Thursday, 26 March 2009

No Opinion Fridays

It begins how it always begins, and it always ends the same way. In tears. Either mine or the people around me.

How it begins is this: I read the news, or leave the house (rarely), or switch on the television or radio, or even sometimes just flick out my tongue snake-like… and the complex taste of imminent disaster is at once revealed to me, like the odour of a two day old corpse.

What this taste forewarns, is that slowly, surely, and tragically ineluctably, AN OPINION is forming in my brain.

Like a shadow creeping across the face of the sun, it is the harbinger of doom. Or at least a heated argument at breakfast.

Seemingly impotent in the face of the all-consuming OPINION, I feel compelled to share it with anyone who will listen (or lacks the motor skills to leave the vicinity).

For instance this morning, upon hearing the pronouncement by the Grand Wizard of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, that God would not intervene to save the planet from global warming, I felt an OPINION forcing it’s way towards my mouth.

However, now that I’m 40 and affecting an air of wisdom - conferred merely by age rather than actual experience – I confronted this OPINION and by a force of will so extreme that it made my eye sockets fill with blood, I stopped this OPINION dead in its tracks.

Having achieved this minor victory, I have decided to employ this tactic more often. Not every day, maybe just one day a month. Like dress casual days, or Hawaiian shirt Fridays (don’t ask, it was a long tour), I am about to embark upon an experiment.

On the last Friday of the month, I will express no OPINION on anything whatsoever. This may make me appear ill-informed, or apathetic, but it should go someway to restoring my self-image as a calm, rational human, rather than the vitriol-spouting demagogue I suspect I am deep down.

I urge you to try it. When you read something about the government consulting you over the advertising of condoms but not bothering to ask whether we should go to war or not, or torture people or not, or shore up the banking system or not… instead of rising to the bait, rise instead to the challenge.

Say nothing. Think nothing. Turn the page quickly, turn off the radio, switch to the weather channel. Express not the merest hint of outrage.

Do you think the world really needs another OPINION? No, the world now has a surfeit of opinions, roughly to the tune of 7 billion. Like my vote, my opinion doesn’t matter.

Give it a go. It will if nothing else make you seem enigmatic for about an hour. As if you have more important things going on than worrying about a celebrity wedding, or… I don’t know… a war or famine or something.

I for one feel much better about NOT having actually expressed the opinion that Rowan Williams is clearly a buffoon. I can let slip a self-satisfied sigh that I DIDN'T say that on past evidence the number of God’s interventions to save anything on this fucking planet look pretty fucking thin on the ground.

I’m proud that I DIDN'T shout at the top of my voice from the campus bell tower (high powered rifle by my side) that if God didn’t intervene to stop wars, famines, natural disasters, school buses crashing, or good people dying - whilst simultaneously ensuring that bad people suffer - at any other fucking time in fucking history, then he as sure as hell isn’t going to fucking start now, you fucking fuckwit of a sky fairy-believing retard.

Hold the front fucking page, "God to do nothing in face of catastrophe". Moron.

No, I’m glad I didn’t say that. It would make me seem unhinged.

Good luck with your own “No Opinion Friday” or whichever day you choose.

Be warned, however, that on the morning of the following day, you will find yourself deluged by OPINIONS of all sorts, that are desperate to be heard.

Thank Tim Berners-Lee then, that we have the internet. The forum for all unhinged people like us through which to share our lighter, happier sides.

I really, really need to get out more. Or less. One of the two.

Next week: Tom goes to a kitten sanctuary (and takes a course in anger management).

The week after that: he discusses how to write complete sentences (without the use of brackets).

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Life Begins...

So, life begins today allegedly. We used to have a running joke in my band that I was different ages in different countries, depending on which press release the journalist was reading, or which record company was trying to persuade the world I was younger than my birth certificate stated.

Age was never an issue for me, and if I'm supposed to feel something momentous then I don't - I'm just happy as always to be here. When I say happy, I mean happy to be alive. What you take for granted when you're twenty you cling to at twice that age.

I've always subscribed to the view that energy and creativity are ageless, you just have to swim against the tides of fashion as you age, but that's familiar water to me. I'm pisces after all, I may not always be in the swim, but I'm always swimming, often with all my strength.

The last ten years have been an adventure, but so were the ten years before that and the two decades before them. Stick around long, enough good things happen. Bad too I guess, and I am luckier than many. I have seen things I never dreamed, and travelled the world, with the best of people, doing the thing I love more than anything. It has been a privilege, and one that I acknowledge every day, whilst working as hard as I can. And fishing sometimes, obviously.

