Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

At a time so much in flux, who better to speak to us about the challenges we all face than trans musician Anhoni. Previously known as Antony Hegarty, this artist always used his/her experience of transgender identity to offer fresh perspectives on how we might all live together on this planet. Whether you call that political, social or spiritual barely matters. Now, with a new album environmental-themed album, s/he invites us to confront our own eco-hypocrisy.

Throughout this interview, which I’ve transcribed from Radio 4’s Loose Ends programme last week, Anhoni is breathlessly articulate, the words coming out so clearly articulated and so rapidly that it seems rehearsed. If so, I have no problem with that. S/he has powerful things to say, not just in the promotion of an album. I look forward to a book from this gentle messenger.

The last time you were on the programme I remember you saying that the world needs more female leaders, and as it happens we do seem to getting more. We’re going to have a new prime minister who’s going to be a woman, there may be a woman president in America, there are three women leaders in Scotland…is this the sort of thing you had in mind? Do you think it’s going to improve the world?

When I say we need more feminine governance its that we need a collective representation of femininity, which of course is a massive array of points of view. It’s not that any one female leader is going to burst the bubble, its more that if there more than 30% women at the table, the culture changes…what would it look like if we had 70% of women at the table? What kinds of untapped wisdom and unique perspectives, born of the specific experiences of womanhood might we capitalise upon, in order that a less heirarchical conversation can happen?

Do you think though, that in 50 or 100 years’ time in our queer/trans utopia that we’ll still be talking about these gender binaries? Will there still be such a thing as womanness or maleness?

Honestly I think in 50 or 100 yeas time we’re gonna be so preocupied with catastrophic environmental changes that I can’t imagine we’ll have much time to dally in identity politics. Right now is the time we have deal with this wall of impending and imprecendented events that are on the horizon…massive chunks of the biosphere are collapsing and the conversaton about identity politics is really important but its not the endgame. The reason to do it is because unrepresented voices might offer a new pearl of wisdom that might spark a new trajectory.
Hearing you sing, there seems to be this emotion there at the forefront. Would you say you’re upset or angry about these things?
I’m a singer so my currency is my emotion and intuition – that’s my medium in a way. And I’m a human being so i’m a feeling creature. But to me emotion, thinking, intuition, intellect – to me they’re much more intergrated process than they might generally be identified as.

You’ve called your album ‘Hopelessness’. Are you feeling hopeless?

Yes, I’ve felt a lot of that under the current state of affairs, but also I’m not alone in that. I think a lot of people are feeling very hopeless but it was on the basis of that that I’ve sought to address and excavate that emotional place.

Essentially what you’ve made is a protest album. Is there a record company executive in your mind saying ‘No, we want songs about love and loss and human emotion’?

To go back to your question about why I named the album ‘Hopelessness’, how are we going to take effective action when we’re not even allowed to acknowledge the place of despair that most people are sitting in today. I think there’s actually something quite productive about processing hopelessness in the same way that it’s productive to process grief and that if you process the feeling you reach a clearer vista to reach clearer decisions.
In fact, not processing hopelessness might be stilting us; I mean we all come from 2000 years of sky-God religions prophesising apocalypse as a climax to our experience here on earth. We were born into hopelessness. A lot of the mythology that’s at the root of our cultures looked forward to this day and has insidiously collaborated with neo-liberal capitalism to create a perfect storm of conditions, that will finally realise a transcendental apocalypse, so that we can all piss off to heaven, do you know what I mean?


I’m thinking of the potential of dreaming that we can move beyond those models of thinking, to concieve of entirely new ways of walking upon the earth. At this point we’ve got nothing to lose! Now every greengrocer knows…that the world as we know it is coming to an end, the question now is about what kind of radical thought we can engage that’s actually useful.

What’s happened to Antony and The Johnsons?

I feel like I’d exhausted this pastoral aesthetic and it was beginning to feel a bit toothless, to be honest, that’s why I reached for a harder, more euphoric, galvanising sound because I wanted to express the affairs of my heart very plainly, and to mark the time, and I didn’t really want to hide behind some gossamer curtain of ornamental violin twiddles. I just wanted it to be very direct.

