I remember when I set up my facebook account in 2009. I uploaded some photos to my profile, as you do, and sent out some friend requests. And then I saw a status update that has always stuck in my mind. It was by a female musician who was in a prominent band at the time; a very cool, cutting-edge type band. She was a cool, cutting-edge-type girl – someone I respected. And this is what she had decided to tell the world:

“I’ve just done a poo”

I don’t normally take much interest in other peoples’ bowel movements, but if this was what facebook was all about I figured I had to get with the program. So like several other of her friends (or sycophants) I approved of this earth-shattering revelation by clicking the ‘like’ button.

There was no going back. I had joined the facebook community – a transnational network devoted to the momentary study of slightly interesting things. Millions of people vaguely curious about the minutiae of each others’ lives; briefly intrigued by dancing parrots, and mildly outraged by political issues – just enough to click on an internet petition. I was destined to become a soulless scroller, lost in the flashing lights of competing content.

Now I don’t deny the value of social media for organising events, staying in touch with loved ones, and the sharing of thought-provoking content. And I like my funnies too; cats in boxes should be prescribed on the NHS as a stress-buster. The problem with facebook is that it all happens in the same place; this has become the platform through which many of us work and play, organise and socialise. For the home-working facebook addict, finding a period of focus is like grasping a bar of soap in the bath, their newsfeed crowded with infinite distractions that would destroy the attention span of the Buddha.

I hadn’t felt the need of a digital detox before. I don’t have a clever phone, so when I leave the house I re-enter the 1990s. It’s a simpler place. Snapchat has yet to suffer any of my bus stop selfies and when I need to find my way around an unfamiliar part of the city I just…fail.

But a recent period of hermithood made me feel that I was on a slippery slope. Staying at home most days meant that my intervals between logging on shrank dramatically. The first thing I would do when I got out of the shower was check for notifications, and I would regularly stop a film or video to look for those little red numbers.

I started to worry that I would never again be fully engaged in a piece of culture or an object of study because I would be forever picking at the facebook buffet; constantly grazing but never digesting. So, one Sunday I decided that the following week would be facebook-free.

What was it like, you ask? What happens to a moderately reclusive cultural activist when he avoids a certain blue-coloured website for seven days? Well, I read a whole lot more, finished a song I was stuck on, and discovered something called housework. I also played a strange gig in a deserted library and discussed naturism in a Wine Bar.

But the most interesting thing? BOREDOM

Remember boredom? It’s what used to happen occasionally when we had gaps between things.  There used to be special places designed to nurture it, like dentists’ waiting rooms and churches; but nowadays as soon as someone is required to sit down and do nothing, the phone is whipped out.

We are encouraged to think that what benefits us most is a life of interrupted mental stimulus, but it’s not true. Our feelings of boredom are just withdrawal symptoms from the addictive stimuli of modern life, which are largely marketing. Gaps between stimulus are actually vital for our wellbeing. Don’t ask me for the medical studies to back this up, leafing through back issues of the Lancet is just so tedious.

But really – boredom leads to daydreams; and studies have recently shown that it is vital for childrens’ development. It’s a launchpad to fantasy, dressing up and games. And boredom is also a key driver of much youthful creativity; Iggy Pop and The Buzzcocks both wrote songs about it. Without boredom there would be no punk rock!

The mid-70s were rich in boredom. Groups like Pink Floyd and The Carpenters played a vital part in giving the kids the urge to create something more exiting. Sure, the unemployment, power cuts and grey concrete tower blocks also helped, but popular culture needs periods of stagnant tedium in order for new generations to burst through and rejuvenate artforms – I’m serious, I think!

Getting lost is another aspect of life that is becoming eliminated by smartphones; and its extinction could prove disastrous for cultureFrom Homer’s Odyssey to Finding Nemo, struggling to find your way home is one of the eternal themes. These days Odysseus would be onto google maps in seconds, then easyjet’s site, and have a pizza ordered for when he got home; it would all be far too easy.

Boredom and being lost (in whatever sense) are part of the texture of human experience, and they can ultimately lead to growth, but they are getting squeezed out by the idea that we can never have enough convenience or entertainment. “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death” was the satirical title of a Dead Kennedys album from 1987; but in our modern scenario, we may ultimately find that unlimited convenience is in fact spiritual death.

