26 November 2010

keep music miserable

Judge a book by its cover? Me? Well maybe a little bit.

Alright, I admit it. I don’t find it necessary to carry out a full assessment when a cursory glance with a practised eye will tell me all I need to know; will warn me of potential boredom. Time is too short to waste sieving babies from bath water!

Take film genres for example. Scanning a review, I only have to spy the words ‘heart warming,’ ‘inspirational,’ ‘wacky’ or (heaven save us) ‘screwball adventure’ and I read no further. No good can possibly come of wallowing in such drivel. Now, take ‘supernatural,’ ‘paranormal,’ ‘horror,’ ‘alien...’ all these will catch my eye. If I should detect ‘exorcism,’ ‘abduction,’ ‘conspiracy’ or ‘vampire’ in the same paragraph then I’m sucked in.

It’s true, I am swinging wildly between extremes here. But that’s not a bad trait, eh? You know where you stand, or at least I do! That’s not to say I won’t ever watch a ‘chick flick.’ I have been known to allow these in my DVD player and even permit a slight grin or release a low chuckle at a ‘hilarious comedy’ but I’m happiest in my preferred habitat – ‘dark,’ ‘serious,’ ‘psychological thriller,’ ‘alternative comedy...’ you get the picture.

Is there a possibility I may have missed some subtle and engaging story by my dismissive choices? Perhaps. Over the decades I estimate I have dumped several million gallons of bathwater so there is a chance I have thrown out a baby or two. (Gently of course!) But that’s ok they do bounce!

I have an interesting DVD collection. Some would say, scary, black, depressing and troubled but hey, I own the musical ‘Oliver’ and the ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy so it’s not all doom and gloom! (Says the proud owner of ‘The Shining,’ ‘The Exorcist,’ ‘The Omen’ and ‘Silence of the Lambs!’

In fairness, even I detect a trend here. I prefer ‘sad’ over ‘happy,’ ‘ironic’ over ‘funny’ and ‘bleak’ over ‘uplifting.’ This is even more true of my music collection. I haven’t counted (yet) but I would bet more than fifty per cent of my music is in a minor key! Whoever said “the only good songs are sad songs” has a powerful point. (Actually it might have been me!) Wait a minute, I have R.E.M.’s ‘Shiny Happy People’ on their album ‘Out of Time.’ But that’s ok, I usually skip that track!

Music stirs the emotions and mostly, though I concede by no means always, the darker emotions, sorrow, loneliness, loss, fear and disappointment. There is nothing missing from my collection of Pink Floyd, Radiohead or Dire Straits, to cite a few dinosaurs, and they are largely miserable. Fantastically miserable! A melody may be evocative of a certain mood but the lyrics coax that mood to full bloom. Consequently I can’t listen to anything bland or repetitive. I demand quality lyrics that can stand alone as poetry. Gloomy poetry of course!

Whoever heard of a happy poem? That would be a limerick! Poetry is another example of art appealing to the darker emotions and surely best exemplified by pieces like Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth” or Ted Hughes’ “The Thought Fox.”

All of this rambling thought brings me to my long-held conviction that the best artists, be they in the fields of literature, poetry, music or even comedy, are mainly mad or sad or both. Yes even comedy, the very best comedy, is a hair’s breadth away from sadness and madness. Pathos is powerful. Try laughing uncontrollably and you’ll quickly realise you’re crying really.

Most of this boils down to depressive thinking. To depict suffering in words or oils, in reality or irony, first you must study suffering. That’s just one example. But consider the various dark corners artists repeatedly explore, despite the warnings of those who have gone there before: death, despair, futility, anger, hatred and regret. It’s not surprising that some of the most exceptional authors, poets, songwriters and clowns have succumbed to depression and madness. I used to have a list of all those who suffered but it grew so long it became redundant.

Therefore, art equals misery and insanity. Q.E.D.

... now where was I? Oh yes, having fun!

15 November 2010

the label maker

The eagle-eyed among my select readership will have noticed the appearance of labels on my entire blog archive. Michelle suggested this idea as a way for her to delve into my literary nonsense with at least some direction. Speaking as an indefatigable cataloguer, lister and categoriser, self-certified neat freak and all-round terminal Virgo, it is frankly astonishing that I hadn't done this sooner!

So, after three hours of browsing, choosing and applying labels, there is now a "tag cloud" sitting ominously in my sidebar leading the curious to fictional flights of fancy, pompous pontifications and rip-roaring reviews. For those with a visual preference, many posts still carry links to my photo site. This has proved an interesting trip down memory lane.

I found the exercise supremely satisfying. Similar but on a slightly smaller scale to completing the writing of my "Memoirs to Age Fifty," listing my complete worldly possessions, scanning my three thousand 35mm photographs, tagging them all along with the fourteen thousand or so digital photos in my files. It leaves me feeling comfortable. Yes, tidiness is very soothing in a chaotic world, therapeutic even.

There came a time when I couldn't rest until my music, film and book collections had been catalogued in Excel spreadsheets. Now for example, I can sort the whole music file into alphabetical order by band, chronological order by release date, alphabetical order by genre, chronological order by purchase date, ascending order of purchase price, descending order of personal star-rating and... need I go on?

... ok I will. I have all fourteen hundred CDs ripped to mp3 on my hard drive (with obligatory backup of course).

My stamp collection includes used examples of almost every British issue since 1840 and mint examples of everything since 1900. My coin collection is practically complete with every British coin minted since 1837 (plus a fair quantity of European, American and Canadian examples). Oh, and of course they are all catalogued in exciting spreadsheets! I had weeks of fun scanning the coins (both obverse and reverse naturally)!

Is it all a sickness, an affliction of details? Probably. But does it rule my life? Not that you would notice, I hope!

Now, where's my label maker? :)

Someone shoot me if I start printing labels for "TV," "couch," "fridge," "spoon..."