Vicious but fair?

Desert Island Discs. We all do that thing where we pick our choices, yes? Or get part-way through, or come over all excited and find we’ve chosen twelve that absolutely have to be in there, before – having treble-checked with a responsible adult that it’s a relentless, brain-jangling, relationship-busting eight – we combust. Eight. Only.

Life lurches, again: this theoretical bastion of ease, this very symbol of Beebism and aural-pastoral reassurance becomes yet another bloody angst-apocalypse. Shit! Is this COOL ENOUGH? Are there at least two tracks here that only four people in the UK would have chosen? (In my case) given that I’m happy to sling out the universe of ‘classical’ – entirely through ignorance – do I have to give a wee nod to Free-form Jazz/Black Music/DEVO/Albanian Prog Rock? How much exactly am I performing here?

There’s something thrilling, maybe, about that rash and dangerous and in my case heavily instinctive culling of Stuff That Is Undeniably Wonderful. But that instinct does run up against both the maths – bollocks! Eight! – and the pictures that inevitably waft in. Palm trees. Sand. Lizards. Blazing mirages. How many mournfully introspective indie toons can I lever into this, realistically? Do I let the sunniness dictate – or the potential loneliness? (Confession: loneliness not an issue in my case). To what extent is this a practical choice, meant to ‘see me through’ and how much a validation, a deep, heartfelt pattern from the soul?

I’m a part-time supporter of plenty of stuff but maybe particularly Desert Island Discs. Occasional listener. Sometimes turner-offer, mid-way, too – or even earlier if the music is crap and the interviewee dull and posh – and *this happens*, right? (Here’s a brutal truth: there are a lot of oldish worthies on this programme. There is that sense that D.I.D does represent the Beeb in that most of the folks you’re gonna be listening to went to private schools then did something grand. That’s how the universe is, for sure but it’s a pret-ty significant turn-off for this particular listener).

But let’s get to the fun bit: the bit where we can argue. My choices. Will be trying not to overthink these but will undoubtedly fall right into that trap of making my case, for each. *Fatal*, I know.

Toon numero uno:

Nightswimming – R.E.M. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahJ6Kh8klM4

Don’t even think about arguing. One of the great, beautiful and (sure) most deeply melancholy noises ever made by humans. Needs to be there. Everything humans have ever been is in this. It’s a towering achievement.

Two:

Keys to your Heart – The 101-ers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tx8bM05mmQ4

Yup. Obscurish but no apologies. The guitar sound and the understatement; the almost-acoustic thrum. The soul-punk heartiness of the Strummer vocal. The call to goodness. Joyful and invincible.

Three:

This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) – Talking Heads. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVoPzA0g3Ac

There are plenty Talking Heads toons I could have chosen – three or four from the unsurpassable ‘Fear of Music’ album alone. Gone for this because of its colour, its lovely meandering depth… and (maybe unusually for me) because of its sheer musicality. Speaks to something – to many things – close.

Disc four:

Poptones – Public Image Limited. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8e2CTB9oeQ

Political, in a sense. Metal Box is a truly extraordinary racket: provocative, difficult, rich. The veil through which we must pass is a real protagonist. Lydon is defying you to dare to walk on through. For me, that’s part of the brilliance – that these guys are seeking to go ‘right past music’. You might find it offensive or pretentious. People I like think it’s some sort of weird Germanic(?) Prog Rock… and hate it. The glimpsed-at imagery – forests, murderous intensity, ultimate banalities – shrieks genius, to me: likewise the trickling guitar and mad, subversive bass all over this album.

Disc five:

It Doesn’t Make It Alright – The Specials. https://uk.video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&ei=UTF-8&p=the+specials+it+doesn%27t+make+it+alright&type=E211GB384G0#id=1&vid=d1ffe800b70ef0e618cd018eddb510f3&action=click

Loved and indeed still do love The Specials. Could have chosen anything from The Greatest Number One Of All Time (Obviously), Ghost Town, to the soaring Free Nelson Mandela. Chose this for its modest typicality and preciously non-precocious message towards anti-racism – which may be the message for the age, yes? Elsewhere the obviousness and ‘worthiness’ might be clunky: not with these guys. The Specials have truth and magic.

Disc six:

Transmission – Joy Division. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dBt3mJtgJc

Something essential and pure and simple going on here. Something which destroys radios, or the whole concept of ‘air-play’. A riff, one of the great bass-lines, some strangely affecting vocals. A storm of purifying angst. Curtis paraphrasing and somehow raising the bar that Costello hoisted with Radio Radio: annihilating ‘the fools trying to anaesthetise the way that you feel’. Stripped-out, godlike; a new wave. Of its time, of course… but timelessly fresh, I reckon.

