It’s horrid, being a total wuckfit. I just made a trip, locally, only to get home and panic about losing my iPhone. Teresa called it, I searched the car. No dice. So I drove back to where I’d been earlier. Still no luck. The guy there called my number.
My iPhone wasn’t at his, where I thought it might have been. Lucky for me he called my phone again, as I frantically searched my car for a third time, on his driveway. And so it was I found the confounded thing. Thanks to the vibrate feature rattling the plastic of the dashboard.
Turned out it was in one of the two or three places I normally put it, in my car, all along. Only it had slid deeper and out of sight. This elusiveness was compounded by the fact that it isn’t ringing audibly, regardless of which position I set it to, on the silent/loud toggle switch.
So the £10 I’d bartered off the item I bought has, literally, gone up in smoke. And time and anxiety have been expended entirely pointlessly. ‘They let you out on your own!?’ quipped my Fenny Facebook seller, quite justifiably.
NB – This is another archival entry. I think I read and reviewed this originally around Jan/Feb, 2021.
‘We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.’ Vonnegut in his intro to this book.
I stumbled upon, or was reminded of, a few terrific Vonnegut quotes fairly recently, reminding me that I’d loved reading some of his stuff, years ago.
So I ordered a couple of his works I hadn’t already encountered, namely Slap Stick, and this, Mother Night. (I have to remark on how great the cover designs of these Vintage editions are, really very striking!) His trademark wit is present and correct as ever. But I’d forgotten how very bleak quite a lot of his prose fiction can be.
I don’t really want to synopsise the content here (the wiki entry on the book is great for that). In a nutshell it’s about apathy and belief, or how engaged one really is with what goes on around one. If we take Vonnegut’s own quote from the intro (reproduced above) at face value, it’s rather Hamlet-like in it’s utter weariness at our shabby play-acting.
These dark and comfortless ideas are embedded in a very clever but horribly bleak context, in which the narrator protagonist, Howard Campbell Jr, is both a former Nazi propagandist and a double-agent for US secret services, recounting his bizarre life story from an Israeli jail cell.
It’s a short easy read; I read the whole thing in one day. But it’s a bit hard going psychologically, on account of it being so relentlessly dark. Vonnegut, like so many, saw things in WWII that, unsurprisingly, coloured his entire life thereafter. But the pitch black darkness of the vision of humanity offered here is, unlike the more uplifting quotes I recently encountered by him elsewhere, energy-sapping.
As always, Vonnegut’s very clever, highly articulate, effortlessly imaginative and even darkly funny. But this is so grindingly dark, it’s certainly not a favourite from Vonnegut’s canon, a least for me. Unlike some of his writings, from Sirens of Titan to Breakfast of Champs, I can’t see myself ever re-reading this one.
UPDATE: Rather ironically, given my stated desire not to re-read this, whilst posting this old review I discovered that Mother Night is the subject of a local reading group event, coming up soon. So, I may well re-visit it, after all!
‘Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.’ 
Imagine, if you will, talking with some friends. And later coming away from an apparently convivial gathering. Only to reflect on it, later on, and realise something quite horribly shocking.
Those people, all smiles and cups of tea, believe that you are not just destined for an eternity in Hell. But that you are in cahoots with Beelzebub! It sounds – at least to what I would call ‘reasonable people’, such as I flatter myself to be – utterly preposterous.
But, if you take your religion at all seriously, it’s the kind of thing vast swathes of humanity apparently believe. I only come up against it all very occasionally, and when I do, it’s certainly not in the form of Father Jack types drooling and screaming ‘Ye’ll all bourn in Hell!’ 
But it bothers me deeply. Especially where it concerns family and long-standing friends. With terrible irony these folk will reassure me to my face that ‘no, no, we don’t judge like that’. But I don’t believe them. What on earth (or in Heaven or Hell’s name) is the point of any of the whole crazy rigmarole if you don’t take it seriously?
I suppose on one level religions are just very bizarre clubs. And as long as you don’t rock the boat too much, or too often, many doubtless just muddle along, frequently beset by gnawing doubts that it is all a complete crock.
But the trade-off of belonging is, it seems, so seductively powerful it all too often obliterates a person’s better judgement. Doubts are cast as tests of one’s faith, as sinful folly; the whisperings of devils like me! If lip service can suffice, I guess that accounts for a lot?
