Oblique Aphorisms #1

Aphorisms, apparently, are pithy observations which contain general truths.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Source unknown

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Evelyn Beatrice Hall, expressing in her words the view of Voltaire

“Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.”

Samuel Johnson

Samuel_Johnson_by_Joshua_Reynolds_2

Picture of Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds

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Grime: An Oblique View

Grimes

I have been challenged by Mr Oblique Junior to explain why I think he likes the musical genre of Grime. I had intended to write a post about Grime anyway, but this gives me a way to approach it.

Now listen carefully if you don’t know anything about Grime. According to Google, it is “a form of dance music influenced by UK garage, characterised by machine-like sounds”. It is not hip-hop, which features “rap with an electronic backing”; but apparently, our researchers tell us, it “draws influence from dancehall, ragga and hip-hop” (Wikipedia).

Clear? No, of course not. A curse of modern music is the continual argument about what defines a particular genre, to the extent that there have even been fictional genres created and believed. I like the idea of “Progressive Death Country”, although William Gibson was ahead of everybody else with fictional bands “Dukes of Nukem”, “Lo/Rez” and their ilk. No, I won’t explain. Go read William Gibson.

Grime is a particularly English genre. Prominent figures are Stormzy, Skepta and Dizzee Rascal. To appreciate what it is actually like you of course have to listen to it. To me, after some limited exposure, it’s characterised by a very bare, stripped down musical sound, almost minimalist dance music with often clever elements of electronica, with lyrics rapped in what seems to me frequently to be a very slow style across the top. But, as I said, you have to listen to it to appreciate what it is.

What seems to characterise it lyrically is a preoccupation with sex and violence, and usually a focus on the personal life- even the life as a celebrity- of the writer. I am not necessarily referring to any of the artists  named.

There really is in some of it a very dismissive attitude towards women and what really grates on this middle-class, late middle-aged, rather liberal-minded, white male listener is the frequent use of the N-word and the B-word. Oh, go on, you know the words I mean.

I’ll probably keep my f***ing b*****s ’til I’m 49”

goes the lyric I’m being played at the moment. Although that may not be grime, I believe.

“I make her think I love her, so I can f*** her when I want.”

However, to put my point of view was not the aim of this blog. Why does my 21 year old son like Grime?

He is very open about music, and will patiently listen to my choices, to the point of planning to come to a techno gig with us. I wonder if to some extent the fact that I am uncomfortable with the lyrics is a factor in his liking for it. Although we might deny it (I certainly did- but see “An anecdote” below) there is perhaps for all of us a wish to move on from the music of our parents and perhaps to shock them; or just to find something that is our own, and definitely not theirs.

I am sure that this wish is often unconscious, and I am sure that this is not the only reason or the main reason for Mr Oblique Junior liking Grime. The music is very striking, bare, new and challenging. It is a very fresh and young form of music; I wonder if anybody over 30 makes it or really gets it. It’s rebel music for a new generation. I speculate that this is the appeal to him.

So there you are. It is of course about the music, but it’s also about the cultural aspects. Popular music is all about change, and all about moving on from the choices of previous generations. Disco (still don’t really get it), punk (oh yes), and then electronica (definitely) were all new forms of music that moved me on from the rock music of my teenage years. But certainly for me, Grime is beyond the point at which I can understand my children’s choice in music. No, I don’t really understand why Mr O. Jr. likes it. Try asking him.

Please note: I almost certainly don’t understand the nuances of the N word as used in grime and hip-hop. Apparently the spelling, with an -a rather than an -er, makes it acceptable when used by certain groups.

An anecdote: When I was a teenager, I only used to listen to records when my parents were out. When they came back from the shops one day, Tony McPhee of the Groundhogs was concluding a rather noisy feedback guitar solo on that catchy little number, ‘Split Part 4’. My father and I had a very rare parent/ teenager spat:

HIM: Do you call that music?

ME: It’s better music than your silly old Beethoven.

Ho-hum. He did later go in with me on a new hi-fi system we could listen to away from the living room.

 

‘Underworld’ by Don DeLillo

I wanted so much to like this novel, because it was given to me at a special time (see ‘A Literary Wedding‘) and it looked like a special book.

Hopeful anticipation is always in danger of disappointment. I want to consider carefully why it didn’t really live up to my expectations.