Bloo-dee Nora – disc seven:

Trying not to let the clamouring Bunnymen and Cure and Nina bloody Simone, fer Chrisssakes(!) in. So actively disallowing too much historical, proportionate consideration. Instead, going back to Poor Old Soul – Orange Juice. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmpNSpzx2wI

Another understated worldie. Ridicu-literate and jangly and full of that utterly authentic integrity that Proper Songwriters can find and can offer us. Defying the tsunami of pap and of casual, idle affairs. Strumming towards something crystalline and gobsmacking.

Then charging on… to disc eight, where it does get scary.

Except I’m re-committing to this idea that on another day five of these get changed, so all pressures are off. And it doesn’t matter that this dates me. I can surge on, irresistibly and fearlessly. I can and am going to tell you that Radiohead have been the greatest rock and roll band of the last twenty-plus years… and that therefore I must and can and will go to their stack of stonking, enriching missives.

Going for No Surprises. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5CVsCnxyXg

Those words; those chimes; that worldly, artful irony. Squeezing out sparks, squeezing out the essence of where we’re at. Somewhere dark, thin, bland, un-worthy.

A heart that’s full up like a land-fill

A job that slowly kills you

Bruises that won’t heal.

Hardly a laugh a minute, but there is plainly, obviously, undeniably beauty and insight and truth, here… and therefore protest. Could be I’m saying (with these choices) that folks who are somehow active are my chosen company for a spell on a desert island. Make of that what you will.

Now. Who comes with you?

Oof. Just been asked which one I keep. In the spirit of punktastic and diabolical cheek… I’m keeping Whiteman in Hammersmith Palais, The Clash!

In a similar spirit, can see me adding Things I Forgot to this *definitive list*…

Multifarious apologies for any cruelly intrusive adverts that may interfere with your listening.

Ted Lasso.

Two series in, so what do we think?

We think it’s pret-ty close to wonderful. We think it’s gobsmackingly surprising that something which we feared was gonna reek of America(na), of franchises, of that whole dumbing-down of the universe by checking in so constantly with the Gods Who Dance With Schmaltz turns out to be a rampaging, intelligent, bright and even poignant force for good. (Good telly; goodness in humanity).

We have fallen about, and blubbed. We’ve darn-near turned off – maybe when Ted’s made-for-American TV-isms have flown irritatingly over our heads again… but then been utterly compelled, both by the humour of the Overall Thing and by the brilliance of the sporting intel.

Say what?!? Sporting intel? Yes, even when – as always – the live sport can seem clunky and in danger of failing the myriad authenticity tests so immediately and rightly hoisted by pedantically maniacal fans like my good self. (We know footie. Don’t fuck wiv us*). YES, sporting intel, because whoever is writing/directing/playing/making this stuff does understand football (enough) and, remarkably, coaching, too.

*In fact the live sport here is waaay better than most; though admit the bar has been set appallingly low by almost every football film or series in history. Players can play, mostly, ‘live’ matches are 80% there and the changing-room vibe is decent, plus.*

Ted Lasso (the programme) makes a zillion jokes about Ted Lasso (the coach) not knowing the rules, the history, the zeitgeist in which football booms and busts and yaknow, breaks us. But – in case, friends, ya missed it – this is all knowingly done. The outstanding awareness and generosity and wisdom embedded in the Lasso Method – coaching as transformative, civilising mission, which *really does* look to empower players/individuals, through appreciation, prompting, enquiry, support – utterly squishes any idea that this Dumb American is some under-informed fraud. NO. Ted is a wonder-coach; that’s what this story is about. A bloke who, despite being absurdly out of place, re-defines the quality of that place… by being wonderful… and sophisticated… and deeply, inviolably human.

Everything is faith. That corny, hand-written sign above the door, that says BELIEVE. That ethos, where something we might need to dare to call brotherhood (and critically, authentic sisterhood) grows, becoming essential to the execution of strategies on the pitch and the veracity of the drama beyond it. If there is a tension around Ted’s flirting, or outright crazy street-meme-dancing with and through banalities-which-might-be-profundities and vice-versa, somehow it works. People love him and he bloody deserves it. We’re mercifully and pointedly not hearing anything about god, here, but the series is an ode to faith.