It’s much the same with law-abiding in our society. Most people will break the law many times in their life. Mainly in minor ways. And mostly without consequence. And as long as they don’t bump up against the harder edges of The Law’s societal ramifications too often, the unexamined and nebulously elastic relationship just about works.
And I suppose that for vast swathes of humanity their relations to their beliefs are a similar fudge. But when one allies oneself with a religion in contemporary Britain, surely it bears a little thinking about?
Of course it usually happens that folk believe in the inherited echo-chamber of Chinese-whispers they inherit from those around them. So, to the discomfiture of many, if you’re born in certain pockets of London or the Midlands, your world may be Muslim. 
The world I come from is littered with the wreckage of nearly two millennia of Christian traditions. A polymorphous stream of constantly evolving tales, and resultant cultural artefacts, that so obviously makes a total nonsense out of any ideas that religion is handed down from an unchanging divine authority On High.
The desire for stability such fantasies so clearly signal is very understandable. But the evidence of history is so overwhelmingly against such notions, in just the same way that archaeology and palaeontology and suchlike confirm not sacred texts, but secular scientific explanations.
How and why folk cling on to religions bewilders me. I can see their utility, giving social cohesion, a sense of community, and whatnot. But why do we need to have a core of absolute twaddle around which to gather and function? Why can we not gather in similar ways around truth? 
Such trains of thought are especially vexing precisely because the pious apparently believe they are concerned with truth. It really and truly galls me that there’s no humanist equivalent to the better parts of religion. But it does seem a prerequisite of successful group cohesion that the group must cohere around some utterly nutty and ridiculous nonsense.
Is this a quirk of our psychological evolution?
But returning to the themes that got this post started; in much the same way that one can feel the icy hand of paranoia on one’s shoulder, if one reflects on what devoutly religious folk one knows might actually be thinking, what is the value of cultivating such relationships?
Most religions attempt to encourage their acolytes to socialise amongst their own. And it’s obvious why. Exposure to other ideas and beliefs will challenge and very likely change what believers believe.
And for the secular humanist type, like me, it can seem sensible not to waste one’s time exchanging niceties with people who harbour pre-medieval delusions about a spirit world in which I am, at best, one of the damned, and at worst, a gleeful accomplice of the Devil and his imps.
Some from both camps – secular and faithful – might say ‘lighten up’. And that is indeed good advice. If all religion were treated merely as poetic, that might be a viable stance. But for us non-believers to really be able to contemplate lightening up, requires ardent zealots of the various faiths to ‘hold more lightly’ their cherished delusions.
And I don’t see that happening any time soon.
And, to now get really heavy. If push came to shove, and shove came to biff, and so on – as it all too often does – where would I stand? Well, I’d like to stand with reason and humanity. Against unreason and inhumanity.
 Allegedly a quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night! Which I recently reviewed here.
 Father Jack is a character in the terrific Father Ted TV series.
 I’ve experienced this myself. Both reading about it (as in the Price of Paradise, that I’ve just read and reviewed), and in ordinary daily life. Staying in an AirB&B in a certain London borough, some years ago, was the closest I’ve got to being in a ghetto, or visiting India/Asia.
 This area of thought brings to mind Alain de Botton’s Religion For Atheists, and suchlike.
An excellent book, that is by turns fascinating and horribly depressing.
Starting with the assassination of a Russian Tsar, and moving forwards in time, via such phenomenon as the Kamikaze pilots of Japan in WWII, Iain Overton traces a history of suicide bombing.
One thing that may initially surprise readers – it certainly surprised me (though on reflection, less so) – is how recent a development the suicide bomber is. One could potentially quibble as to a slightly deeper origin (did any of the killers-self destruct during the ‘infernal device’ attempt on Napoleon’s life? Or were the casualties of that either unwitting proxies and/or unfortunate bystanders?).
Although it’s grim reading, Overton’s skill in laying out this macabre evolution is impressive. Indeed, at times his deft authorial touch was almost a bit too slick. And at those times it felt, to me, like there was a danger that the subject was becoming a form of extreme adventure tourism reportage.
