A tentative blog to test the temperature.
Ten years ago I was writing several blogs on various subjects - F1 motor racing, Music, Classic Cars, Great Romances and, most crushingly, a personal journal that included my thoughts on America, memories of England and Africa, opinion, humour, writing and anything else that occurred. It all became too much (I was attempting to update the journal every day) and I collapsed, exhausted and thoroughly disillusioned in the end.|
So this blog is indeed a Toe in the Water, a place to document my thoughts in and on WdC but with a determination not to get sucked into the blog whirlpool ever again. Here's hoping.
People do not appreciate what a traumatic event the break up of the Beatles was. Not to the iconic John, Paul, George and Ringo themselves, as, by all accounts, it was an enormous relief to them, allowing them to get on with their individual lives at last. But to us, the generation that grew and blossomed with the band, it was a shock that remains with us to this day.
We had thrown our lives into the effort to create a new and kinder world and now this group, that had given expression to the most magical and meaningful years of our lives was gone. I was not alone in looking around for whoever or whatever was going to replace them.
For fifty years I have waited for the band that rises to the level that the Beatles attained. And now, now that I’ve found it, it turns out to have been right in front of me for the past twenty-five years. It’s no wonder that I failed to spot this for so long. The band turned out some very likable stuff to begin with, even some experimental things that, on occasion, succeeded. But there was a certain nerdiness about the group, in particular its lead singer and genius, that gave no hint of the greatness to come.
You will understand when I tell you that the band was and is Weezer. You will object that its music is pop, something that we claimed to despise back there in our heyday. Well, yes, much of it is, but the same can be said of the Beatles’ stuff. You will tell me that it’s all about Rivers Cuomo’s teenage angst and I’d have to admit that there were occasions when he allowed his feelings to show. But have you forgotten Lennon’s public eviscerations of his deepest being? You can say that their music is all over the place, invading other genres, creating new ones and ignoring all the rules. And you’d be right but isn’t it beginning to sound awfully familiar?
This is where it becomes apparent. Like the Beatles, Weezer always sounds like Weezer but it admits to no genre and is unafraid to try new and unheard of methods. The other day I was watching a video of a gig they did recently and, at one point, the four of them gathered around a single microphone and did a barbershop quartet version of their song, Buddy Holly. Then they dispersed to their instruments and ripped the roof off the place with the original and loud version of the same song. It was this that confirmed the theory to me.
Only the Beatles would have carelessly and openly messed with their own creation in such a way. To stride from as humble and outdated a thing as a barbershop quartet to serious and hard rock in an instant showed minds as open as its possible to get to anything that goes beyond the boring old norm. Well, only the Beatles and now Weezer.
It’s impossible for me to demonstrate the depth and breadth of the band’s repertoire with just one song. Instead, I’ll have to show you just one aspect, atypical of their style but then, nothing is. It’s not even a Weezer song, although it could have been. This is a Rivers Cuomo demo of a song he was considering for the band, something that he’d written, worked up to some sort of level and then recorded so the others could hear and decide. It’s rough and apparently simple , just like the Beatles’ Two of Us. And, most importantly, it’s different!
Word count: 602
No doubt we all remember being asked, “What does it feel like to be umpteen (or whatever age you happen to be)?” That sort of thing dies out somewhere along the way to seventy-three. At a guess, it is probably after twenty-one that the question becomes even more pointless than it was before. Although I can imagine it being asked at forty, if only to rub in the terrible jokiness of the occasion.
The truth is that the answer is, “Exactly the same as it was yesterday.” We might wake up one day, knowing that it’s our birthday and fairly excited or aghast at the prospect, but that’s not an age-related experience. It’s all about perception of the celebrations to come. The actual fact of being a year older has absolutely no effect at all on the way we feel.
So the answer to the question, if we’re being truthful, is, “No different.” Unless, of course, we’re younger than twenty-one. Before that, significant changes happen over a year and it might be that achieving a new number could feel rather different (see my essay https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2199996-Now-We-Are-Twelve). That is a rare and special thing, however. Most of my memories of being asked as a child what it felt like to be a year older are of complete bewilderment , there being no difference that I could discern.