(Minor note. I’m a sports coach so do have some knowledge of how teams are selected, motivated, organised. It’s clear to me that Ted/the writers have a good understanding of where coaching is. Lasso’s relentless good-humour should not obscure the objective – which goes beyond any kind of ‘good guys can win’ schtick. Ted is enacting a very contemporary thread towards building ownership/decision-making/power within the player. The camaraderie and the community-of-souls thing is of course a necessary co-host to all this developing positivity. But the leadership smacks of informed, elite-level choices towards empowerment).

So Ted is a humble genius and a daft idol. Vulnerable, through family breakdown and trauma – separated, father a suicide – prone to anxiety attacks which we see, on camera, in a popular TV series. Further evidence that this world-franchise-monster is overwhelmingly a force for good in the universe. (Except that’s daft, right?)

This is a Big Television Event and it has resources. Unlike many hiked-up projects that might fall into that category it shares the quality and the stories around. Hard to find a character that isn’t well-drawn, generously developed, real enough to make us laugh or cry or root for them. (Can’t stand Awards Ceremonies so didn’t watch the Emmys but apparently it won a shedload. No wonder. Great casting, looks excellent in almost every scene, scripts top-level).

Coach Beard is brilliant – lugubrious and wise and kinda delusionally-in-lurv. He gets ‘his own episode’. Rebecca Welton is stunning and hilarious and extraordinarily multi-dimensional. Her relationship with Keeley Jones, who is willing herself rather magnificently towards Being Someone, whilst oozing with love for those around her, is knock-out and frankly, emosh. Lots of this is frankly emosh, whilst knowing exactly how close it tiptoes to that aforementioned schmaltz.

In short – because I really could go on, about Coach Nate, Mae in the pub, those daft three Greyhound supporters and Miss Fuckwitch and (Our New Hero) Sam Obisanya and (That New Pantomime Villain That I Ju-ust Think We Might Finish Up Loving) Jamie Tartt – you need to make an effort to see Ted Lasso. On Apple TV. It’s popular but grown up. There is sex – and especially via the softening but formerly hardened street-warrior Roy Kent – there is lots of fu-uck-ing language. So what? More importantly, this is a ludicrous but self-aware and ‘issues’-aware smash. A celebration. A reminder that cynicism – probably ours – is bad and that love stories can be good.

Black and British. And everything.

Those of you who have been following my hopefully endearingly shambolic adventures into YouTube &/or the universe of books will know that I have fallen, of late, into what I might ill-advisedly call a theme: that of race, or racism. I have recently done ‘reviews’ of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking…” as well as Layla F Saad’s “Me and White Supremacy” and now I’m into David Olusoga’s excellent contribution, “Black and British – A Forgotten History”.

This is not to say that I’m entirely lumping them together as a single subject – that would be offensively crass, right? – but there are unarguably significant crossovers between the three books and therefore it feels reasonable (enough) to gather them in for some reflection. Having said that, I’m only posting the “Black and British” review here; if you want the rest go find my #YouTube channel or delve deeper into earlier posts on this platform.

It was a specific, particularly deep conversation around the ideas of radicalism and liberalism/illiberalism which sparked off this blog, mind, prompting the foolishly urgent need to de-clutter my own head of this, if I may?

I know, I know. I should stop doing this Under-rehearsed Brain-dump Thing; it’s indulgent and inevitably error-prone. But I don’t mind risking embarrassment or worse and frankly it feels more honest to be flailing around with the possibility for self-exposure adding a little edge to the proceedings. And this fear of saying the wrong thing seems especially pertinent, here.

I have a friend who spars with people, more often and more challengingly and with more insight than anybody else I know. He is therefore a tremendously invigorating bloke to be around. Saw him coupla days ago and because we rattled into Deep Meaningful Stuff around socialism/liberalism, campaigning/activism, Eddo-Lodge and What You Can Actually Say, this post – originally just a review of sorts of the Olusoga – is in danger of becoming a rounding-up of wider themes. With the usual apologies for the usual, unattractive stream-of-consciousness, let’s crack on.

David Olusoga I like. Great TV work plus I love his punchy, witty, take-no-shittery on the twitters. Daily if not hourly, he completely dismembers dullish white blokes who think they’re being Pretty Reasonable, Actually. Crucially, he does it with some real wit.

“Black and British – a Forgotten History” is a weighty and accomplished book, of immense scope, covering stories that the author thinks add significantly to our understanding of what it has meant and what it still means to be Black and British. I say this because it strikes me Olusoga makes great choices about what to cover and makes no bones about swerving biggish chunks of what might seem to be essential if that material is covered well or comprehensively elsewhere. So I certainly learned stuff; enlightening, revealing, fascinating, poignant stuff as it were from the fringes. Hence the subtitle “Forgotten History”.