One has to wonder, in an age and about a subject matter in which such reportage can attract the very worst kind of medieval responses from the enraged faithful, what makes anyone stick their head above the parapet at all. As Alan Partidge jokes when Sidekick Simon irreverently conflates Judaism with Islam, you can poke fun at Christians, by all means, and maybe Jews ‘a little bit’. But Islam is off limits! And for reasons made all too obvious in this book.
Of course Overton isn’t making fun of Islam. Nor, as he is at pains to point out, are suicide bombers only ever Arab Muslims. But even the mere attempt by an ‘outsider’ to discuss some of the subjects covered here might seem to many a red rag to a deranged homicidal bull. And yet he proceeds, over the course of 16 or so well constructed chapters to attempt to forensically study the rise of the suicide bomber.
That this mostly revolves around Islamic practitioners of this grisly but incredibly potent weapon will surprise no one. But the route there may. Taking in not just the aforementioned Russian anarchists and Japanese pilots, but also Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers. And Overton does a great job of mapping the grim and bloody road.
For most of the book the author successfully occludes his own judgements, in that time honoured modern western liberal mode of at least attempting to be balanced and dispassionate. Only occasionally letting slip through, or sometimes outrightly acknowledging, his own biases.
In examining why folk – be they men, women, or even children – might allow themselves to kill and be killed this way, or even embrace (sometimes individually, but more often in a collective context), such a ‘martyrdom’, and what the fallout is for the victims, their loved ones and the physically and mentally traumatised survivors, Overton eventually climbs down off the fence.
And so it is that quite near the end of this sizeable book, most clearly when talking about the victims, he talks bluntly of the ‘ugly ideology’ and ‘religious delusions’ of the perpetrators, and how wrong it is that those they murder be remembered solely via such an abrupt and violent end to their lives. Lives which had, until that cataclysmically fateful intersection, nothing to do with such toxic pre-medieval nonsense, enabled as it so frequently is, ironically, by so diabolically modern means.
It’s hard not to look at the events covered here, and how things have continued to develop since the book was published (2018) and despair. The self-appointed Davids of these persistent backwards folklores may not have slain the ‘Great Satan’ Goliaths, but they still seem to be winning, inasmuch as their impact is so incredibly pervasive. And that so few can adversely affect so many.
And with tragic irony all who aspire to a better world ultimately seem to lose. Only the thugs cloaked as religious fanatics, or the corporate suits – be they in Western or Arab garb – both disguising themselves, however thinly, cynically or otherwise, as ‘respectable’ types, literally profit.
Everyone else – and that’s beyond those killed and injured – suffers doubly. Firstly with the ever growing all-pervasive fears of death and destruction, and second with the zero-sum scenario, in which vast overspending on paranoic ‘defense’ measures, and the none too subtle erosion of hard won human rights, find the already far from perfect conditions of life in so-called liberal western societies (and elsewhere) being fundamentally eroded and undermined.
On the one hand I’m quite keen to read Overton’s previous book, Gun, Baby, Gun. But on the other I’m chary of doing so. Like the violence of the world generally, there’s a macabre fascination with the ‘dark side’. But one also needs to be wary of over-saturation, or even contamination, with all this ‘dark matter’.
Still, all in all, a very good and much needed book. He even offers, as one might hope and expect, some ideas about how we might move towards a better place. Hardly a light or easy read, but definitely recommended.
Hmmm!? Laid up, unwell, at home. Ironically due, I think – thinking and knowing are two different things; a theme for this post? – to our 13th wedding anniversary meal, at the above pictured pub, on Monday.
Teresa’s birthday was last week, and the day after was ‘friday the 13th’. She always remarks on being grateful not to be born on the 13th. And I usually reply that it’s only a number.
So next I’m looking for a ‘lucky 13’ image for another blog post. Poss’ even the one that mentions going out for the meal? Anyway, here I am, thursday, having had to come home early yesterday, just over half way through my teaching, due to the diarrhoea I’ve had ever since said anniversary meal on monday.
Next comes the dystopian experience of trying to see a doctor locally. Even just trying to contact the doctor is so thoroughly depressing – the amount of time and effort required, to only eventually be fobbed of with a totally inadequate response – it’s truly appalling.
