The Feeling; or, Why I Stopped Writing About Music

I first heard about The Feeling on Monday 9th May 2005 when I interviewed Duncan Fleming, the singer/songwriter behind War Against Sleep, before their gig supporting them at the Water Rats. I asked him, in passing, what the headliners were like and he sneeringly categorized them as “tie rock” (like “hair rock”).

Fleming was a dull interviewee (I had been induced to speak to him by a zealous press officer) and a ne’er do well musician with a messy album, but I hung around to hear them. Good thing too, because only four other people made their way to the bar to watch. It was, I rationalised, Monday night.

Clutching my lime and soda, I twiddled my thumbs for a while before engaging in conversation with a posh girl who had come to see the headliners. She told me that she had first seen them at a ski resort and that they had built up quite a following just through their live shows. I asked what they sounded like. She said that some people had accused them of copying 10cc and Supertramp.

As I raised an eyebrow, I noticed a woman who looked exactly like Sophie Ellis-Bextor. I stared, wondering if it was her. Then Janet Ellis, the former Blue Peter presenter, came and stood right next to her and all doubts were resolved. According to my source (the aforementioned fan), Sophie was the bassist’s wife. Apparently, the drummer was attached to Sinead Quinn, but I didn’t know who she was, so didn’t pursue the matter.

The keyboardist walked on wearing a fedora and chicago bulls vest over a longsleeve T-shirt. The singer wore a waistcoat and spats. They exuded cool and confidence and charm. The concept of guilty pleasures had been bubbling away for months and people were listening to 70s commercial rock again. All it needed was a band to legitimise the genre for a new generation. I knew as soon as they started playing that they were that band. I said to the girl next to me, I am sure they will be the biggest band in the country in a year’s time, though I’m not sure if it is a good thing or not. I plotted my cover story and thought about how I would claim them as my own.

Time passed. I couldn’t think of anything to say about them. They got signed. Press attention came their way in The Times and The Fly, all saying the things I predicted. There was such a grim predictability about the way they became big; never had the cogs in the machinery of the music industry been so well oiled. I saw them again in Glasgow and chatted to the band. They were charming and professional, well understanding the hoops they had to jump through after years of being session musicians. Yet still I couldn’t bring myself to write anything about them.

The album emerged and was beautiful, but there were no words in my pen to describe their songs. The music industry is, I know, an industry but when we think about it we don’t think about chimneys and production lines. Sometimes we don’t think at all, all we need to do is feel; and the feeling I had about The Feeling was suitably irrational. Yet, it was haunted by the nightmare of the industrial processes, which, though subtler, are just as violent to one’s sensibilities. And so, unable to write about music, I stopped writing about music (some journalists continue even after their passion has been spent: they call themselves press officers).



Jogging

When Louise Woodward was put on trial for the murder of baby Eappen, the prosecution staged a simple but devastating experiment to show why shaking a baby can be so much more damaging than hitting it. It consisted of an egg in a jar surrounded by water (i.e. brain, skull, fluid). They showed that no matter how hard they hit the jar (without breaking it, obviously) the egg remained intact. A simple, firm shake though and it broke immediately.

It is because of this experiment that I no longer go running. I feel my brain shaking and fear for the damage that is being done, noting that runners don’t tend to be particularly bright.

My other reasons are: 1) that running is so incredibly slow compared to cycling that you never really get anywhere. 2) It’s strangely embarrassing and very revealing about your all-too-virtuous intentions. 3) It’s not particularly good for your knees/back. Despite all this, I decided to go running the other day.

Thing is, I have a really nice suit that doesn’t fit me anymore and am determined to squeeze into it one more time before middle-age spread and my sedentary lifestyle conspire to make such a prospect ludicrous. So I ran under the M8, up the steep steps to the canal and along the water to the desolate fields of Possil Park. Once there, I remembered how exhilarating running can be when you’re on your own, how free you are. By constrast, Jean Baudrillard in America rails against the jogger (of course, I am a runner, which is different like a tourist and a pilgrim are different):

Nothing evokes the end of the world more than a man running straight ahead on a beach, swathed in the sounds of his walkman, cocooned in the solitary sacrifice of his energy, indifferent even to catastrophes since he expects destruction to come only as the fruit of his own efforts, from exhausting the energy of a body that has in his own eyes become useless. Primitives, when in despair, would commit suicide by swimming out to sea until they could swim no longer. The jogger commits suicide by running up and down the beach. His eyes are wild, saliva drips from his mouth. Do not stop him. He will either hit you or simply carry on dancing around in front of you like a man possessed.

Sorry, M. Baudrillard, but I couldn’t disagree more. The jogger jogs in order to increase his energy levels, to increase fitness, to achieve clarity and enjoy the rush of endorphins. Unfortunately, it is not worth the cost of so many brain cells, so I’m going to get back on my bike.



