The fundamentals are looking good

The fundamentals are still quite good.

Cornish pasties are still being eaten
Office workers still having heavy weekends

Painters and decorators still being paid cash in hand
Ageing Prodigy members still living off the fat of the land

Dad’s still drinking whiskey, talking about fiscal instability
Mum’s still like when he’s like that I make myself a tea and go and watch the telly

Charity workers still doing their bit
South eastern trains still running like shit

Indie kids still wearing skinny ribs and smoking spliffs
England midfielders still got good engines, still lacking width

Renters still paying over the odds for poky digs
Quitters still nipping off for cheeky cigs

Yes, the fundamentals are still quite good.
The fundamentals are looking good.

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I am not for ducking

Despite there being no evidence for this whatsoever, my predictive text seems to think that I constantly want to use the word ducking.

Perhaps I should write a formal letter,

Dear Android/Apple,

I am writing to you, very politely, to say that as a small man and I am rarely, if ever, ducking.

Did napoleon duck the big issues?

No. And nor do I.

I do, however, occasionally get slightly irritated by some things (humans, etc) which occasionally gives me cause to colour my language. So when I hit the f, and follow it with, ucking, there is no mistake.

I am definitely not fucking ducking.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Purnell

Napoleon-aux-tuileries

Literary romance – a poem

I was ostentatiously holding
a novel by Chimamanda
Ngozi Adichie, when the Nigerian
girl I was trying to impress, says

Are you carrying that book
in a half-witted attempt
to impress me?

You know me so well!
I say, which proves, she says,
that happiness and knowledge
are enemies indeed.

Happiness is elusive, I say,
like something you reach for
but cannot grasp.

She sighs loudly and replies,
something you reach for
but cannot grasp
is not like elusive.

It. Is. Elusive.

Perhaps elusiveness
is not so elusive after all,
I say, quick-wittedly,
at which the girl pushes me
into the Regent’s canal

and my head resurfaces
just in time to hear her say,
bloody Englishmen, always thinking
they are funnier than they are…

Carl, Courtney and Kendrick – Richard’s album round-up

Carl Barat and the Jackals – Let it Reign

A record entirely untroubled by genius, but a jolly, Clash cliché-ridden romp nevertheless. The song titles seem to have come out of a Libertines random phrase generator – Victory Gin, Summer in the Trenches, etc – and the lumpen lyrical content (“when she goes, she really goes” apparently) exemplifies the need for Pete Doherty to come back from rehab forthwith. That happy circumstance would allow Carl to put down the biro and return to being in a band in which his main duties are having good hair and insouciantly smoking cigarettes.

Carl Barat doing what he does best
Carl Barat doing what he does best

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney-Barnett_4

This album is so laden with lovely lyrics it is almost obscene. Courtney Barnett’s mordant, jaunty take on life is entirely to my taste, and she makes the endeavour of making music seem so easy. On Pedestrian at Best she says

I love you, I hate you, I’m on the fence
it all depends whether
I’m up, I’m down, I’m on the mend

which is fabulous; and when she says

You’re saying definitely maybe
I’m saying probably no

she appears to take down Noel Gallagher in one neat couplet. Or rip a former lover. Or both. Either way, Courtney Barnett is a hero in my ears.

Villagers – Darling Arithmetic

This new Villagers LP has done away with the playful, surreal songwriting of the previous album, and moved, perplexingly, toward songs of choirboy-ish yearning. Conor O’Brien is a delightful writer, and always worth listening to, but on some of the songs here he seems to be aimlessly noodling on his guitar, apparently oblivious to the fact that someone is recording him. Still, I like Villagers, and am going to see them in a fortnight, so I’m tuning my ears to thinking this one is better than it is.

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Where the hooks go, Kendrick?
Where the hooks go, Kendrick?

To Pimp a Butterfly has all the standard issue Kendrick Lamar ingredients: great rapping, intricate storytelling, a dollop of preachiness, all woven together with classic funk. To that mix he has added poetic interludes, free jazz, quite a bit of screaming and some kind of bizarre, beyond the grave chit-chat with Tupac. All this leads me to think that this album is like prog-rock – grand and long and definitely impressive, but perhaps not actually good.

Also, when he says, “Shit don’t change, until you get up and wash yo’ ass” he seems to be pushing the kind of problematic pull-up-your-pants message advocated by the moralising rapist Bill Cosby. Fuck that, son.

In short, Kendrick is a genius, and I do love him, but I think this year I’ll be getting my hip-hop kicks from Earl Sweatshirt.

Warpaint – Warpaint

How do you come up with that album titke, Warpaint?
Long meeting, was it, coming up with that album title?

The members of Warpaint seem to have watched the Virgin Suicides and decided to form a band which sounds like that. Listening to this album you can imagine Sofia Coppola in an advisory role, doling out tips on casual indifference. The songs come at you with glances, making you desire them all the more. Warpaint is quite the most feline album I have ever heard: complex, cool, and with charms which unfold beautifully.

My Christmas present failures (and a solution to this misery)

Billy Bob Thornton enjoying Christmas
Billy Bob Thornton enjoying Christmas

If Christmas is about anything it is about unrealistic expectations.

It is a time when we try to turn something immaterial – love – into something material: presents. We are setting ourselves up for a tumble. And rather than increasing the sum total of love, this anxious gift-giving is more likely to turn that love into hate, or perhaps a kind of woollen resentment.

My strike rate for Christmas present success is no more than one in three (by which I mean about one in five). In football striker terms, I am Emile Heskey – capable of the occasional exquisite show of class, but more often a hapless chancer, failing when it is easier to succeed.