One example: I’m not sure I knew anything about Charles Wooton, and yet you will see (if you bother to click on the video) that the story of his desperate hustle through the streets of Liverpool – so compellingly told – was absolutely central to my experience of and learning through this book. What Olusoga calls Wooton’s ‘lynching’ is both horrifying and a little familiar; the evil of murderous racism on our streets feeling uncomfortably close, to me, in this era of race-fuelled, hate-filled populism.

There is much else to say about this very fine history book but I am content enough that my flawed review grabs a hold of enough of the thing to persuade you to read it, if you haven’t. “Black and British” is simply a 9 out of 10-er; intelligent, readable and with a tremendous historical/social-political scope. Get on it.

But hey, that conversation. In a kitchen in Bristol, appropriately enough, given Olusoga’s connections to, and work within, that fascinating city. I’m with my mate, the Dangerously Brilliant Mind. (Hey if you read this, ****, forgive the intrusion(s): massively respect your intelligence, integrity and… we ‘ave a larf, too, right?)

Don’t remember what sparked off the particular line of enquiry – probably an opening exchange in which we spoke about recent reading – but we soon got into his ‘specialism’ around political/philosophical convictions.

Hilariously, on reflection, this was about 9 am on a Saturday morning, after I’d stayed over with the family. And yes we were socially distancing as far as possible.

**** is a profoundly good, honest, caring man; hard to categorise entirely, politically but certainly not a right-winger. He does, however, have an intellect which is so penetrative and well-armed with reading and with knowledge that it feels austere. (This is not a criticism: it’s an acknowledgement of his fierce brilliance – which I have said, is bloody invigorating).

He has come to identify as a liberal rather than a socialist, in part because he is appalled by narrow, clubby, deliberately intimidating politics from The Left. ****, (who is broadly lefty), thinks there is a kind of evil in the meanness and acute tribalism amongst the Activist Left, whom he would argue, seem to hate what we might call ordinary Labour supporters more than they hate Tories. In fact, maybe they hate everyone who isn’t them?

Of course this is what Tories and Centrists have typically argued so again I put on the record that neither of us fall into those categories. My Bristolian comrade feels it simply ain’t viable to support alongside or with this group – and he does support the majority of ‘Labour Causes’. In short, the illiberal nature of some ‘core lefties’ offends him.

We talk about this and I’m not disagreeing. Then, because we can get into controversial territory and ver-ry frequently do, **** (who is no racist, no right-winger, no mug) expresses concerns about some of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s contributions, in her own field of activism. Is her important work – the books, podcasts, public advocacy – nevertheless in danger of suppressing legitimate debate because by accident or design it may be closing down or narrowing viewpoints towards a kind of puritanical activism? (Should add here that a) my pal has read and listened to Eddo-Lodge and b) that both of us are fair-minded enough and wise enough to appreciate the obvious dangers, re- Middle Aged White Blokes failing to get the ironies currently circling and blowing their klaxons).

We do know that overhelmingly it’s Black Voices that are oppressed. Both of us have and do support anti-racism. And we are not so weak-minded as to be saying all activism is kinda fascistically predicated on nastiness and brutal, exclusive oppositionism; activism is necessary, is wonderful, is essential.

**** is I think merely making the argument for intelligent, humane, broadly inclusive campaigning. He makes a bold, contentious point and I have some concerns about these views but am also clear that I have felt conflicted about whether or not to Say Anything… because I’m a White Bloke!

More ironies, possibly, but I think I am on here and Youtube doing this stuff despite knowing my voice is less important, less relevant to this discussion than a black voice might be – and arguably has less rights(?) – but also because, conversely, it feels wrong to shut up for fear of committing some transgression. White Angst? You bet. But part of my real experience.

I fully understand that the last couple of paragraphs may either seem perverse, or worse; racist. I already regret that I’ve probably conflated leftiness with Black Activism; this does all of us a disservice. Maybe I will go back and edit, or maybe just re-offer the thought that this sense that something ‘illiberal’ and possibly injurious can associate itself with activism – particularly, perhaps, when there is understandably acute anger in the mix.

This has little to do with the review posted below… of a really good book which I heartily commend you all towards. My de-tour has been about how we try to oppose social and political evils – which we must, urgently, together – whilst maintaining as much of our human generosity as we can. But hey, read the books!