Why the change of name?

“I’ve always talked about being transgender in the media, but I was beginning to feel it was time for me to take a feminine name just to honour my specific experience, and also because I’m getting older and I feel like I’ve got nothing to lose. It’s one thing to tell people that you’re transgender, but then why humour them with the idea that you’re comfortable with a male pronoun or a male name?
Was it difficult to make that transition because you’re known as Anthony with a male pronoun?

It’s like a tipping point. You get to a point where it’s like there’s no going back and you’re ready for the next thing. It’s developmental; you get to a point where its like: ‘This is who I am and this is how I want to move through the world today and you dont really care about the consequences.


In the song “4 Degrees” (about the projected rise of 4 degrees in the earth’s temperature) you take the guise of someone who says ‘Never mind’.

My intention with the record was not just an exercise in finger pointing but to start to examine my complicity in these virulent systems and to give voice not to my intention but to the reality of my footprint. It’s all very well for me to say I want the best for the world but flying here to do this concert, the narrative of the song was sublimated in the reality of my action, my behaviour.

I’ve become very interested in this giant disparity between my sense of myself and the reality of who I am. I feel like somehwere in that massive system of denial is the potential for change. Like, if I could learn to be honest about who I am so that I really understood the effect of my footprint and I could stop living in this delusional, half-sleeping state of virulence, all the while thinking I’m doing the best that I can and justifying myself…

It’s a given that I’m a hypocrite, in the same way that it’s a given that I’m a mysogenist, it’s a given that I’m a racist, it’s a given that I’m homophobic, do you what what I mean? All of those things are enmbedded in me, in many ways I think of my body as a microcosm of the brokenness of the world. It’s not like I’m immune. I’m a porous creature. I’m a part of this world and so the things that are wrong inside me are very likely a tiny photograph of the things that are wrong in the world.

The programme on which this is based can be found at  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07jwj19

(UK only)

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Remember this from David Bowie’s penultimate album The Next Day? It’s a perfect psychedelic pop melody; indeed it could easily have been written in 1965. Maybe it was, and he just kept it in his back pocket for some infathomable Bowie-ish reason. But no; the lyrics point a more contemporary subject; this is no romantic ditty but a song about a high school massacre.

Bowie’s Valentine is an alienated kid with a list of targets:“Valentine told me who’s to go…The teachers and the football stars “. As well as sketching a horrific, and common, aspect of American life today, Bowie is referencing the 1929 “St Valentine’s Day massacre” in gangland Chicago.

A jarring contrast between music and message is always a winning formula in pop/rock. This is the only song I can think of about a high school massacre since The Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays”.

(Sorry this is not a very heart-warming post – blame Mr Bowie! 😉 )

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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.

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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):

http://www.wordsofawindowcleaner.wordpress.com

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We have all met people possessed of a natural charm that enables them to hold the attention of groups of people, who listen to their opinions, laugh at their jokes and possibly want to share bodily fluids with them.

Charisma is like a magical chemical product flowing in certain peoples’ bloodstream. If you start out in life with nothing but charisma, you will usually make it because you can make people believe in you. Charismatic people are never short of people to help them in their ventures, or to vouch for them if they get in trouble. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with wealth, looks or talent but how they can make people feel.

In theory I’m a believer in collective organising, but I’ve noticed that successful projects are usually spearheaded by a motivator who has a vision. People will always be happy to fall in line if there is an inspiring figure who knows where they are going. The most successful generals are those that somehow manage to make their troops love them. The danger is that their position can become like that of a cult leader, with their power unlimited.

I remember a TV documentary a few years ago which told the story of a pub barman who convinced several customers he was a spy on top-secret government business. He held them under his spell for years, involving them in bizarre fabricated missions and swindling them out of thousands of pounds for ‘essential’ expenses before eventually being brought to justice.
I’ve never come across anyone like that, but certain people I know have led me to believe that we should be wary of people with an excess of charm. They have often read the book How To Win Friends and Influence People and consider themselves experts at psychological manouvering.

Psychological strategies can be leaned, but I’d argue true charisma is inborn and largely unconscious. Charismatic people seem to have an amplified personality ”turned up to 11” that they couldn’t turn down if they tried.