It begins with a prologue, set at an epic baseball game in the 1950s. Characters include Frank Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover, a radio commentator and a boy playing truant to attend.

Next setting is an art installation in the middle of nowhere, at which redundant aircraft are being painted by volunteers. We meet Nick Shay and start to discover his life; it appears he might be the first-person protagonist of the novel. Themes from the baseball game start to reappear, and I feel I’m getting a grip on it, just. Then Mr de Lillo drops in a chapter where every paragraph is a different part of Nick’s life, and I start to find it wearying.

We encounter the civil rights movement, student protest, nuclear bombs and the Cold War, comedian Lenny Bruce, the baseball from the epic game, The Highway Killer, another possible murder, Jesuits, adultery, chess and a miraculous apparition. Among others. Viewpoints, settings and chronology vary wildly.

It’s a book of epic length, 827 pages in the paperback edition, and soon I started making notes. I’ve done this with Dickens and Tolstoy, to keep track of the characters. With ‘Underworld’ I did it to keep track of the plot.

There is some beautiful writing in it: “They’re all back there in the railroad rooms at the narrow end of the night.” The speech of Italian/ Americans is evocatively written. There are some superb set-piece descriptions, for example of the enormous art intstallation of painted aircraft.

UnderworldI am very aware that I’m not a literary reader; I am primarily plot-driven. I can’t grasp the overall narrative arc (or do I mean plot?) of the story. Is it centred on nuclear warfare? The baseball? A murder? A life- Nick’s? I’ve briefly looked at reviews, which seem universally good, and have seen the novel described as “cinematic”; but this is clearly not plot-driven mainstream cinema. I searched in my mental cultural database for a suitable comparison, and could only come up with the Beatles track ‘Revolution Number 9’, which has a similar repetition of themes, only perhaps without the closer ties of the narrative themes in ‘Underworld’. I am however reminded of other variations of chronological narrative structure, such as ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell as well as books by Martin Amis and Sebastian Faulks. I can’t at the moment think of any that are particularly satisfying. (William Gibson tends to write in trios of chapters, each centered on a particular protagonist, but brings them all together eventually; and there are of course flashbacks in all sorts of novels. I am not familiar with more experiment work; I am not going to attempt James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’. As I have remarked before, I am over reading books because I think they will be good for me.)

In the end, I just wanted to get to the end, which is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book.

Oh, and it’s too big, at least for a paperback. It makes my wrist ache. This is a good reason for Kindles.

Fashion Police Bulletin #3

Before we get going on our latest bulletin, the Fashion Police would just like to clarify their position on gender. That is…. we don’t care about gender. Identify how you like. Dress according to however you see yourself. (And in our humble opinion, unisex toilets would be a very civilising influence on those who identify as male. However, this is moving away from our role as arbiters of good fashion taste.)

Nevertheless, there are many- dare we say a majority- of people who do identify quite clearly with traditional male or female genders. Thus we use these terms when necessary, without implying that they are binding or exclusive, or that you should necessarily dress according to your stated or self-identified gender, if you wish to state it or self-identify it. Indeed, we saw a gentleman (for his beard implied to us that that was how he saw himself) in Southampton the other day in a very fetching dress and make-up. The Fashion Police applaud such individuality and flair.

Colour The Fashion Police find themselves in the happy position of being able to start this bulletin with thorough approval of the brighter shades that are making some sort of a comeback this Spring. This is most evident in shops, and seems to be trickling through to the high street. While it is generally not the Fashion Police’s role to be prescriptive, we thoroughly approve.

Ready-Ripped Clothing We hate to labour a point, but we are very perturbed to find that our views on ripped jeans (see Bulletin #2) have been ignored; in fact that there is evidence of ‘artfully’ ripped tops being for sale. In one horrific example, the holes looked much like bullet holes. Don’t do it (Penalty according to extent of pre-ripping.)

T-shirtWriting on T-shirts The other day we saw a young lady (for that is presumably how she self-identified) with a neat T-shirt, on which was printed the word “……imist”. The dots are to indicate that none of us could see the rest of the word. “Optimist”? “Pessimist”? “Soroptimist”? (We have never worked out what that last one means.) Now we could have stared intently at her chest until we could see the word clearly, but the male members of the Fashion Police felt this was inappropriate. The moral? Please don’t wear a T-shirt with writing on unless you are happy to have people look at your chest. Especially not long texts; some of us are not happy until we have read them all. No penalty; just a word to the wise. (I’ve been dying to use that expression since I heard it on EastEnders the other night.)