Happily Dissatisfied

According to Baudrillard, a satisfied human would be utterly asocial, literally unable to partake in society. Dissatisfaction is the motor of all engagement and thus your social role is to be a dissatisfied consumer.

For the last few months, I have been satisfied and asocial. I have wanted for nothing. No technological knick-knack seduced me, no popular song entranced me, at no point did I want to comment on a person’s blog or email an old friend. I showed all the signs of drowning in a catatonic depression.

Now, after shrugging off the blues with a combination of yoga, health food and the Tao Te Ching, I feel the unmistakable stirrings of the desire to consume. It is my birthday soon and, in anticipation, I have been thinking about upgrading my creaking iBook for one of the new Intel Macs.

I initially fancied the Mac Mini, which I thought cheap and adaptable, but was then seduced by the MacBook. Unfortunately, the MacBook has a funny keyboard and a too-shiny screen, so now I’m plumping for the iMac which, though not without its critics, seems to provide a happy medium between the other two.

The problem with these thoughts is that they create a phrenzy of distraction. This morning, for instance, I was incapable of obtaining the mental focus I need for yoga.

Tør Norretrander’s dangerous idea in Edge.org’s survey was the idea that all well-being is based on social relativity rather than wealth. That is, if you’re doing better than your neighbour/relative/acquaintance you’ll feel relatively happier no matter how deprived your area is. This is dangerous because it leads to indifference (pleasure?) to other people’s poverty, which brings disease and crime, making everyone worse off. Obviously, I’m still going to buy the computer if I can afford to, but the act of purchase will be tempered with “liberal communism”.



TMCQ Wikipedia

The Mind’s Construction Quarterly was recently honoured with a beautiful little entry on Wikipedia. Whether it is deserved or not is separate question. The quality of the entry and the fact that it has nothing to do with my vanity will perhaps ensure its survival against overzealous moderators. For the truth is that some of the people who have got involved do nothing more than scout around looking for things to delete.

I had thought that we were living in an age of democratization, where human uniqueness and fundamental equality would be rewarded with its own acknowledgement. This, it seems, is not the case. Steve Pavlina, a ludicrous figure who completed three honours degrees in five days or something and sleeps for thirty minutes a night before penning his daily 4,000 words on personal growth, is a fascinating individual who is read by thousands, yet his Wikipedia entry suffered “speedy deletion”. Bloggers, despite providing the bulk of reading material for millions of nerds, aren’t generally worthy.

One accepts that limits are needed. The English wiki, sans images and sans page history, weighs in at over 20gb when decompressed. This is, I imagine, the equivalent of a book whose pages would use up all the trees in the Amazonian rainforest. Perhaps instead of trying to get all the world’s knowledge under one roof, editors should concentrate on improving what’s there. Indeed, Wikipedia styles itself on the 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica, a work distinguished by being brilliantly written.



69 Magazines

Russell Herron is one of the key members of London’s literary underground, allowing small-press publishers precious wallspace in the ICA. As well as working at the ICA, he also has a project called 69 Magazines (a short history of looking and being looked at), that documents contemporary representation of the female image through magazine covers. What is especially compelling is that each exhibition (there will be 69) is devoted to a specific celebrity: first up was Jordan, then Jayne Mansfield, and the latest, which opens on 4th May, is Geri Halliwell.

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I had thought that it was an extension of his position as manager of the ICA bookshop, but apparently he is an artist, something I didn’t know until recently.

Does it matters that it is done in the name of art rather than, say, social history? And does it actually need to be an art project to be validated? I’m not sure. Perhaps if he were a hobbyist, people would be more interested but have less questions about its significance, merely assuming that he enjoyed looking at ladies with big breasts. All questions aside, it looks like turning into an amazing archive.

More details here and here.



Whither the Magazine? an update

They say you can only do another marathon when you’ve forgotten the agony of the previous one. The same could be said of producing a magazine. All the details that make it such an enormous undertaking are blithely ignored until they hit you around two thirds in.

This time round, The Mind’s Construction is being put together in a way that is sustainable. This not only means that it is being printed on recycled paper, but also that I’ve had to learn how to manage projects and generally Get Things Done in a way that doesn’t lead me to get ill (the more I think about it, the more I suspect that my appendicitis was connected to the pressure of the deadline).

I have often said that it isn’t worth producing issue one of a magazine unless issue two is certain to appear (and on time). It is because of this setting out of the grand plan (plus a lot of web design commitments) that issue one continues to be delayed. Rest assured, it will almost definitely appear in April. Spring is here, optimism is in the air: what can go wrong?