When I reflect on this train of events, I’m not at all inclined towards superstition. But for some reason I think that puts me in a minority. And not a happy one either. I can’t recall who said it. But someone said the most common element in the universe is not x (carbon, or whatever element from the periodic-table it may be), but stupidity. I’m inclined to agree.
This connects to another long term theme of interest to me. The ‘human condition’. Or, for that matter, the ‘animal condition’, or – why not go the whole hog? – life. What’s it all about, Alfie?
Robert Crumb’s Mr Natural is apt here: ‘Mr Natural! What does it all mean?’ ‘Don’t mean sheeit!’ Or, coming at it all rather differently, this one:
What’s the point of the pursuit of truth or greater awareness if the truth is unpleasant and greater awareness just leaves one depressed? This is obviously why the human mind/brain favours encouraging or reassuring (or in some other way utilitarian) nonsense.
But, to get back to Nr Natural, and his frequent partner, Flakey Foont, for a moment… there’s also this’n:
I’m 50 now. And without kids. For most of humanity’s brief existence on this planet I’d be unlikely to have lived so long. And what have I done? If I was anything like Crumb, I might be far more candid than I’m going to be. But unlike Crumb I haven’t turned confessionals into a form of self-therapy livelihood. So I’ll keep schtum!
But, just as with my life writ large, this post lacks focus. To try and tether it to earth and bring it back; I was motivated to post it very largely due to the dissatisfactions of certain aspects of modern life. And in particular the gulf between the whole ‘promise of fulfilment’ that the cyber-domain so powerfully exerts, and the reality of social isolation and disappointment that it all too often actually delivers.
But try as I might, I cannae help but digress (although I do feel my wanderings are all connected!)… As I move through life I see that some folk appear much better integrated into things than others. But that still leaves a great many less so. And appearances can be deceptive. One might be even worse off if compelled to appear to fit in happily if it’s just a front.
Such lines of thought are totally normal for me. And possibly just habitual. Maybe they’re even/also not useful or productive? But I seem unwilling or unable to wean myself off of them. For better or worse such thinking seems to have become my nature.
And then I think about folk I know, eg, some friends and/or some family, who appear to go at life differently. I’m thinking now of the religious believer folk. To me their belief seems like a form of madness or mental illness. It seems to totally fly in the face of easily and daily observed reality.
But I can see, sort of, why they might behave as they do. It might be – I believe it’s clearly the case – that humanity has evolved such that in order to function we need to be capable of believing utter nonsense. That in fact we might function – possibly both individually and collectively – better, or even at our best, only by labouring under delusions that bear no real scrutiny.
I have to confess I find such thoughts rather scary and depressing. But then again I also find quite a lot of life scary and depressing.
And, rather strangely, given my stance on religion in general and Christianity in particular, it makes the Biblical myth around the tree of knowledge, in which awareness/consciousness is a curse on humanity, a very apt and powerful if disturbing insight.
But then again, having said all this, maybe, as Shakespeare (and many other writers) was occasionally wont to do, I can attribute all this dark foreboding to impaired digestion? It’s certainly true, in my experience, that physical ill health is a breeding ground for the toxic germs that also feed into mental ill health.
All this rambling discursive cogitating seems to me to eternally run circles around the plethora of thoughts that teem, inchoate (I love that word!), on one’s mind!
Another prompt for this post was the state of public healthcare in the UK these days. I’ve already alluded to this above. And a similar thread, but possibly even worse, could be spun regarding dental health, as well. But that’s another story for another post.
Rather serendipitously, whilst typing this, during a quick Facebook fix, I saw a post from a fellow drummer, on a drummer’s FB Group. That post concerned the ‘black dog’. And I wanted to chip in with my ha’porth. But I decided not to. ‘Cause, although I’m a lot better (I think?) than I once was, I felt the overall current state and my ‘outcome’ might not be helpful to the OP.
Is one of the reasons I’m happier these days due to my having more or less abandoned my musical dreams? If one is continually barking up the wrong tree, at what point does one concede this and adjust, rather than battering one’s fragile ego against a hard unrelenting reality?
And – uh-oh, getting ‘deep’ – what is reality? The great thinkers and the more subtle philosophies all converge around ideas of our perception of reality as an illusion. And yet, deep down, we all know, intuitively, that, to use the parlance of the street, ‘this shit is real’.
