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Just Jot It January: Day eleven – Ashes and Heroes…

image I almost wish I didn’t have anything to write about today for Just Jot It January.
You know me, I’ll waffle on quite happily about any old rubbish, don’t get me wrong, but this challenge forces me to try and come up with an original or topical subject every day and today has brought me one that I really don’t want to have to write about.

Or rather, I’ve got to write about it for a reason I wish I didn’t have.

The Cracked Actor, The Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Major Tom; all names synonymous with originality and eclectic musical genius, all of whom would be worthy of the plaudits and tributes of their peers, even if they had only made individual contributions to our understanding of what makes popular music such an unquantifiable medium to express artistic individuality.

Except of course, we know that these flamboyant and larger than life characters were all facets of the same unique and groundbreaking artist, the one of a kind cultural chameleon who was David Bowie.

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I quite literally didn’t believe it this morning, when the very first story on my Facebook newsfeed informed me that possibly the greatest musical hero of my generation was no longer with us.

It’s difficult to imagine a British musical landscape without the genre-defying presence of a man who saw no incongruity in a career that embraced musical forms that included glam, pop, rock, new wave, dance and blue eyed soul, as well as an indefinable style that can only be described as Bowie-esque.
His influence and inspiration are so ingrained in our musical heritage, so far reaching and ubiquitous, that the idea of him no longer surprising us with another unpredictable reinvention is almost unthinkable.

If Mick Jagger had announced that the Rolling Stones were going to release a trip hop concept album, I suspect (no, I hope) that he would have been roundly mocked and told that he should leave that sort of thing to the youngsters.
And yet, when Bowie brought out a Drum and Bass record at the age of fifty, nobody batted an eyelid, because he’s David Bowie and that’s exactly the sort of thing we had grown to expect from him.

I mean, if one artist can produce a bombastic rock masterpiece and an ultra-slick soul classic in two consecutive years, then, musically speaking, all bets are off.
Which is precisely what made it so difficult for an industry obsessed with pigeonholing, to pin down a man whose hunger for change and personal discovery put him outside the normal definition of a pop star.
Because that is exactly why we loved him; we just didn’t know what he was going to do next.

The man who started his career as plain old Davy Jones achieved something that few, if any, musicians have managed before or since; to become an accessible and populist teen idle, an enigmatic underground cult figure, a genuine, stadium-filling Rock God, a movie star, a consistently original and influential visual artist and an almost universally loved national treasure and the true wonder of his astonishing legacy is that none of this seemed in the least bit contradictory or contrived.

I can’t remember a time in my life that hasn’t been soundtracked by David Bowie’s music.
Whether it was hearing the quirky psychedelia of The Laughing Gnome on Radio One’s Junior Choice as a kid, seeing the extraordinary video for Ashes To Ashes for the first time, or the shiver of emotion that came from hearing him tell the crowd that “You are the real heroes of this concert” at Live Aid, Bowie has always been at the forefront of innovation and he personifies what makes pop music such a fascinating art form.

I was initially shocked at how much emotion was stirred up by today’s sad news, but I suppose that, given the fact that here was a man who provided the soundtrack to my entire life, I shouldn’t be surprised that writing this post has caused a certain dampness around the eyes and a little difficulty in swallowing the lump in my throat.

I leave you with two milestones in a career that has spanned half a century of musical transformations; first the story of probably his most memorable creation, Ziggy Stardust, followed by his most recent release, Blackstar.

Goodbye and thank you Major Tom, it’s now time to leave the capsule if you dare.

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David Robert Jones: 08/01/47 – 10/01/16.

#JusJoJan

Pingback to Linda G Hill.

 

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The last rock ‘n’ roller…

I’ve been a huge fan of music for 40 years and over that time I have discovered a great many bands and artists who have stayed with me, such was the impression they made on me when I first heard them.

And when one of those cornerstones of my personal music heritage passes away, it always seems right that I should pay my respects somehow, even when the subject of any such tribute would almost certainly scoff at it for being over-sentimental nostalgic bollocks.

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Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister, 24/12/45 – 28/12/15.

My taste in music has always been eclectic, purely because (with the exception of embarrassing childhood purchases like The Bay City Rollers and Showaddywaddy) I have continued to listen to everything I have ever bought, so I’d never seen any contradiction in being a Pink Floyd fan who loved  Kraftwerk, or a Rush devotee who was also massively into New Order, although the tribal subdivisions of youth sometimes caused some friction, of the “you-can’t-be-a-headbanger-and-like-Gary Numan-too” variety.

All of which I ignored.