Sports Short In a well-known clothing store today there was a banner advertising a “Sports short”. In another part of the store there was a banner advertising “T-shirt and shorts”. Are we missing something? Is a “short” different from a “pair of shorts”? Is this a protest against an archaic use of the word shorts, as a plural for what is now a singular item? Or is it just sloppy thinking? You may well argue that this is totally outside the remit of the Fashion Police. You’d be wrong. Sort it out, P*****k.

Back-to-front Baseball Caps Still? Are they all taking the mickey? After all we have said?

 

My poetic heroes

Roger McGough. Brian Patten. T.S. Eliot. Adrian Mitchell. Robert Graves. Rupert Brooke. And did I mention T.S. Eliot?

What was this straight-seeming chap doing shaking the foundations of poetry; re-making it? He looked like a bank manager, for goodness’ sake. (Hey, fellow pedants, check out the discussions on the web about that apostrophe.)

As usual, I don’t know enough about it. I’m probably talking rubbish. Who cares? It’s my right to write rubbish and your right to ignore it.

But, T.S. Eliot….. “I grow old…. I grow old/ I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled.” Just read it. Don’t try to ‘understand’ it.

thomas_stearns_eliot_by_lady_ottoline_morrell_1934

An idle lexicographic collection

Just for my amusement. It’s so trivial I haven’t even shared it on Facebook.

This is merely a collection of phrases I like and want to preserve, as I feel some of them are dying out.

“We’re going to hell in a handcart……” A lovely evocation of despair. I thought this had disappeared, then I heard it used on the BBC TV programme ‘Midwives’ just after I started to write this. I tend to use it ironically!

It’s black over Will’s mother.” Used to describe a louring sky. I have no idea who Will or his mother might have been. Often used by my grandmother.

Often I feel it in my water: There is something I have a deep gut feeling about. This must be a pretty old one.

You are a person of sound bottom, meaning you are thoroughly reliable, not referring to your backside.

Where will it all end? Graveyard mould.” A cheery one of my grandmother’s.

OK U.S. marines, let’s go! This must have come from a film, and my children must have been sick of how often I used it. Along with this goes: Let’s move before they raise the parking rate!A song quote. No prizes for the source… anybody?

That’s enough of all this rubbish.

A Quick Word: Populist

How is it that ‘populist’ is a derogative word? What does it mean, anyway?

It appears to me that it currently is often used to describe a “view that is held by a large number of people but is however wrong”. (This is my middle-class, middle of the road, moderately well-educated understanding of the current situation; and please note that I am still sitting so resolutely on the fence as regards matters like Brexit that I have, as MSC would no doubt agree, got splinters embedded in my rear.)

My admittedly old print dictionaries (Collins and Oxford) do not have it. My Kindle dictionary (Oxford) gives the noun as a “person who supports or seeks to appeal to the concerns of ordinary people”. Hence the adjective. This is hardly derogatory and hardly my received impression from the 2017 media. So I went online to find out more.

Wikipedia says that populism mobilises “a large alienated element of a population against a government which is seen as controlled by an out-of-touch closed elite that acts on behalf of its own interests” and that it is often used pejoratively. (Wikipedia populist)

Other websites (there were over 12 million hits for populist) see populism as alarming (300 000 hits for populist & alarming) or a danger (500 000 hits for populist & danger).So it has presumably become a pejorative word. In what way?

Jeremy Corbyn, quoted on Sky News, criticises the populist right. (Sky News article) I found 615 000 hits for populist & left wing, with only 50 000 more for populist & right wing. Not a huge difference. Mr Corbyn, according to the Independent, is to be relaunched as a left wing populist. (Independent article) So it seems to be used for either left or right wing views, often in a negative way.

Obviously there is some confusion about a definition and, perhaps sadly, some misappropriation by left and right of the word “populist”, on its own, as a derogatory term to suit particular agendas. I find the definition of “supporting or seeking to appeal to the concerns of ordinary people” to be clear and useful; it would be nice if it were always to be used this way, if necessary linked to either “right wing” or “left wing” for clarity.

However, I don’t control the media……

populist
Couldn’t think of a picture…..