Saturday, 31 December 2016

‘2016’ or ‘I Heard Enola Gay Playing in the Supermarket Last Night and it Sparked Off This’ or 'It Starts Vaguely Political But Gets Self-Involved Very Quickly'

One of the most 80s videos ever

Given the apocalyptic turn of events this year has taken it seems apt that one of my last moments before 2016's demise involved walking through the aisles of Morrisons Peckham in a semi-sedated state, the supermarket PA system pumping out OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’. The melancholy synth pop anthem was released at the start of the 80s and 2016 feels pretty damn 80s to me: fascism, war, hard-line conservatism, austerity, counterculture weeded out, yuppie gentrification stretching its tentacles throughout the city. My music taste is clearly still stuck in the 80s as well.
All the political horror has happened since the 80s of course, it just all feels worse this year. Maybe we never noticed as much before because there wasn’t a mass cull of all the good celebrities, hence reminding us of our own, and the planet's, numbered days. But with the horror of Trump and Brexit, it’s hard not to contemplate these being end times. 
The ‘Enola Gay’ of the title refers to yet another apocolypse of the not-that-distant-past: the dropping of the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima by the US. This too feels apt, global tensions being what they are. I don’t want to belittle what has gone on between now and the 80s but perhaps it just seems like all that has gone before is heading towards its bitter conclusion and you can sit on social media scrolling up and down, watching everything burn.


More 80s music

Is art gonna save us all? Probably not. Though I do believe in the transformative power of art to some degree. Amanda Palmer recently said that being an optimist she thought Donald Trump was going to make punk rock great again, a silver-lining to his horror.  A naive, privileged thing to say at best, though I do feel vaguely sorry for her, dreadful politics she may have on certain things, but unlike another of my musical heroes prone to saying dumb shit in interviews, Morrissey, I don't think her motivations are due to being an actual cunt and I'm not sure how much of one comment at a press conference to take to heart or why everyone cares so much about what she thinks and if I got that much shit on Twitter I would hide under my bed crying FOREVER. That doesn’t make her statement any less cringeworthy mind or less like the type of thing a 17 year old punk boy mansplaining politics to impress a girl at a party would say. Another ridiculous thing about Palmer’s statement is the lack of recognition of the fact that musicians ALREADY have shit loads to be angry about and even if Hilary had been elected she still would have continued bombing the shit out of many a country containing brown people, deporting ‘illegal’ (poor/brown) immigrants, not pardoning Chelsea Manning, not closing Guantanamo Bay, etcetera. That is why the Le Tigre pro-Hilary song was so utterly nauseating, though I still love Kathleen Hanna and think she is inspirational on many other fronts.


Of all the tragic celebrity deaths I am probably saddest about Carrie Fisher. I did like Star Wars but what’s awesome about Carrie was the fact that she was one of the few people in the media who really genuinely made me laugh with her genius wit and unfiltered demeanour. Her openness about addiction and mental illness was also so very important to me. I think my favourite Carrie Fisher performance was actually in the 30 Rock episode, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, in which she plays a washed up, slightly crazy, once ‘cutting edge’ writer, Liz Lemon’s comedy idol. She inspires Liz to quit her job so the two of them can write subversive comedy together and stick it to The Man. It is later revealed that Carrie’s character lives in a flat amongst rats and swigs from a thermos of whiskey throughout the day, Liz soon comes crawling back to the land of high-grossing, banal comedy conformity. Fisher’s performance is wonderful. I’ve been wanting to read Carrie’s various memoirs and biographies for ages. I don’t really feel mentally in a place to make new year’s resolutions at this time but if I do set one, it’s going to be to read Carrie Fisher's entire literary back catalogue.


Other than revisiting articles and interviews by Carrie Fisher I read a couple of other really awesome things about mental health this year. One was the graphic novel ‘Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me’ by EllenForney which is about her experiences with bipolar disorder. It's poignant, funny, honest and hopeful. I recommend it to everyone, but particularly if you struggle with mental illness. Also she's queer. This morning I read this account of depression by Tim Lott in the Guardian which I missed back in April when it was first published. Whatever you think of Tim Lott in general, it really is worth reading. Very beautiful and absolutely spot on.


The best book I read this year was ‘A Little Life’, if you enjoy having your heart ripped out and you wanna read something horrific about the way past trauma is always present as an adult then I would recommend it. I know that doesn’t sound very appealing but books that move me like ‘A Little Life’ make me feel less alone in the world. Though it didn’t actually come out in 2016.

The book I am currently reading is ‘Swing Time’ by Zadie Smith, which did come out this year and is awesome. I can’t give a conclusive report as I am only two thirds of the way through. I love the sense of cool detachment that comes through in the narrator's voice, even when recounting difficult things. I think this rings true of how a lot of people relate to and recall their experiences. Corny as it sounds I think many people are driven to write because they feel as though they’re on the outside looking in at life in some way, they’ve had to compartmentalise themselves and detached observation is surely a way to stay sane at times. The narrator of ‘Swing Time’ is a mixed race girl from a council estate; the book is far from gratuitous, stereotyped poverty porn, but poverty and racism are experiences of the narrator’s formative years, as well as difficult relationships with family. I have no idea whether a sense of detachment drove Zadie Smith to become a writer herself but the cool tone of the narrative certainly struck a chord with me and the story felt compelling and true. It also illustrates wonderfully what happens when the celebrity ego collides with third world charity drives and how white saviours generally do more harm than good. I love literature that can express important ideas without being preachy. I also adore Zadie Smith forever and ever. Hearing her present a show on 6 Music (sadly no longer on iplayer) earlier this year was my radio highlight.