I didn’t want to be in their gang anyway. Or anyone else’s for that matter.

But then one band, one voice, one thunderous, gloriously over-the-top wall of noise arrived and for a while it was all that I listened to with my small group of junior metal-head school friends.

Even in an era where metal, punk and new wave were all still popular in the record shops and on the chart rundown every Sunday, this astonishing sonic assault was nothing like we had ever heard before and Motörhead soon became the very epitome of “heavy” rock.

And this particular blistering album by them was rarely off the turntables and tape decks of our teenage bedrooms at the time.

The band’s frontman, Lemmy, is credited with being everything from “the godfather of grunge” to “the hardest working man in rock” and was once described as having a voice “like a man who gargles with hot gravel”, but however the media portray him he has only ever described Motörhead as a rock ‘n’ roll band and has repeatedly corrected journalists who labelled them as “Heavy Metal”.

Lemmy did, after all, first find success in another of my all time favourite bands, Hawkwind, the stoner space rock collective who would eventually sack him for reliability issues brought on by his already herculean intake of amphetamines, resulting in his subsequent speed-related arrest on the Canadian border whilst on tour with them in the late ’70s.

Here he is playing with his trademark thundering bass style on perennial Hawks crowd pleaser, Silver Machine…

Undeterred, Lemmy formed Motörhead a few years later and has been fronting the rotating line-up ever since; their style never changing from the original frantic, bass strumming, drum galloping, speed soloing, throat shredding, grimy rock bulldozer that finally found them international fame with the archetypal Lemmy tune, Ace of Spades.

Seemingly indestructible for the last three decades or more, Lemmy Kilmister died today, only a short time after being diagnosed with cancer.

It’ll be a long time until someone who so perfectly embodies the term “rock ‘n’ roller” comes along again and the world will be a less entertaining place for his passing.

Killed By Death, indeed.

Like I said, he wouldn’t have given a toss about any fawning retrospectives on his contribution to music, so I’ll leave you with the best possible tribute to one of the world’s last real monsters of rock; the man in his own words.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Lemmy: The Movie, enjoy.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2015 in Arts, Music, Personal anecdote, Video

 

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Armistice, what armistice?…

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, in the eleventh month of 1918, the world marked what would be the beginning of the end of arguably the most horrific chapter in human history; World War One, or “The Great War” as it was then called, before we felt the need to enumerate man’s inhumanity to man.

I can only imagine the horror the world must have felt, seeing entire generations of families wiped out by the inexorable advance of modern warfare.
Soldiers barely old enough to leave school, slaughtered in their thousands, cannon fodder in an insane and terrifying conflict that was not of their making.

Men and boys forced to take the lives of others just like them, simply because they had the misfortune to be born on opposite sides of arbitrarily drawn geographical borders.
Rich and powerful men, safe in their expensive houses and clubs back home, making decisions that would blight the lives of untold millions of people, purely because mankind is incapable of showing compassion and dignity to itself.

You’d like to think that, whilst the world mourned and stood in remembrance of its fallen, the shame and realisation at what it had done would have somehow found a way to ensure such an utterly pointless waste of life could never happen again.
And yet, less than a generation later, the unspeakable violence of global conflict reared its blood-soaked head once more.
Even after a firestorm of nuclear destruction shocked the planet to its senses, our apparently innate aggression flares up again and again.

If you have trouble picturing exactly how warlike we have become as a species, take a look at this horrifying map; it shows the number of wars that are still raging around the globe as I write this post…

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{source: Wikipedia}

…although, for all I know, somebody could have started another one since this morning.

This failure to live together in peace and harmony far outstrips any advantage that may be derived from one nation conquering another, therefore I can only assume that our race actually enjoys the mindless massacre of innocent civilians and the laying waste to whole continents that inevitably results from our rapidly growing ability to kill greater numbers of people from more and more remote locations.

Perhaps future generations will look back at our homicidal folly and determine that there was something positive to be gained from the regular culling of the population, but I sincerely hope not.
The only thing that does occasionally spring from our habit of indiscriminately wiping out large chunks of our fellow travellers on this fragile ball of rock, is the artistic output of those who choose to chronicle the madness of such events.

Writers like Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and even Spike Milligan have all written powerful, evocative and sometimes heartbreaking accounts of their experiences at war and for that we should be forever grateful, not just because it means we have a record of these hostilities from those who were actually there, but because it may eventually go some way to convince us not to make those same mistakes again.