Of course I missed facebook. As the weekend loomed I felt I’d run out of productive things to do. I didn’t want to be productive any more, I was curious to find out what everyone was up to. But I held out for the full week, and aim to repeat the experience regularly – who knows, it may even make feel like going out and being sociable in the ‘real’ world again.

Or I could just stay home and tell you about my poos.



Style: "tracey-white"

Tracey Ullman was a ubiquitous British entertainer in the early 1980s who was so over-qualified that she managed to be a highly-rated TV comic and have a pop career on the side (which included a delicious cover of Kirsty Macoll’s “They Don’t Know”).

But Tracey lost her place in British culture when she married an American in 1985, and moved stateside where she became a massive star, with successful shows for Fox and HBO which were shown in the UK but failed to reflect her British identity, understandably.

During the 90’s/2000’s French and Saunders led the pack in female comedy, but currently there is lack of star quality in this area (the fantastic potential of Morgana Robinson having been allowed to seemingly fizzle out).

So it was interesting to see what Tracey’s first BBC series in 30 years would be like, and it’s a pleasure to say that she still has her finger firmly on the G-spot of British humour. The characters in this first episode were original, ranging from a recently-released convicted drug smuggler to a hopeless zoo keeper, and the writing was sharp. Despite the sharpness, this isn’t cutting-edge humour (see what I did there?), but a familiar recipe that does what it’s meant to, and does it well.

Despite this, the BBC appear to show little faith in the show by scheduling it at 10.45 pm – something of a kick in the teeth for the return of this prodigal daughter. Hopeful people will check it out on iplayer, if so they would be best advised not to skip the end, which features a song-and-dance number with tap-dancing librarians singing the praises of public services – unlikely, but brilliant.

(click the link below – I can’t seem to embed the video in this article…)





My Latest Hero

I was delighted to discover this guy recently – Reggie Watts, if it is possible to define him, is a surreal stand-up comedian and improvising musician, who flips hilariously from one genre and persona to another effortlessly. At one moment he is straight-facedly delivering what seems to be a science lecture or TED talk, but the script has been written by a Martian acid-head, and delivered by a number of competing voices in different accents that issue, schitzophrenically from Reggie’s mouth. The next moment he’s ad-libbing like a screaming soul diva over a looped house track that he’s just created with his own voice and electronic gizmos. This guy is priceless. How had I not heard of him before?



I write this as I emerge from a bout of flu that has kept me horizontal for a week.  This attack has been milder than last year’s instalment – no projectile vomiting or fainting on the bog this time – and I suppose from  a dramatic perspective you could say it’s been a bit of a disappointment. But then, what can you expect from yet another sequel.

When it comes to mainstream entertainment movies it is rare to find a genuinely great film that isn’t conceived as a long-running franchise designed to milk the cash out of you on a long-term basis.

Hollywood has locked itself into a particular business model, desperately fracking the fuck out of any decent idea in order to keep the dollars coming in, all the while undermining the integrity of the original story.

star warsspiderman

We are all awaiting the seventh Star Wars film, while already in the works are reboots of Spider Man, Jurassic World and Pirates of The Fucking Carribbean – world supplies of barnacles and green seaweed are already dangerously low.  This is a trend that says something rather depressing about the human mind – that the warm glow of familiarity is more lucrative than the shock of the new. We would rather slip into the embrace of an old friend than discover the unfamiliar delights of a stranger.


Once the film industry embraced new ideas and audiences welcomed it. Innovation thrived in the early days of cinema; Fritz Lang never considered making Metropolis 2, there was no need for a Return to Casablanca – the originals were stand-alone artworks. But in an age where so many entertainment platforms exist, and profit is so unpredictable, sequels and prequels have become the nearest thing to a safe bet. And with the use of comic book-derived stories, where plausibility is irrelevant to the genre, maximising income from sequels is a no-brainer – literally!

This is not to suggest that sequels are always bad – Spider Man 2, The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather Part 2 are examples often cited as sequels that genuinely improved on the original. In such cases you get a believable story arc over several films; and when originally devised by a novelist – i.e. J.R.R. Tolkein or J.K. Rowling – an extended film series can be a genuine delight.

It’s not necessarily a mass-market technique either, there have been some well-received arthouse sequels. Truffaut’s classic film about a troubled young boy, The 400 Blows was followed up three times with film updates on the main character’s life, while Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, about a chance meeting of two young travellers, became a trilogy.