My favourite TV of 2016 was ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’, ‘Planet Earth II’ and ‘Black Mirror’. ‘Black Mirror’ was smoulderingly dark genius as usual. I think the most disturbing episode, ‘Shut Up and Dance’, was my favourite even though I watched it before bed resulting in a sleepless night. I love TV that you need to discuss. ‘Planet Earth II’ was largely wonderful although the occasional comedy music when an animal did something that looked a bit silly, or referring to a male birds’ nest as a ‘bachelor pad’ got tiresome. I mean, come the fuck on, I’m pretty sure heteronormativity is a human construct.
‘Crazy Ex Girlfriend’ I gather began before this year, but I didn’t know about it until season 2 came out and everyone started going on about it, so I watched it from the beginning. Season 1 is literally the best thing EVER. For the uninitiated, Crazy Ex Girlfriend is a comedy co-written by and starring Rachel Bloom, about a Jewish woman who is a top New York lawyer on the verge of a nervous breakdown, who becomes obsessed with her ex ‘boyfriend’ (the guy she dated at summer camp when she was 16 and then never saw again) after bumping into him in New York. She then follows him back to his dead end home town of West Covina, California, moving there herself, whilst all the time doggedly insisting to both herself and others that he ‘just happens to be here’. AND if that isn’t enough it’s a fecking musical.  WHAT IS NOT TO LOVE? Unfortunately Season 2 is not as good as the first one but still pretty watchable, and there are definitely some gems (such as the take-off of R Kelly’s ‘Trapped in the Closet’). The show is centred around a straight white woman and no one could say it has ground breaking race politics but to it's credit it has more POC actors than most mainstream US comedies and also features an inter-generational gay relationship which you don’t really see very often on TV.


I moved house twice this year. Once in March and once a couple of days ago. The first time I moved to the most expensive place I’ve ever lived, despite the fact it was a one-bedroom flat which my housemate and I turned into a two bed by converting the living room, because London. It was a disaster. I’m now lying amongst boxes which I probably won’t unpack for the next three months.
I’m cautiously hopeful for the new place (in London rentals, cautiously hopeful is the best you should ever be): I live right by Peckham Rye common and the gloomy morning fog over the grass is spectacularly gothic. Also, there is an actual TV and a fecking Christmas tree. I haven’t lived in a house with either of these things for about eight years. I’m pretty excited about the TV, even if it’s just a bigger screen upon which to watch the apocalypse.


I started playing violin. Which is ridiculous - I look 12 but I am actually 33 years old and I can’t even play the instruments I’m supposed to know how to play, no matter how much I practise. For those unfamiliar with trying to learn violin, it’s one of the hardest things ever to play and doesn’t stop sounding like a cat being strangled until you’ve played for 3 years or something (and even then it probably won’t sound good) which is why the only people who become professional violinists began playing when they were two years old or something, but screw it, I FUCKING LOVE IT. I don’t really care how it sounds at this stage, though I am concerned it may alienate me from all my new housemates. I kind of wish I cared more for classical music but it was more Owen Pallett and the Dirty Three and tracks like PJ Harvey’s ‘Plants and Rags’ and Leonard Cohen’s (RIP) ‘The Guests’ that made violin stand out for me.

I have watched this video 8 million times

I started playing bass, trying to imitate Kim Deal, which I will never be able to do but you’ve always got to aspire to something greater than yourself else you might as well just top yourself. I began playing so the queer heavy metal band I ‘sing’ in -Twinken Park- could also have a bass player.

I joined a band called End Men the night before I played my first gig with them. Then we had one other practice together, the line-up changing yet again, and we played another gig, which seemed to go down very well. I thought it was a total shambles and barely knew what was going on when I was onstage despite being relatively sober, but maybe the shambles was what everyone liked. I loved the spontaneity of End Men and also the fact that I could jump around shouting un-obstructed by attempts to play an instrument. We had a song called ‘The Good Men Project’ about guys who think they’re hella feminist because they don’t pay for sex but actually probably should have to pay for all the sex they have cos why the hell would anyone want to fuck them for free? The boyfriend of one of my bandmates response to seeing a video of us playing was, ‘I could see you were all playing the same song, just not at the same time’. We also covered Geri Halliwell’s notorious song about white privilege, ‘Look At Me’, ‘Die Young’ by Ke$ha and ‘I Want to Kiss You’ by The Spook School but we changed ‘kiss’ to ‘fist’ because the rest of the lyrics really do lend themselves to fisting.

A song about fisting?

I still love playing with my longest-running band Faggot though I wish we did it more. We played Synthpunk fest at DIY Space for London which was a highlight of the year for me. 

Sometimes anxiety, depression and despair can put a real damper on your creativity, but at the same time these are the impulses which I convert into shouty synthpunk songs and as someone who has a million problems expressing rage these are the safety valves that keep me from imploding, or at least they help.


After making a fuck ton of big plans, I couldn't face going out tonight. The pressure to be happy and have a great time on NYE is pretty horrible when you’re not feeling super upbeat. I’m staying in and watching action films on the couch with my housemate. To make up for being so masc and un-depraved  this evening -and as I began a post about 2016 with a song from 1980,- I leave you with one of my favourite videos this year from gender-blurring, homo queer genius Mykki Blanco. New Year's love to all those whose existence is untranslatable.