Popular music, however, doesn’t always convey that lesson quite so well, often managing only to sound mawkish or crass in its efforts to portray the thirst for peace.
So I thought I’d try to pick a few tracks that I think do that job as well as anyone can, considering the fact that no musician wants to write a song so depressing that nobody wants to listen to it.
I’ve picked three distinctly different styles, one which I guess you’d call folk music, one pop song and one by a band of bona fide rock legends.

Here then is my musical tribute to the many, many thousands of men and women who gave their lives so that we may enjoy the freedoms that we do today, I hope you find something that speaks to your personal feelings on the subject…

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2015 in Music, Social comment, Video

 

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If only we’d had more time…

For Linda.

When you fall in love, you inherit a whole lot of other people along with the one you fell in love with.

Sometimes they are the wonderful people the ones you are thankful for having met, folks you instantly click with and can talk to about anything.

Sometimes it’s the crazy lady who is growing old disgracefully, the one that people warn you about with a wry smile, the family character.

Sometimes they’ll be caring and supportive of your love for their relation, the one you fell for, welcoming you into the fold with open arms.

Sometimes they’ll make inappropriate jokes and comments that make you spit out your morning coffee, surprising you with a sense of humour far younger than their years.

Sometimes they will make you feel like a favourite child, delighted with the praise heaped upon you, swelling your chest with the pride of their approval.

Sometimes they are the sort to give stern warnings to look after their loved one, on pain of death.

And sometimes, if you are really, really lucky, you’ll meet someone who is all of those things, somebody who deeply touches your life in a short space of time, someone who you feel as though you’ve known your whole life by the end of your first conversation.

In my case, that person was Aunt Linda.

She was never anything but passionately supportive of my and Rhonda’s relationship, taking Rhonda’s word that she and Audrey were happy and giving her full blessing to their new life in England.

Everyone I introduced her to was equally bewitched, the latest only having met her a few days ago and already feeling as though they were life-long friends who could talk for hours.

My “new” Aunt, Linda Rowe, suffered a heart attack on Thursday night and I’m deeply saddened to say that she passed away last night.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have known her and my thoughts are with her immediate family, who must feel the loss of such a wonderful woman very keenly.

What is especially amazing is that, except for one brief chat on Skype, we never “met”. All our conversations took place on Facebook messenger because she was thousands of miles and eight timezones away.

Yet I have a very clear picture of the mischievous Linda; a bright and funny lady, irreverent, occasionally vulgar but always loving, a fan of Dr Who and Monty Python, an effusive and enthusiastic supporter of my blog, always with something nice to say about my writing and words of encouragement for Rhonda, on her big adventure in a country far away from home.

You don’t get people like Linda turning up in your life very often, so when you do you should make the most of them.
I think I, and anyone else who had the privilege to know her, have an awful lot to be grateful for.

We all loved you Aunt Linda, thanks for everything.

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Posted by on August 8, 2015 in Personal anecdote

 

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My friend, Chris: Farewell to an unlikely hero…

Your life is what you make it, but even more so, your life is what makes you.
If that really is the case, and I firmly believe that it is, a large chunk of my life is made up of Chris.

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I have written before about our early friendship, I have also written about his battle with alcoholism, a demon which he laid to rest some months ago with a strength of character I believe surprised even himself.
But now I have to write a post that holds none of the happy nostalgia or new hope that fueled those earlier installments, instead it has come time to write the final chapter and to say goodbye.

If ever there was someone I considered a permanent fixture in my life, it was Chris.
He and I clicked almost immediately, back in the far-off days of our teenage wild years, spent in his mum and dad’s large family home or one of my many bed-sits, (and before too long, the shared apartments, houses and flats of various friends, along with the many pubs and clubs in and around the leafy Sussex commuter belt town of Crowborough where we “grew up”, for want of a better term) and once we’d got to know each other, I don’t think there was any doubt we’d always be friends.

Although, from an outsider’s point of view, I’m sure that it was often hard to tell we were friends at all, for all the time we spent bickering and arguing.
Our debates, disagreements and differences of opinion took on something of a legendary status, to the point that people would stop what they were doing to come and spectate.
Yet we never actually fell out, or got into a serious fight over anything, there was always that underlying connection that protected our friendship from any lasting damage, that indefinable bond which we forge with our oldest friends, the one we don’t always name, but we all know is love.

So many of our cultural preferences are formed in those tumultuous, late-teenage years; music, literature and other, um, “recreational” activities, and Chris and I eagerly devoured each other’s record and book collections, so much so that I (at the time a staunch metal and prog rock fan) quickly developed a liking for Alien Sex Fiend and The Cure, whereas Chris started to appreciate the value of double concept albums and the five minute guitar solo. (to the extent that he recently told me he’d like “Sheep” by Pink Floyd to be played at his funeral)
And we both hated Genesis.
He is also largely responsible for my interest in reading science fiction and in particular the extraordinary Illuminatus! trilogy and the psychedelia-charged work of Philip K Dick and long-time Hawkwind collaborator, Michael Moorcock.