In adulthood, the matter of age has no bearing on our feelings at all. We might be a bit depressed at the way the counter keeps mounting and accelerating at the same time. But that’s a product of the modern worship of youth. In the next instant it’ll be forgotten and you’ll carry on as if nothing happened. And that’s because nothing did happen in reality.
There’s more, however. I’m now going to tell you a secret that you must swear to keep to yourself, no matter what happens. Years ago, this secret escaped somehow into Facebook and I was buried under an avalanche of comments that proved impossible to answer individually. I had to resort to what I call “the shotgun response” in the end, merely sending out one message that dealt with all. It was most unsatisfactory and I removed all traces of the secret at the first opportunity.
So I must ask that you promise to keep this information to yourself (and also, please don’t react to it in any way whatsoever). And, presuming that you have taken this oath, I can now tell you that today is my birthday. No, not the first one, obviously. As it happens, I gave the clue several paragraphs ago. I am seventy-three today.
Do you know how it feels to be that age? Precisely the same as it felt yesterday and a million yesterdays before that. Which gives the answer to the inevitable question, even though no one is going to ask it today. It’s just another day with a new number to remember for a year. Nothing to celebrate at all.
Word count: 503
I think we all must know, deep down, that’s it’s a gift. That it’s something not everyone has and there was no particular reason why we were given it while others weren’t. It’s the same for everything, some having exceptional ability in sports, others in cooking pies or singing songs or cleaning drains. It’s a gift and there’s nothing special about us that makes us worthy recipients of it.
None of us was given the gift because we’re exceptionally good. We can become good at the thing but it has to be present first or we wouldn’t put the effort into developing it. It’s the gift that directs our feet and decides where we’re going. Our job is merely to follow along and get the thing done.
The great trap, of course, is to think that we are the gift. That this facility, this ease with which we do a certain thing, is because we are who we are. In effect, that we earned the gift, that something about us makes us worthy of it and that, ultimately, we become the gift. We see celebrities every day caught in this deception, convinced that it’s all happening because of who they are.
That’s not how it works. It really is a gift, something handed out as you leave the factory, a unique ability that becomes your reason for what you do. Others will imagine that you are something special, being able to do what you do so well, but you will know, in your heart of hearts, that it doesn’t matter what or who you are; it’s just there and the truth is you are more it’s servant than its master.
But it doesn’t have to be served. Because it’s a gift, you can ignore it and go another way. I don’t recommend that but it can be done. And that brings us to the matter of responsibility.
This is the string attached to the gift: responsibility. It matters what we do with the gift. If we use it creatively, it will grow and there will come a time when it will repay all the hard work it insisted upon in the beginning. Avoid using it and it will wither and die. That is the enormous responsibility heaped on our shoulders.
It’s the biblical tale of the talents, of course. There being no accidents, it was always intended that English should render the word for talent, a unit of money, as also a gift. It was so that the lesson could be hammered into our practical, literal English minds that it’s a gift and should be used wisely.
So always remember that it’s the gift, not you. Of course it’s nice when your creation is appreciated but don’t forget it’s only yours in as much as the gift is yours. Some day we’ll be called to account for it.
Word count: 478
|Don’t Miss These
I may have mentioned before, if not here then somewhere in the hallowed halls of WdC, that much of my early reading was done in my mother’s collection of books. This was about as eclectic an assemblage as you could get in the late fifties and early sixties, ranging from Shakespeare to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, but there were two little books that gave such delight that I still remember them fondly almost sixty years later.
One was Don Marquis’ Archy and Mehitabel that I have written about elsewhere (http://www.madtv.me.uk/goneaway.aspx?BlogID=210), and the other was a gem written by a man named Giovanni Guareschi. The fact that I had retained the name of Don Marquis’ tour de force made it easy to research the work on the net. But, for a long time, I could not dredge Guareschi’s masterpiece from the fetid depths of my brain.
In the end, I came to it by a complex system of guiding Google by snippets of relevant information until it begrudgingly admitted it knew what I was talking about. The book that I remember so warmly was, and is, because it remains in print, The Little World of Don Camillo.