And so my post comes full circle. From wildly discursive digressions back to my bowels! And I can’t escape the reality that right now my digestive system is screwed. And I can also see how it’s been affecting me psychologically. As well as being washed out and queasy, I’m pissed off and angry!”
Top Tory Tips for dealing with the it’s-nothing-to-do-with-Brexit apocalypse:
1. Eat more dung! We serve it up to you all the time anyway. Just open a bit wider, we’ll keep shovelling it in. And now, thanks to Brexit, we’ll soon have radioactive nutrient-free added-cruelty pile on the air miles dung. Mmm, delicious!
2. Work longer hours. You’ll have to soon enough anyway, as we’re busily removing all your rights. It’s called sovereignty. We’re taking back control!
3. Try not to be so totally and utterly feckless and stupid. At least learn to budget a little and to cook! Mind you, don’t be getting ideas above your station! A good serf always remains dumb enough to vote for us.
4. Keep watching and reading and believing the tycoons’ propaganda. We don’t want you thinking about why – when us Tories have governed for over 75% of the time since WWII – things are so shit for the lower orders. That’s as it should be.
5. Conform and obey. If you don’t we’ll soon have the powers to lock you up in The Tower, like the good old days.
6. Watch Downton and believe it’s history.
7. Celebrate being a subject, as opposed to a citizen. It’s much more fun eating dung and tugging your forelock than it is trying to better your lot in life. Why bother, when the odds are stacked so heavily against you? Just watch TV, gamble a bit, and eat your dung!
8. Leave the big issues to us. We’ll only ask you to vote in a referendum when we’re 100% certain we can stage manage it so you turkeys continue to vote for Christmas.
9. Don’t think about electoral reform. First past the post – mainly practised by us and our former colonies (oh, and that bastion of democracy, Belarus) – has, like the rotten boroughs of our glorious past, served us well.
10. Always vote Conservative. Only we true blue Tories can rid society of such evils as public healthcare, the BBC/C4, basic human rights, and other such commie follies.
Whilst inflation and billionaires’ profits rocket, and ordinary folks’ lives and health regress, only we can be trusted to rob from the many to enrich the few. It’s what we’ve always done. That’s the only way in which we’re truly Conservative.
Give us time and we’ll roll back conditions to the glorious medieval era, or better yet the Dark Ages. It won’t be long before we’re repealing the weekend.
Weekends? What are they, but a dirty worker’s plot to lessen the constant toil that is the true lot of the masses, and which keeps us turds floating up top.
I tried to find a groovy ‘lucky 13’ image, and – as you can see – failed.
Today Teresa and I celebrated 13 years of married life. We had a nice meal at The Hippodrome. Beef Madras for her, and a BBQ style burger for me. Nowt fancy, like. Simple, relatively cheap. And we were very cheerful.
I had a card for Teresa, and some earrings. And even some cute little bear themed/shaped hanger/peg things. I should’ve got her some flowers n’all, really. And I bought us dinner and drinks.
We ate and chatted, and had a simple mellow time. A latté for her and an ale for me. Very nice!
We’ve been married thirteen years, prior to which we’ve been together a further fourteen. So that’s twenty seven years in all. Next year we reach parity on the married/un-married years!
After our pub dinner we came home. Two coffees, and Count Arthur Strong’s The Man Behind The Smile show on DVD. Teresa fell asleep on the couch. And Chester spent a while purring away merrily on my chest. Ah… the simple pleasures!
This isn’t a book review. I will doubtless post one for this book, when I’ve finished it. This is just a quick post noting that I’m reading it!
I do however want to jot down a few thoughts on it, partly so I don’t forget to think about them when I do review the book.
One important theme revolves around how race, and black identity, etc, figure in Earl’s fascinating and – ummm – colourful story. He marries a white lady, with whom he raises a family in LA (having left his first – and black – wife and kids in N’Awlins).
Another concerns the musical history aspect. And is tied up with with art vs. commerce, soul vs. industry, Bohemia vs, Mammon, and so on.
I’m nearing the end of the book, and there’s been no mention of David Axelrod yet. Axe used Palmer a lot. I’m keen to learn what Earl thought and felt about David’s musical projects.
