Don't let me down

I tried to do the middle-aged cynic bit. Because it’s a part I like to play and because it keeps me safe. That way you don’t get disappointed.

But there was no disappointment the morning after the election. Watching the news, I allowed myself for a little while to be moved. It was Jesse Jackson’s tears that finally did it.

It felt like 1997 again.

Maybe that’s my reason to be cynical. Because after the euphoria of that May night (which will always be a treasured memory, regardless of what came afterwards) the disappointment was worse. What can you say about Blair? ‘He’s not the messiah: he’s a very naughty boy.’

The expectations on Obama are even greater. I’m trying not to hope. I wish I could.

Friday, 7 November 2008


Barack Obama has brought hope to millions of people around the world. Millions of middle-aged people.

He was born in 1961 and everyone thinks he's young.