My research has revealed that the full series of Don Camillo books is available in a new edition from Amazon. The original illustrations may not be included in this edition since I can find no mention of them. In my memory, they were an important part of the book’s charm but, even without them, Guareschi’s tale and subsequent sequels are rewarding to anyone in search of wisdom and gentle humour.
Yes, this post may seem an obvious advertisement for a couple of books that have long been out of fashion. But, believe me, I am really doing you a favour. From now on, if you ever glimpse these names on some faded bookstore’s lists, you’ll be drawn by sheer curiosity to find out what I’m talking about. You won’t be sorry.
Here’s the link to the Don Camillo pages on Amazon:
And the same for Archy and Mehitabel:
Word count: 374
|Smells Like Teen Romance
Over on "Question of the Day!" today, the discussion is all about bookshelves and their arrangement. Since I have very few books these days, I didn’t have much to contribute, but something that was said made me remember an important fact that influenced my book buying back then.
This is an esoteric art that may, at first, seem irrational, but it works. The secret is never to buy a book until you’ve smelled it. Open it up somewhere in the middle, shove your nose right into it and take a deep breath of its smell. They all smell differently and, in time, you get to know the smells that indicate good books and those that warn of a stinker.
So now you’re scoffing, pointing out that all new books smell of print, paper and glue. And you’d be right to a point. But it’s the subtleties that make the difference. Whether it makes sense or not, there are differences between books and, with practice, you can learn to discern these nuances. Try it and you’ll see.
The really weird thing is that all the copies of a particular book will smell the same. They will all have the same distinctive smell that identifies it as belonging to that edition of the work. This is really what proves the theory. If it were just a matter of the physical constituents of the book, all the products of a printer would smell the same, regardless of their literary quality. But it just doesn’t work like that.
I never bought a book without smelling it first and (as far as I can remember), I never bought a bad one. Oh, I’ve read a few but most would have been pressed on me by someone who thought they were doing me a favour.
You may ask why I didn’t smell the books recommended by others. It only works with new books, that’s the reason. Ownership of a book imparts new fragrances and pongs that interfere with the book’s pristine originality and one doesn’t want to get involved with that can of worms.
So remember, the next time you’re in a bookshop and you see someone with their nose in a book, don’t laugh. You are in the presence of a connoisseur!
Word count: 382
|The Passing of the Torch
Quite a lot of music posts on the Newsfeed these days, so I thought I’d throw in a couple. Being an old fart, I’m bound to prefer the music of my heyday but I do try to keep reasonably up to date with what’s going on in this century too. And one of the latest internet sensations is a combination of the two - a Beatles tribute band that has started popping up all over the net and has a following numbered in the millions.
I am talking about the REO Brothers, a Filipino group of four actual brothers (and occasionally a fifth). They may have started out as the best Beatles soundalike ever but they have since diversified and are just as good at reproducing the sound of bands such as the Eagles, Dire Straits, the Beach Boys, the Bee Gees (the drummer’s voice is a dead ringer for Barry Gibb’s falsetto), Simon and Garfunkel and many more.
This made me think about how all the groups of the sixties and seventies are dying off now (well, the Stones might go on forever) and we will be left with aging versions of songs that were supposed to last until the end of time (or Keith Richards’ decision to pack it in). But bands like the REO Brothers inject new life into the old classics and give us hope that the music will not die.
There is so much on the net by the group that it makes it almost impossible to choose one. If you haven’t heard them before, however, you should start by listening to their rendering of the Beatles and that allows me to sneak in the second part of their compilation of Beatles love songs. There are three songs in this part.
Okay, fellow old fogies - enjoy.
Word count: 300
|The Meaning of…
I was thinking about the current hiatus that SCREAMS!!! is on, realising how much I’d come to depend on it for inspiration on the story-writing front, when I was arrested by that word, “hiatus.”