I can think of a couple of people I know who are not close friends, but when I bump into them and have a brief chat, I always walk away feeling exhilarated, inspired and perhaps just a little jealous of their self-possession. Charismatic people can help us to believe in ourselves.

Then there are others with a quiet charisma, who attract attention by not trying to. They are in their own space and hold a mysterious aura around them. I can imagine the impression conjured by the young Bob Dylan when he was playing in coffee houses in New York City in 1961. Here was a guy who was hard to pin down; odd-looking and enigmatic, there was clearly ‘something’ about him. And fifty-odd years later, people are still trying to figure out what it is.

Throughout the entertainment world, charisma is a highly-prized and relatively rare commodity. I go to a lot of gigs but only occasionally do I see someone with a magnetic presence that holds the attention. When you see it you can never explain it, it’s just ‘it’. There are all kinds of tips and tricks of stagecraft that can be learned from teachers or picked up by experience; but star quality is inborn.

A few years ago, after being a drummer and a guitarist in several bands, I decided to try being a vocalist in a band, just holding the mic at the front of the stage. I wanted to see what it was like being the focus of everyone’s attention.

We were a ragged punk rock outfit, stylistically not far from The Stooges and at the time I was in awe of Iggy Pop, who is surely one of the most unpredictable and riveting live performers ever. My first gig as a frontman was in a small bar in front of perhaps 70 people. I threw myself into it, prowling the stage, climbing on the amps, wrapping myself up in cables.

“He’s a live wire!” I imagined people thinking “…What will he do next?!”

I thought I was doing great, then I looked at the audience’s faces. Not one of them was looking at me. I couldn’t believe it. Their eyes were either on the guitarist’s hands, or the bassist’s flailing hair, or the drummer – anywhere but on the person actually singing the songs – me!

I was internally furious. What was wrong with them? Couldn’t they see how hard I was working? Weren’t they moved by my unpredictable passion? I felt like ranting, but I just continued the gig, now intimidated by the whole situation and feeling like a fraud. I laugh about it now, but I learned a tough lesson. You can’t decide to be charismatic. You either have it or you don’t.

shortly afterwards I had the opportunity to watch someone who most definately ‘has it’ . I was working at the 02 Arena in Liverpool and got the chance to see a few big mainstream acts. Def Leppard, Meatloaf and Michael Buble were all entertaining enough, but Diana Ross had something else. Standing onstage in a red satin ballgown, her charisma completely filled the huge venue. Even inbetween songs, her speaking voice and regal presence cast some kind of shimmering spell over the place.

I’m sure one day some brain scientist or communication theorist will come up with a theory that will explain charisma, but until then all we can say is that some people have a kind of magic!

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Once upon a time Black Kids were the band of the moment. Their debut album Partie Traumatic, released in 2008 (was it really that long ago?) was voted one of Spin magazine’s top 40 albums of that year and included catchy anthems of dancefloor angst like “Hurricane Jane” and “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You”.

In many ways, they were hard to define: were they an indie band or a pop act? And why ‘Black Kids’? Three out the five were white.

I had heard the above singles and they had tugged my heartstrings a bit, but the band vanished from my radar. Then I saw the album in Liverpool Central Library, borrowed it and quickly became addicted. Every song seems to be set in a party or disco, or captures the messy, intoxicated (in every way), painful and ecstatic mood of being young and sociable.

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Produced by ex-Sueded guitarist Bernard Butler, the music is fresh indie guitar-pop filtered with 80’s disco-synth sounds and danceable grooves.

Vocalist Reggie sounds like a more feisty version of The Cure’s Robert Smith – with a head cold, backed up by Dawn Watley who has a voice somewhat like Kathleen Hanna.

The lyrics are funny and catty: “I must repeat/I think you’re sweet/but aint no way that I’m going to meet/your mother, you father/your dog and your brother/your nephew and niece, girl/I just can’t be bothered!…” – Hit the Heartbrakes

This album has lifted me out of a lot of bad moods, whenever I’ve been feeling wounded and inadequate, like a teenager basically. It reminds me that crying and dancing can still be the best thing in the world.

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