I don’t know what I want to say to people. I get ideas and I want to put them on film because they thrill me. You may say that people look for meaning in everything, but they don’t. They’ve got life going on around them, but they don’t look for meaning there. They look for meaning when they go to a movie. I don’t know why people expect art to make sense when they accept the fact that life doesn’t make sense – David Lynch
With the prospect of a new set of Twin Peaks episodes in the next couple of years and all the surrealistic magic and mystery that will inevitably entail (I, for one, cannot wait), David Lynch has been in and out of the news in 2015 at quite a rate of knots. However, the quote above is from an interview Lynch gave to the Los Angeles Times in 1989, round about the period when he was making Wild At Heart. And it contains an almost illogical logic that arguably still applies twenty-six years later.
A well-known proponent of making art that may or may not make sense (depending on how you look at it), Lynch is quite right in his comments in my view. Why should we expect a film or a novel to have a coherent structure, a beginning, middle and end that hang together in a sensible way when life is not like that at all? Obviously, life has a definite beginning and a definite end, but what goes on in between is mostly unpredictable and usually unstructured – and down to us to make sense of, or not, as the case may be.
We know life has no real structure, which is, I think, at least partly why we so often expect art to, particularly when we’re dealing with a novel or a film or a TV series. It’s comforting to think that the lives of fictional characters are in some way predictable, even if our own lives aren’t. But one of the main purposes of art is to be provocative, to unsettle, to produce an element of disquiet, and – most importantly – to make the audience think. And those are all things I would immediately associate with Lynch’s work. It’s that artistic unpredictability that forces us to think, forces us to confront the fact that we have to make sense of our lives where we can find it – and reminds us that, in this existence, almost anything can happen.
And it usually does.
You might not think it, but even things associated with the seemingly monolithic structure that is academia are subject to change. For example, I’ve recently been writing an essay on the twentieth century transformation of the nature of historical sources and the ways in which they can be used; a series of changes which have had a profound impact on the subject and are still ongoing.
And it’s not just the language we use to describe such cultural concepts that is transforming. The language we use on a day-to-day basis is changing and mutating too. While reading an article on the necessity (or otherwise) of some traditional grammar rules on The Independent’s website, I came across this quote from the journalist and author Oliver Kamm:
The English language is not static, nor are its boundaries clear. Nor is it a language tied to the British Isles. English is a river. Its content is always changing and it has many tributaries. Its characteristics include impermanence. Indeed, there can be no single definition of the English language.
Historians frequently go on about their beloved concepts of continuity and change – indeed, the one, ever continuing, fundamentally important aspect of British culture, landscape and language that tends to be overlooked or even sometimes sneered at is its non-static nature. Kamm’s words bring this innate movement and flexibility into sharp relief, reflecting the ever-changing nature of the English language.
Every generation brings new words, new phrases, new ways of using the language to the table, and this has been going on for centuries – just look, for instance, at the enormous impact of William Shakespeare’s creative vocabulary, or the beautifully influential language used by the original editors of the King James Bible. These innovations may take some time to work their way into common usage, but English is a compulsively, inherently magpie language that pinches things from a huge variety of cultures and dialects worldwide; absorbing them into a new and textured whole.
Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.
– as teacher John Keating in ‘Dead Poets Society’ (1989)
Advice for us all, however old we might be. And his life was extraordinary.
Robin McLaurin Williams: 1951-2014.
Rest In Peace, Genie.
Here are a few words of wisdom from the pen of a very wise woman:
If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.
Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.
My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
The writer of these words, Maya Angelou, who has died at the age of 86, was most certainly an amazing person (and, incidentally, she was quite right about “trying to be normal” – there’s no such thing…). Best known as a writer, academic, award-winning poet* and civil rights activist who worked with both Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, she was, at various times and amongst other things, also a successful actress, singer and dancer. Described by her family as “a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace”, Maya Angelou was certainly a woman who lived her life with passion, compassion, humour and not a little style. She will be missed.