Yes, we use it all the time these days to mean a break in a continuous sequence, but I had a feeling there was another meaning too. Was this another case of modern usage crowding out an older meaning? I hurried to Miriam-Webster to see what kind of words it could say.*
Turns out I was more correct than I had imagined. Right at the end of its little discourse on the subject, MW admitted that it also meant “the occurrence of two vowel sounds without pause or intervening consonantal sound.” Note the important distinction indicated in that phrase “without pause.” Quite clearly, this was an alternative meaning for the word “hiatus” that meant exactly the opposite of our more commonly understood meaning. Far from just meaning a break in a sequence, the word can also indicate the lack of a break.
At some time in the distant past, my brain must have come across this alternative meaning and stored it for no apparent reason. Unless it was purely to nudge my certainty of its more popular meaning with the suspicion that this wasn’t the whole story.
Never ignore the proddings of the unconscious mind - there’s always a reason for it.
* Quote from Bob Dylan -
“went to the doctor the very next day
to see what kinda words he could say.”
Word count: 235
|Still Blogging for the Bard
Twelve months ago I started this blog ( "Blog for the Bard" ) against my natural inclination, but spurred on by curiosity to see how it went. To my surprise, I enjoyed it enough to continue blogging through the year that followed. There may have been occasional lapses into silence for a few days, yet the blog always drew me back, proving to be an ideal place to note random thoughts and odd imaginings.
And now "The Bard's Hall Contest" is having its annual blog month in June again. It strikes me that I should get involved with this again, if only to prove that the contest works in persuading writers to blog and keep doing so.
Which means that this is my first post to count towards the contest and will, hopefully, be followed by at least nine more entries for June. It wasn’t too hard a target last year and should prove quite possible even now. And, best of all, it means all you avid followers of my blog (hi, Ma) get to read my latest annoying thoughts.
Why not join me in blogging for the Bard this June?
Word Count: 185
|A Stylish Post
Interesting occurrence this morning. But first, the tangled route I used to get to it.
Had a notification that mystified me a little. It was a tag to an entry in the Blogging Bliss Newsletter - Issue One Hundred One. Not having encountered this creature before, I wondered what I'd done to deserve a mention in it. Ever intrepid, I followed the link to find out. It was, as I had begun to suspect, a newsletter about blogs and, glancing quickly down the text, I saw that my mention was a link to my blog entry, The Hill, of a few days ago. One of my brief (very) thoughts, then.
But that meant that someone had been reading my blog, I realised. Who was this person who had become so lost in the jungle of WdC as to find me in it all? I checked. Some guy named Wordsmitty ✍️ - a name I'd seen before but not had any interaction with. Being nosey, I had a look at his Bio. And there, under the heading Writing Style, I found a link to a site entitled "I Write Like" (https://iwl.me/). At last we get to the point of this post!
Naturally, I tried it to see what it had to say about me. Picked a short story of mine at random and entered the text in the provided rectangle. It reckoned I write like Stephen King. Mildly insulted, I pondered on that. Not being a fan of the guy, I've read very little of his stuff but have my doubts that I write anything like him. Unless the site was going by subject more than style. It was a horror story that I'd entered, after all.
I picked another one, the same genre but rather a different style. This time, it seemed, I wrote like Conan Doyle.
Ah, I thought, I see your game. It's all about length of sentences and word choice. And, since I write in many different styles, depending on what I'm writing about (and even who I'm mimicking at times), I was confusing the darn thing. It could have some passing interest in that I could enter those stories that I intended to be in the style of a particular author, just to see if I'd succeeded, but I doubt it would achieve a high degree of accuracy. It can only have a limited database of authors and, for instance, I'm prepared to bet it's never heard of H. Rider Haggard nor read the poems of A.A. Milne. A thing of limited use, therefore, but an amusement for an idle moment or two.
And I say that in my best Conan Doyle voice. Elementary. my dear Watson!
Word count: 452
|Just been reminded of a magnificent word that English pinched from the French - "oeuvre." Miriam-Webster defines it as "a substantial body of work constituting the lifework of a writer, an artist, or a composer," and it should be enormously useful in the context of WdC. Here's hoping it returns to more general use because it sounds so much more impressive than just "lifework."
Or am I being snobbish?