Despite the fact that we were out of contact for several years after I moved to Devon, when we met up again it seemed like no time had passed between us, the way it is with the strongest of relationships, we picked up where we left off as though the intervening years had been on fast-forward.

I’d like to think I was of some assistance to my old friend, helping him combat the illness that ultimately laid waste to so much of the life he had built for himself, even if it was only to apply my own brand of tough love, refusing to fall into the trap of reinforcing his behaviour or pandering to any denial of his problem.

But I cannot state strongly enough how Chris’s own willpower and desire to overcome his problems transformed him into someone I have recently heard described as “a hero” and “an extraordinarily strong person” by members of the many online support groups he joined as a part of his recovery.
Because the terrible irony that makes Chris’s story so tragic is that, as he pulled himself out of the dark place that drinking had taken him, it was only to be told that the effects had only been masking a more insidious enemy.

Chris was diagnosed with advanced esophageal cancer last summer.
It was a phone conversation I doubt I’ll ever forget.
He was remarkably matter-of-fact about it, saying; “I expect you know what I’m going to say don’t you?” after only the most casual of hellos, almost as if I should have been waiting for his call.

That phone call marked the start of Chris v2.0 as far as I was concerned:

The Chris who became so popular at some of his alcohol support groups (he once told me laughingly; “Hey, I’m an alcoholic AND I’ve got cancer, I’m practically a superstar!”) that he got requests to act as counsellor for whole sessions. His self-deprecating humour and lack of self-pity was obviously of great inspiration to his fellow sufferers.

The Chris who took phone calls from new group members at three o’clock in the morning when they needed advice and support.

The Chris who, only a few short years ago, would have scoffed at the thought that people from online forums from all around the world (both for sufferers of alcoholism and cancer) would be thanking him for helping them turn their lives around and for providing the foundation for personal strength and recovery.

The same Chris who, as I recently discovered, has been a source of enormous comfort and inspiration for a great many people affected by the terrible disease that has touched so many lives.

This is the spirit of the Chris I always knew, the core personality of the happy-go-lucky and generous friend I shared so many of my most important years with and the one I will always remember with love and affection, not to mention the fact that, with all we went through together, maybe I was just the lucky one.

A few weeks ago Chris was admitted to the hospice at Exeter hospital, where he was looked after wonderfully by the dedicated and cheerful staff, all of whom had obviously been affected by his unique charm and humour in the face of adversity.

I visited him a few times, once in the company of another old mate from Sussex and that day we were able to reminisce about old times and take him for a spin around the gardens and he was in pretty good spirits, if woozy from the painkillers.
Even then it was obvious he was moved by each new message from his “fans” on the internet that I passed on, but right up until the last time I saw him it seemed to escape him as to why so many people felt that connection with him.
He just didn’t get what it was about him that meant so much and endeared him to so many people.

To me, he was my friend.
It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.

Chris, my friend, died peacefully this Easter weekend, just as the world begins to come back to life.

It was chaotic, hilarious, frustrating, embarrassing, messy, loud, annoying, sometimes painful, (usually for him) childish and ridiculous for most of the time we spent together, (mainly for other people) even when we had supposedly grown up….

And this is the point at which I’m supposed to say;
“…and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

Except of course, I’d rather have it any way that meant Chris was still here.

Because, just think, if all these people who had only just met Chris v2.0, if they all loved him as much as they so obviously did, just think how much more good he could have done.

I think if he really knew how much he had touched us all…

…Oh alright, he would have told us we were all talking bollocks.

But we know.

Goodbye Chris, I love you mate.
I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have made the journey with.

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(He’d be SO pissed off if he knew I’d used this picture)

For Chris.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2015 in Personal anecdote

 

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Epilogue for our Terry…

I’ve always loved reading.

When I was a kid I was always fascinated by the power stories had to so completely take me there, to take me by the imagination and lead me off to new worlds and different times, each hungrily devoured book evoking a unique set of sensations and emotions, each new scene, character and location lovingly crafted by the resident director and set designer in my head, until I could instantly bring to mind’s eye any one of the hundreds of protagonists created by my favourite authors.

Because when you’re there, when you are in the story, nothing is more real than that moment, nothing matters more than what happens next.
Do the forces of good triumph over the evil villain?
Do the plucky kids escape the clutches of the terrifying monster?
Is there, when all is said and done, a Happy Ending for every Once Upon A Time?

