One week has passed since Brexit broke Britain – the proverbial straw. While everyone watched the camel’s back spasms, I was looking at all the elephants in the room – and the stubborn weeds from bare-faced racism to the smoke-and-mirrors masquerade of establishment gamesmanship and quintessentially English cruelty.
England is my part of Britain – the larger segment of what is a windswept isle found off the coast of Europe. All of our industries are long gone and many people sleepwalk toward an illusory Hollywood-style horizon, or simply shut down by self-comforting through digitised distractions. Some folks find respite or solace in listening to music (arguably many more people than would engage with writing or visual arts or multimedia or something else).
From The Kinks to Grime we’ve had our share of unique souls broadening sounds and minds: non-pop pioneers like Mick Jones or PJ Harvey or Rodney P, and young guns slinging their words on the street – like Present Minds. They and many others go some way in broadening the range of voices, and visions that diversify the possible views of our land.
So I gather that a younger you wanted to be a writer and you grew to attend university in order to write, and have since grown further to write some wonderful lines – some sung as lyrics, some spoken words, and some somewhere in between. When I was at your age of wanting to be a writer I, too, was wanting to be a writer. I went to America for a few years, solo, a self-styled walkabout. I wanted to be a writer, yet I was none the wiser.
I eventually came back to a place called home and mostly fell into a career in journalism. I caught the fag-end of journalism before it got consumed by churnalism. Today I tip-toe along some kind of tightrope career. I still write fiction. Decades later. I am wiser. I would love you to read my manuscript of a story set in Brooklyn. Some day.
Point being, I used to interview musicians among other types of artists and many people taking entirely different walks of life. Once Lee Scratch Perry told me “people funny boy” – quoting an old song of his own, one that I love. Perry’s three words have been my refrain since this past Friday’s Brexit vote – especially any time I glimpse the talking heads parroting lines and spinning yarns and gleefully laughing or shouting in Parliament or on the media carousel of story creation (not news coverage), the soundbites of TV and radio, the swipe-friendly snippets on my mobile phone screen.
Don’t get me wrong: tech can be helpful, liberating, amusing. I just found an old clip on YouTube: Bukowski, blatantly bored by a Belgian TV interview crew, tired of nudging the chat along abruptly stuffs a shot glass in his interviewer’s hand, clinks glasses and calls out some gravel-voiced “cheers” – more rousing than Mickey Rourke in Barfly “to all my friends”.
I’m not holding out for brandies at dawn but my bucket list does include this line: “look James Murphy in the eye.” Skype would be fine, though I’d prefer to meet. A momentary meeting is fine. Time enough to recount to you my meeting with Lou Reed: how he strolled over with his arm out and introduced himself and what happened next. But time enough, too, to glance ahead. As Fela Kuti said, “music is the weapon of the future.”
Yesterday I met with a friend over coffee and he briefly referred to his experience, some years ago, of having been attacked by a man wielding a hammer. My friend survived and resumed his work as a visual arts curator producing rare shows by rarer artists – for example a young lady who, as a child in the Balkan Wars, was lined up with nearly twenty members of her family and friends to be machine gunned down. She lost very nearly all of her family that day, and some of herself yet survived to tell stories through photography and other platforms.
My talented curator friend is able to laugh about surviving his own hideous incident. So in the light of Brexit he reflected on how his head had responded to the hammer attack in a funny way: he started listening to The Smiths, and The Smiths alone, and as much as he could, and over and over. Somehow solace. Chacun à son gôut, hein? I hope never to be as unlucky to suffer any such attack but if so, I would hope my head survives and drives me to a playlist of Fela Kuti, Gainsbourg, Public Enemy, and yes your band, among others on repeat. Music is sacred.
James, this past Friday culminated many centuries of subterfuge and misrepresentation of my mongrel island – founded and built and sustained by migrants. Even my nation’s traditional identifier, “Anglo-Saxon”, is a signpost: it’s not the original Danish or German tribes, or any mixed social milieu that hold lasting significance but the hyphen that expresses their joining together.
The cynical campaigning and self-obsessed careering and hypocritical pot-kettle-black slander erupted a week ago. Since then the hot burning sub-cultures of racism and sibling isms have bubbled out for all the world to see. At the risk of wielding a disproportionately dramatic metaphor, my sovereign nation has been committing a kind of self-immolation, in slow motion, throughout the week.
Without hyperbole – and with an accurate use of literally – literally millions of people feel the same: like we’re being slapped in the face, again and again, and a tad harder than usual (of course nothing as severe as suffering head trauma from hammer blows). The only good thing about this past Friday was that by the end of it, somehow, I had stumbled upon your band’s song and video: “Losing my edge”.
Hence my letter to you. Your song, despite it being more than a decade old, just fit my particular here and now. It struck a chord, chimed with my pulse. The track is infectious, the song is an ear worm, and deciphering the wordplay a joy. Your video proved quite compelling. Stark. Frank. Fun. The beat was pretty damn good too – I was hooked like Janet Jackson (yes, this is one of your anecdotes that I heard you tell on You Tube).
A week is a long time etc. I’ve grabbed time enough to hear you talk, casually, about many topics, and I’ve listened to your music, and best of all I’ve laughed aloud – raucously with the laughter of acknowledgement – at your funniest videos. So I’ve playfully spy-hopped around the web like a digital dolphin in search of now.
Now I am writing to thank you for your writing.
Tomorrow I will listen to your band’s music and it will make me smile, and dance awhile.
One day I would love to look you in the eye. Consider this an open invitation to stop by for a cup of tea if you’re ever passing through our small island again. Or if you have the time, please stop for some food – my wife’s family’s African-Indian heritage means I’m well practised in warmhearted hosting and generous platefuls. I gather you’ve visited Manchester before, among other places. So perhaps Manchester. Maybe somewhere else.
Reach for love.