Once upon a time, there were four weekly music papers in the UK. These were Sounds, Record Mirror (both of which folded in the early 1990s), the New Musical Express (still published and better known as the NME) and the grandaddy of them all, Melody Maker, which originally dated back to the mid 1920s and finally gave up the ghost in 2000. Affectionately known as ‘inkies’ because they were once published on the kind of newsprint that covered your fingers in black ink as you turned the pages, these publications were a hugely important part of the lives of generations of British music fans and introduced many a music-mad teenager to the latest, greatest hot new thing. But they didn’t always get it right…
Melody Maker, in particular, began life as a paper aimed squarely at jazz and dance band musicians, and as such they stubbornly and snobbishly ignored the growth of a new kind of popular music that began to emerge in the 1950s – the ‘cheap and nasty’ threat of rock ‘n’ roll. If they did mention it, it was to dismiss it as a pointless and distasteful fad that they desperately hoped would never catch on, as reviewer and broadcaster Steve Race wrote in May 1956:
Viewed as a social phenomenon, the current craze for Rock-and-Roll material is one of the most terrifying things ever to have happened to popular music. […] Musically speaking, of course, the whole thing is laughable. […] The Rock-and-Roll technique, instrumentally and vocally, is the antithesis of all that jazz has been striving for over the years – in other words, good taste and musical integrity. […] It is a monstrous threat, both to the moral acceptance and artistic emancipation of jazz. Let us oppose it to the end.
The irony in this, of course, is that these are exactly the kind of negative things that were said about jazz in its early days too (and worse – a great deal of the criticism aimed at the jazz of the 1920s and 1930s had a distinctly and often openly racist tone to it). Even more ironically, a direct line can be drawn from the British ‘Trad’ jazz scene of the 1950s to the rhythm and blues-based rock scene of the early- to mid-1960s that gave us the likes of the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds via the ‘Skiffle’ craze of the late 50s (which was where the Beatles started out….).
Sorting through a large file of newspaper clippings this afternoon, I came across this 2008 article from The Times on the subject of the legendary and late-lamented British music TV show, Top Of The Pops. The article quotes Julian Cope on the subject of his 1981 appearance on the show with Teardrop Explodes. If you know anything about Cope and his eccentric working methods, you’ll soon realise that this was no ordinary TOTP performance – in fact, he had dropped some acid beforehand, which probably wasn’t particularly sensible under the circumstances, since:
The piano started melting and I was wading up to my thighs in it by the chorus.
I dread to think how much mess that made….
Just say no to melting pianos, kids.
We all know he’s a gobby little so-and-so, but sometimes he’s spot on…
The Tories just want to squash every working-class person up in one bedroom, lock the door and throw away the key.
As we’re now well and truly into the party season, here’s some very good advice on how to get the best out of your festive bash from the late actor and professional hellraiser Peter O’Toole. Does this perhaps describe your work Christmas party?
Fornication, madness, murder, drunkenness, shouting, shrieking, leaping polite conversation and the breaking of bones, such jollities constitute acceptable behaviour, but no acting allowed.
I’m sure O’Toole both hosted and attended many an epic party along such lines, although I’m not sure he’d remember much of it the the following day – after all, this was a man who once self-deprecatingly said:
I loved the drinking, and waking up in the morning to find I was in Mexico. It was part and parcel of being an idiot.
Idiot or not, he was a great actor in his time, and the worlds of theatre and film are lessened by his passing – they don’t make them like Peter O’Toole any more. Raise a festive toast in his memory at the next wild Christmas party you go to…
I was in the library today. While flicking through the pages of a book on the 1832 Reform Act, I found this little story. You can imagine my reaction (and yes, I did get a dirty look from the librarian for laughing…):
[A] little girl asked her mother, ‘Mamma, are Tories born wicked, or do they grow wicked afterwards?’ To which the mother replied, ‘They are born wicked and grow worse.’
Whether this parental exchange really happened is immaterial – the story obviously struck a chord at the time. And, not far off two centuries later, absolutely nothing has changed…
No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
Nelson Mandela 1918-2013
A remarkable, inspirational life well lived.
Rest In Peace.