Some songs are better than others, some albums hit the target, others fly wide, some gigs... well, you know what, all the gigs are great. At least from my point of view. I get to face the wrong way in a crowd and have my voice heard above all the others. Not a week goes by when I don't dream I'm on stage, just to be able to sing at the top of my lungs. When I take time away from the road a little bit of me loses it's shine. But it always comes back when I need it.

Forty is traditionally the age of contemplation, of assessing where we are. Mid life. Crisis and all. But my crises occur on a weekly basis, so whatever this life has got to offer in the next ten years, I hope to be here to at least witness it.

I wrote a verse to a song called "I ain't scared of lightning" a few years ago, which I sometimes sing live, it goes "I ain't scared of lightning, I'm just looking for the thrill, so come on God, give me your best shot, I swear that I'll stand still". Well, I lied. I won't stand still, I am way to restless for that.

So, no calming down - let's face it I was never going to make the Rock and Roll hall of fame - but also no surrender. I'm hard at work on what I think is the best record yet. I'm duty bound to say that, but surely that's the point. Our best day is today and our best work is whatever's next.

Thank you to all of you who sent birthday wishes, we have come a long way, but we're only just getting started. There are many adventures still to come. Perhaps life does begin today after all.

P.S This is me in the studio last week with some new band members, and taking the shot is Olli Cunningham. He'd like me to point that out. And you recognise the guy on the far left. Here's to you, my brothers in arms.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

None of the above

I seem to have been absent for a while, busy spring cleaning, white-washing the old mole hole (that sounds so wrong) and preparing for the possibility of committing new music to tape - and this has left little time for important things like writing this blog, or typing emails of outrage to The Guardian, my MP, Thames Water, British Gas, or anyone else who will ignore me.

Just this morning though, the usual combination of lack of sleep and too much coffee ( I wonder if they're connected) led me to send the following missive to the lovely Jenni Russell who has received several of my letters over the years. I feel it's important to retain a dialogue with the outside world, especially when one never leaves the house except to buy the paper and see which cars got burnt out this week on my street.

Now that I'm nearly 40 I think it's allowable to use the word 'one' rather than 'I' when referring to myself, my status - whilst not totally regal - is at least approaching that of elder statesman. When I say elder statesman, I mean something like Mugabe.

I'll be back with something close to regular blogging as the music schedule allows, but what with that, irate letter writing, obscure phonograph building and figuring out how to keep snails off my clematis (again, that sounds so wrong) there is precious little time left in the day before my afternoon nap.

Until I have something insightful to say I shall leave you with the aforementioned letter... maybe if we all burnt our ballots there'd be revolution - or at least something to toast marshmallows with.

You can read Jenni's piece here

Dear Jenni, another interesting piece today, but I wonder if in your heart of hearts even someone as seemingly hopeful as yourself doesn't secretly despair that once again the merry-go-round of democracy will result in the same pathetic choice between the puppet on the left or the puppet on the right.

I agree it is inevitable the Conservatives will win, but it could equally be any party offering what amount to identikit campaign policies, which immediately mutate from aspirational gold to pragmatic lead once power is achieved.

The argument that this form of democracy is the 'least worst' of all systems, with its right to vote for which our grandparents fought and died, is looking tired and downright dangerous in a world that needs big ideas, implemented quickly before we destroy the planet, our economies and each other. Our current form of democracy amounts to a tinkering with window dressing, as the next administration will doubtless prove, with a public purse so empty that any big ideas may be beyond our ability to fund them.

So rather than conferring a spurious legitimacy on any of the candidates by marking my ballot, I shall instead be burning it, as there is currently no move to recognise the spoiling of ballots as part of the electoral process. You may call me the naive one, knowing as we all do that decisions are made by those who show up, but I've been turning up all my adult life. To elections, to rallies, to meetings, and not once has my voice - or the voices of millions of others - been listened to. I voted in New Labour only to be taken into an illegal war, to have my civil liberties eroded, and to be made an accomplice to torture, by a party whose idea of social justice is to line the pockets of millionaire bankers.

While our generation looks back with gratitude to our forebears knowing the battles they fought figuratively and literally for our freedom to vote, I wonder how today or tomorrow's generation will regard us. At a time when the planet is dying, when capitalism has failed to bring equality, when we have lost the ability to feed ourselves, and the desire to feed others, will they be proud and grateful that we stood in line outside a primary school to cast our ballot for Cameron or Clegg, or any other stuffed shirt - or would they rather we genuinely took a stand and said "none of the above"?

As I watch my ballot burn I will at least know that I wasn't fooled again.


Tom McRae

P.S I have no idea what clematis is, or how to keep snails off it. I just listen to Radio 4 too much. I maybe old, but I'm not that old.