And Scherman – who mostly occludes himself, and very rightly so, to foreground Earl’s voice and story – only interjects his own voice on one or two occasions. Notably to say that perhaps Earl is being a mistaken muso when he favours his jazz and film music over the rock’n’roll and pop stuff.
Whilst I know what Scherman’s getting at, I might nevertheless disagree with him here, and side with Earl. But maybe that’s on account of being a fellow drummer (and Palmer!)?
Whilst I suspect nobody cares about this opinion, and probably rightly so, here goes… I’ve always disliked opera. In fact I’ve pretty much always hated it.
It has always evoked the spirit of the gentry playing at being shepherds like the overprivileged tits they are. The mannered vibrato heavy style of singing, oozing oleaginous self-satisfaction, favoured by opera singers, is, after little girls screaming (I’m honestly surprised no military has weaponised that particularly awful sound), and death metal screaming/grunting, possibly my least favourite type of sound the human voice can make!
Over the years a few pieces have snuck through chinks in my anti-opera armour. But today I think I might’ve found a doorway into appreciating this appallingly overblown art-form. At least sonically. The answer/trick? Turn it way, way, way down!
We’re out in the garden, it’s beautifully sunny, birds are chirruping, and all is well with life. We brought a DAB radio my mum recently gave us – thanks, ma! – out with us. And I put BBC Radio 3 on. Bass singer Matthew Rose is presenting Inside Music, and I’m really digging his choices. Even though they are quite often a bit off my usual musical map.
This terrific little book arrived today. One of the things that strikes me most about it, and that’s a very pleasing thing, is how unpretentious it is. Zappa’s whole weird schtick can sometimes obscure the sincerity and ordinary decency of a man striving to make art without boundaries.
So a key theme – not especially trumpeted by either Frank or this book – is freedom. Also celebrated are such things as the music studio as alchemical wonderland, and a serious work ethic.
It’s strange for me, because I’m simultaneously both a Zappa freak, and totally not a Zappa freak. He’s done a lot, musically and otherwise, that doesn’t really do anything for me. But then he’s also done a lot that does.
And, rather serendipitously, Hot Rats is one of his albums I like best. Especially musically. I mean, Joe’s Garage is a masterpiece, but it is so as much for its entire existence, and it’s psychic architecture (and the humour and pathos of it all) as for the music. With Hot Rats I feel a much more ‘pure music’ vibe.
I think/feel I’ve always preferred the jazz side of Zappa to the ‘classical’. And on Hot Rats he fuses jazz improv with some of his more dense writing in a way I totally dig. It’s also interesting to hear how it was listening to some jazz – specifically Archie Shepp soloing – that gave birth to the album’s title.
The textual side of the book is mostly a transcription of a chat between Ahmet Zappa and Bill Gubbins, whose photos of some of the Hot Rats sessions (and a bit more besides) are the core attraction of this book.
If I were to be super pernickity, I might lament the facts that Gubbins doesn’t have pics of the Van Vliet/Bill Harklerod visit, or that his time in the studio with Frank only covers a latter stage – overdubs and mix-down period – of proceedings. I’d have loved to have seen photos of the rhythm section tracking sessions!
But despite these lacunae, this is a wonderful thing. And a very beautiful and candid portrait of Frank, the artist, at work. As already alluded to, there’s a bit more, inc photos from what turned out to be the final Mothers gig in the US, and sundry other moments around the whole trip to LA that a young and green Gubbins made, way back in ‘69.
There’s so much to commend this to the lover of art, music and modern culture. But I guess it’s also very much a niche ‘Zappa fan’ thing, as well? I love all the studio shots, with all those elements of the recording world, from the architecture to the gear.
I’m not big on hero worship. But I have to admit that this publication can feel a bit cloyingly reverential. But then again, Zappa (and Ahmet and Bill G, for that matter) do come across very well.
Intriguingly, it was during these Hot Rats sessions that Zappa disbanded the Mothers. And the fall out from that, whilst less apparent than one might anticipate, does leech into this otherwise very positive celebration of Zappa and his art.
But I think I’ll leave it there, for now. In conclusion: fantastic, and highly recommended. Take a trip back in time, and dig the sights and sounds of the Zappa-verse, Hot Rats style.