The Invisible Reading Room

A couple of months ago, I was gratified to receive an email from the Invisible Inc. art collective inviting The Mind’s Construction to take part in an exhibition devoted to “visual artists’ publications”.I don’t consider TMCQ to be a visual artists’ publication, but such an interpretation does offer insights into the status of small-scale magazines, which have always tended to be the product of one person’s egomania. I readily agreed, and have now been sent the proof that the pilot issue has travelled to the other side of the world.

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Seasons: a reckoning

Welcome to The Mind’s Construction Quarterly. The eagerly anticipated first issue will be published on 15th February 2006 1st March 2006 very soon.

A quarterly magazine, I would hazard, ought to publish a new issue around four times a year. When they appear is almost arbitrary – just so long as it is at regularly spaced intervals and each has an identifying issue number.

Some magazines, however, take it into their heads to align each number with the weather and, like a mention of Vivaldi, this inevitably leads one to think about the seasons. But when do seasons begin and end?

According to wikipedia, Spring can begin as early as February 1st and as late as April 1st. It all depends whether you go by the Traditional, Meterological or Astronomical calendars. And that’s just in the Northern hemisphere. Imagine the problems faced by an Anglo-Australian quarterly.

All of which leads me to the terrible news that the publication of the Spring issue of the Mind’s Construction Quarterly has been put back to the 1st March some time in April. I can guarantee that it will be worth the wait.



King Kong

It’s good, I think, to watch the season’s biggest blockbuster near the end of its run: the auditorium is deserted, critical opinion has exhausted itself and one can relax in the warm glow of the spectacle. Some people worry that knowing the ending or what critics think will spoil their enjoyment. Indeed, the internet is plastered with “spoiler warnings”.Surely any film worth its salt cannot be spoilt by knowing what happens. All art, even bad art, exists non-linearly. Surely, “knowing” what happens in a film is nothing in comparison with “seeing” it. No? The irony is that the first thing to disappears from the mind when watching a film like King Kong is critical opinion. It disappears because words can’t describe the vast visual textures of its depression-era New York – the melancholy animals in the zoo, the soup kitchens, the blanket of cars and cabs on the roads. It is quite overwhelming and utterly unreal.

After the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson had carte blanche to make any film he wanted to. That he (re)made King Kong – another 3 hour plus action film that mainly takes place in a fantastical pre-industrial world – is not quite as lazy as it first appears. For whereas Return of the King was about defeating evil, the universe of King Kong doesn’t appear to contain evil. The ‘bad’ humans in the film are venal, predatory, and self-interested, but not evil. Indeed, King Kong is perhaps best seen as an epilogue to the trilogy, making sense of a world without an inhuman, metaphysical evilThe problem with evil is that it’s an abstraction and human beings are not programmed to deal with abstractions on an emotional level. In the UK, people are more interested in protesting against fox hunting than they are in preventing the genocide of thousands of species due to deforestation. Peter Jackson, himself from a region that has seen genocide in living memory, understands this and so gives us a murder of a single (rather large) gorilla as a synecdoche for all the other animals..



Illness: A Judgement

What is the meaning of illness?I awoke up this morning with a runny nose, a sore throat and an ear ache. My thought processes were numbed yet strangely delirious. I started thinking about illness and how I was going to get better. I reminded myself that the delicate modernist classics of Kafka, Proust and (early) Nabokov were written in bed and in pain, so picked up my notebook and composed the above. Is it not a judgement, a sentence, passed down for crimes committed earlier? Everyday we get new reports about the dangers or benefits of lifestyle choices. Foods are encouraged one day and outlawed the next. A new morality is emerging that says: these days, no one is truly sick: they just need to live better.

The psoriasis on your left shin may be genetic, but it is aggravated by dairy products. And those inflamed tonsils may well owe their infection to the dirty air on the Ryanair flight to Prestwick, but the immune system had been systematically weakended by three nights of red wine. It is not difficult to trace illness back to a likely cause, to assign guilt on the basis of the available evidence.

Thus, as religion declines (in Britain at least), morality has been turned on its head, away from God and onto the supermarket shelves. Food has become moralized, labelled red for evil and green for good. Last night both Gillian McKeith and those policing Celebrity Fat Club revelled in pruritanism. Accusing, judging, converting: the language they use is explicitly religious, internalising good and evil. And still obesity levels keep rising. The fire and brimstone isn’t working.

Perhaps the trouble is with health itself. True health overflows its measure and cannot be bound by sustainable diets. The desire for a good debauch is a healthy one. The problem is with the cleverness of modern ways of satisfying those desires cheaply and dangerously. Henry VIII may have grown fat on suckling pig and sweetmeat, but imagine him now with Krispy Kreme donuts and Big Macs! The human animal, programmed to enjoy sweets and fatty food to make up for the deprivations of winter, suffers obesity when winter is enjoyed in warm houses with shops close by.