But sometimes a film is somehow defined by its one-offness; and the news of a sequel has the sickly smell off greed about it.

blade runner

Next year sees the release of Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human. Ridley Scott’s original film stands alone and magnificent, as an iconic…erm, icon in film culture. It’s greatest merit could be that whilst not needing to be re-heated it has inspired so many other films. The last thing it needs is an inferior little sibling hanging around its coat-tails, fucking up its legacy.

How could Scott possibly follow the original? He knows can’t, which is why he’s only co-writing it. Denis Villeneuve is directing. He’s not a well-known director, but then again, neither was Scott when he made the original.  There’s every chance that he can make a perfectly watchable movie, if you forget about the classic that it’s supposed to be complementing.

I suppose the film might teach us all something valuable – replicants may eventually become a kind of sequel to the human race – but they will always be a bad imitation.

Waiting For the Mantra

Nowadays it seems everyone is getting spiritual. Meditation and mindfulness in particular are booming, with courses and classes available all over every city. We tend to think of meditation as a silent practice, but there is one meditation method which is anything but silent.  

Mantras are repeated phrases, chanted or sung as part of various religions to induce a feeling of connection with the divine.

The person chanting a mantra isn’t thinking about anything; the chanting stops the flow of thoughts and allows them to find a beautiful, calm place inside and a feeling of ‘oneness’ with the universe.

This approach has had a small but significant influence on rock and pop culture.

In the late sixties, George Harrison became interested in Hinduism, and started to reflect it in his music with the Beatles and then in his solo work.

In “My Sweet Lord” from 1970, George celebrates the Hindu god Krishna. The song incorporates the ‘Hari Krishna’ mantra – the same one which can often be heard in British town centres, issuing from the lips of orange-clad devotees.  The voice singing “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama” etc. on the choruses  is in fact John Lennon – the two recent ex-Beatles were clearly getting on fine at the time.

It is not necessary to know the meaning of a mantra. There is something calming and soothing about a repeated vocal pattern which humans seem to respond to, whether in the context of different religions (think Gregorian chant for instance) or even the repeating songs that mothers sing to their babies to calm them.

Other songs with a mantra-like feel include:

America – Horse With No Name (1971)

Lyrics describing a gruelling journey into the desert, combined with a hypnotic bongo beat would already be a mystical mix, but the wordless “la, la, la, la, la, la…” chorus produces a distinctly mantra-like effect.

 John  Lennon #9 Dream (1974)

A mystical-sounding solo track from 1974. Apparently the line “Ah babakowa pousse, pousee” came to Lennon in a dream. It’s meaningless but has the unmistakable influence of mantra.

Sinead O’Conner – Thank You For Hearing Me (1994)

This simple, repetitive tune repeats over and over and sounds like a hymn of gratitude.

Cornershop – We’re in Your Corner (1997)

Tjinder Singh’s band combine indie pop/rock with influences from their Indian background. I don’t know what the lyrics of this tune are, but with the vocal repetition and instrumentation we’re clearly in mantra territory.


If you’re interested in more philosophical and spiritual musings, check out my new blog (you can sign up to receive it by email too):

Riding With Joni

Popular music history is full of train songs from Boxcar Blues to Chatanooga Choo-Choo and Joni Mitchell continued the tradition on this cut from her 1974 album Court and Spark.

It’s a wistful tune – it is Joni Mitchell after all – but it rides on a gently funky chassis, suggesting the forward movement of a railway carriage. “I’m always running behind the times” she begins “…just like this train/ shaking into town with the brakes complaining…”

Like many songs from this period of Joni’s career there is a jazzy touch, with playful horns punctuating the track, along with wisps of electric guitar, which sweep past as if glimpsed from a window.

As ever, Joni’s lyrics are excellent. Observations of the waiting room include an “Old man sleeping on his bags, women with that teased-up kind of hair, kids with the jitters in their legs and those wide, wide open stares”.

All of this is woven into a back story of romantic ambivalence. It becomes clear Joni is not setting out on an adventure, but heading back to her man.  “Oh, sour grapes…I think I lost my heart” she sings ruefully as she anticipates a future of settled domesticity “watching your hairline recede, my vain darlin'”. Freedom versus commitment.