That love of the written story, the appreciation of movies that are more cerebral than celluloid, has stayed with me ever since, so it was with immense sadness that I read of the loss this week of England’s most successful, widely loved and accessible author of recent times, Sir Terry Pratchett.

I’m sure I came to Terry’s work in much the same way that innumerable other soon-to-be-fans did, by having one of his satirical comic fantasy Discworld novels thrust upon me by an enthusiastic friend who had already been bitten by the Pratchett bug (in my case it was the fifth book Sourcery, introducing me to one of the many recurring characters in the series, the cowardly, accident prone but seemingly indestructible wizard, Rincewind) and I’m ashamed to admit that I experienced a touch of skepticism at first.

I had been a massive, possibly even annoyingly evangelical fan of the late, great Douglas Adams for many years and loved the witty and humorous spin he had put on the sometimes po-faced and oh-so-serious world of science fiction, but the more traditional sort of fantasy had always been a genre I’d had a problem getting into (I’ve never understood the attraction of the likes of Tolkien) so the thought of a comedy about wizards, witches, trolls and dwarves didn’t sound promising.

It just so happened that I was travelling to a family get together with my parents that weekend, so I took Sourcery with me in case I got tired of winding up my sister on the journey.

I read the whole thing, cover to cover without once looking up from the page, frequently laughing out loud and  grinning with the simple delight of how he wrangled language into such hilarious contortions, instantly etching images of a totally new universe into whichever part of my brain is responsible for absorbing literature.

From that moment I was hooked.

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Rarely has an author brought such a fully formed, completely original universe into existence, especially one filled with as many instantly relatable and likeable characters and situations as the Discworld.
You see the thing about the Discworld, other than it being an intrinsically magical place of course, a place where pretty much anything can happen, is that it’s here.

It’s our world.
Our society, our myths and legends, our bigotry and prejudice, our fears and paranoia, all transposed onto a flat disc that spins through the depths of space on the backs of four gigantic elephants, balancing on the even more gigantic shell of a ponderously swimming turtle, heading who-knows-where on its eternal journey across the cosmos.

That’s what makes the humour and observations on Ankh-Morpork society so immediate, so easily identifiable, because all of life is here, in all its everyday familiarity.
Because we all know someone like Fred Colon, we’ve all met a Nobby Nobbs or two and if we’re lucky we’ve got an elderly relative like Nanny Ogg.
And who hasn’t exchanged a few quid for the questionable wares of a local version of Cut-me-own-throat Dibbler after a night out drinking has sufficiently deadened the tastebuds?

Terry Pratchett tackled contentious issues like politics, racism and religious intolerance with razor sharp wit and biting satire, yet he didn’t preach.
He had a love of language unequal to almost any other writer I can think of, the joy of storytelling coming through in every word.
His ability to bring characters to life with the briefest phrase or nuance was second to none and his natural narrative style makes every one of his books nearly impossible to put down.

If writing was the only thing that made Terry special, then we’d still have lost a great man, but at the root of his popularity was his personality. His support for young writers and his willingness to engage with his audience, young and old, made him all the more likable, and that in itself somehow makes the books an even greater pleasure to read.

It leads to the feeling that Terry himself is nudging you and chuckling as you read one of the many hilarious footnotes that appear throughout the Discworld books, nesting jokes within jokes as though he just can’t resist having as much fun as he can with the words he weaves his world from.

For the last few years he has tirelessly campaigned for more research into and awareness of Alzheimer’s disease, and for the law governing medically-assisted suicide to be changed, to decriminalize the relatives of those who wish to assist their loved ones in ending lives of misery and indignity, and free them from the possibility of prosecution.

I once saw an interview with Terry, during which he said an old lady had written to tell him that when she died, she hoped that it was “your Death who comes to meet me”, referring to the strangely sympathetic and dryly humorous character of Death from the Discworld books.
I’ve also heard him talk very passionately about evolution and atheism, so I doubt very much whether he was expecting much more than fading peacefully away with his family gathered around him, which was the case when he passed away in bed on Thursday.
But it would be nice to think that, as the final scene faded to black, just for a few seconds the Shade of Terry Pratchett could look up into that oddly empty, black and starless sky, feel that gritty black sand beneath his rapidly fading feet, turn to the ice blue eyes burning from deep within those bony sockets and hear that tombstone voice;
“TIME TO GO SIR TERRY. WERE YOU RIGHT?”

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Goodbye Terry and thanks for everything.
28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015.

 

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