She worries that being in love has become too much of a sacrifice “Jealous lovin’ll make you crazy, if you can’t find your goodness, cos you lost your heart”. But she’s still seduced by the sensory pleasures of travel, with “these rocks and these cactuses going by, and a bottle of German wine to drink”

The supporting stars of this recording are the rhythm section – drummer John Guerin and bassist Wilton Felder – who move from a metronomic rhythm through various levels of clickety-clack funkiness, suggesting the varying pace and sonic rhythm of a train journey – without actually speeding up or slowing down.

Throughout the song, Joni sounds both innocent and world weary, playful and philosophical, holding those long notes that seem to melt her uncertainty into joy. Vulnerability is her strength.


Under The Radar

Rooftopping In Toronto...***EXCLUSIVE***  TORONTO, CANADA - OCT 2012: A slow exposure of the streets of Toronto, Canada.  WHATEVER you do  dont look down. Daring photographer Tom Ryaboi snaps the Toronto skyline from the top of skyscrapers. The 28-year-old is one of the pioneers of rooftopping, which sees members scale tall buildings to take pictures of the streets below. To achieve these breathtaking photographs, he often has to evade security guards, dogs - and even urban falcons defending their nests.  PHOTOGRAPH BY Tom Ryaboi/Barcroft Media  UK Office, London. T +44 845 370 2233 W  USA Office, New York City. T +1 212 796 2458 W  Indian Office, Delhi. T +91 11 4053 2429 W

To all members of the soiled siblinghood who cling to the city streets, that feral fraternity bequeathed to us by Madame Thatcher, for whom the park bench is a couch and the church steps a social club, who live alongside our absurd society and happen to be addicted to the wrong things…

To these homeless souls I offer no pity. I offer congratulations. Because simply by surviving they deserve my admiration.

Survival is the thrilling feeling I have craved at different times; like the climber on the rock face, fighting the living rock with fingertips and toes, the unconditional lust of gravity begging him down to the boulder-field below. He KNOWS he is alive. Do you?

The further we get from the rock face, the essentials of survival, the less alive we are.

I look back to a time in Barcelona, living in a cold water flat, no amenities, busking on the streets, wild and hazy. It was a beautiful brand of poverty. At night in my room I always had company, but not of the species I would have chosen.

As soon as I put out the light I would hear scuttling, an ominous pitter-pattering, haunting me like an instant nightmare ‘cos I knew what it was. Cockroaches sweeping the floor, fanning out like an insect army in search of supplies.

My revulsion was such that I chose the only missile available – hurling unopened beer cans into their ranks, to quell the tide.  I didn’t like doing it cos it shook the beer up, and I had to wipe bits of cockroach off the cans before drinking them.

The Buddhist in me was appalled at my behaviour. Cockroaches are remarkable creatures; they can live off anything, live anywhere. Like rats, they’re survivors, and some say that they’d be one of the few life forms to survive a global catastrophe.  The pragmatist in me suggested better tactics – maybe I should call the landlord, put some poison down or move to a better flat. The realist in me told the other two to forget it. When faced with a strange problem I always find a strange solution…

An average city street might have  1000 people on it. 1000 minds in 1000 heads all containing lifetimes of experience and regret and fear and hope and love. Each head containing the world, the universe even, from one particular perspective. 1000 different yet individually definitive versions of everything there is. And each one of them is climbing a personal mountain path to some kind of ultimate reconciliation with the fact that at some point the journey is over. Or not.

1000 worldviews on one street, multiplied across a city, a country, a continent. How can we possibly understand ourselves as a species?

Well, we could try…the combined wisdom of 1000 can either be 1000 times wiser or 1000 times more stupid. We have to learn from insect culture.

The wise among us don’t walk down streets these days. We scuttle. Those carrying their heads too high will have them knocked off by the winds. The weather is not being kind. But we have the logistics, the nouse to survive. We have no pretentions to status. We live the low life, scuttling from one safe haven to the next, where it’s warm and interesting and we don’t feel as if we’re on the wrong side of history.

This is the only way to survive. This is the cockroach culture, low to the ground, resourceful, collective, living as best we can, dodging the governmental missiles raining down on us from above. Reconnecting with our invertebrate instincts, scuttling together under cover of darkness, we will fan out and take the floor…


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