People often ask me if I get nervous before I perform on stage. I say, yes, you need to. The nerves don’t get the better of me because I am prepared. I know what I’m doing (more or less). When it comes to the giving and receiving of Christmas presents it is quite the opposite. I am a fearful wreck, seeing danger at every turn. And for good reason, because my catalogue of Christmas present failures is as long as it is confidence-crushing.

Here are some edited lowlights.

A compact disc
Last Christmas, I bought a compact disc for my cousin, Simon. He unwrapped it and gave a look as if to say, “What on earth am I supposed to do with this?” See, Simon lives in the modern age and hasn’t used CDs for the past decade. To him, a CD comes from a bygone era, like the horse and cart, without the anachronistic charm. I might as well have given him a VHS cassette. Or a mangle.

A compact disc, probably with Dire Straits on it
A compact disc, probably with Dire Straits on it

A steamer
I fall in love every day, in a skittish flitting flirting way, with people in elevators and on escalators, indeed with elevators and escalators, if their lines are elegant enough. But one time I was properly in love. Love love. That love which is all doomed devotion and Saturday nights indoors watching Ant and Dec.

In this context, you might have thought that I would have extended myself when it came to presents.

Not me. Where I should have tremulously rustled up a cliched combination of roses, chocolates and trips up the Eiffel Tower, I bought a steamer.

A steamer.

A household appliance which cooks vegetables whilst allowing said vegetables to retain more of their nutritional content. I was essentially saying: “I love you, but you could really do with eating more curly kale.”

"A healthier, lonelier life."
“A healthier, lonelier life.”

Dina Carroll’s Greatest Hits
Back in the mid-90s, back when singers like Toni Braxton and Celine Dion ruled the earth like brutal, multi-octave velociraptors, there was Dina Carroll.

I liked Dina Carroll.

Not in a big way. Not the way I liked Guns N Roses. But as an English Whitney, she was pretty great.

I once said to my sister that I liked Dina Carroll. She said she really liked Dina Carroll too. It became a thing between us. Don’t Be A Stranger would come on Capital and she’d say, “Classic!” and I would fervently agree.

This went on for some months and so, when it came to the annual trip to HMV to selflessly buy music for people who aren’t me, I bought her Dina Carroll’s Greatest Hits, thinking it the safest of safe bets.

On Christmas day, when she unwrapped the CD, she laughed and said that she didn’t really like Dina Carroll. She was only taking the piss.

In my quiet devastation I resolved to never, ever trust blood relatives again. And always to be the most sarcastic person in the room.

Junichiro Tanizaki – Some Prefer Nettles
This is an elegantly written, yet very saucy tale of marital infidelity and lust. An ideal present for a new girlfriend with a love of literature. Me? Let’s just say relations between me and my aunt haven’t been quite the same since I chose this as her Christmas gift.

Henry Miller was a big fan of Tanizaki, which says it all, really.
Henry Miller was a big fan of Tanizaki, which says it all, really.

Original Source XXX Black Mint Shower Gel For Men
I am a devotee of this brilliant product. It is minty and manly, and when you use it to wash your privates, it makes your balls tingle.

Three years ago I bulk bought this as a side-gift to the men-folk in my family (to lessen my sense of mortification when my main gifts failed).

A few weeks later, I went to see my mum and dad, and noticed that while the shower gel was on display near the bath tub, it had barely been used. When I enquired to my father what the matter was, he said he “didn’t know how to use it.”

My father has two master’s degrees. He is, whenever possible, intellectually sneering. Yet he couldn’t work out how to use shower gel.

Since then, I have had to adjust my view of my father as an all-knowing Yorkshireman with a heroic gambling habit, to a sort of flawed autodidact who, without the presence of my mother, would have long since died in a bizarre hoovering mishap.

A genius product from Original Source
A genius product from Original Source

One that succeeded

A penguin
When my neice, Amelia, was four, I got Santa to get her a stuffed penguin, and when she opened it she said, “A penguin!” She was really happy with that penguin, and so was I.

My Christmas appeal
Amelia told me the other day that while she had over thirty items on her Christmas list last year, this year she only has eleven. She explained to me that she basically had a lot of stuff. She is eight years old yet is already scratching around for material things she actually wants.

This, combined with my lifetime of present-buying torment, suggests it might be better to cut back on the buying and enjoy each other’s company instead.

No worries: a poem

Do you remember when everything was good
those good times, when the good things happened
what were you, six, nine, eleven, fifteen
that age, when only the fun things mattered
like skateboard tricks and scootering
and decisions never got harder than
how many scoops and what type of ice cream

Do you remember, tv was good back then
the good guys were good looking and felt like your friends
friends that were funny, and caring too
and in the movies things exploded but your hero made it through
do you remember when everyone used to make it through?
wouldn’t you like everyone you love to just make it through?

No worries, that’s what I’m standing for
a good future where worries are no more
adults encouraged to play video games
not new ones, the old ones, like we used to play.
Do you know what else I would like to do?
Bring back those bands which spoke to you
when you were that age when music still spoke to you

If that is the safe space you want to return to
there is one little thing you have got to do
one morning, on a Thursday in May
I’ll drop off dvds and your favourite food
you gather your mates and play all day
and keep them away from the voting booth

the next day, there will be a new improved truth
the news will all be good news
or maybe just cartoons
yes, instead of news we’ll just have the funnies
and I promise you this
my friends and I will take care of business
and for you, my friend, there will be no worries

no worries

The poet Tshaka Campbell and a joke about integrity

Tshaka Campbell
Tshaka Campbell

“I’m big into integrity,” said the poet Tshaka Campbell. “I’m not going to write about something like an abortion from a woman’s perspective because there is no way I could know what that is like.

“I don’t like poets who write a break-up poem and you say, ‘have you ever broken up with someone?’ and they say, ‘no!'”

Tshaka shrugged, and smiled, as if to say, “how ridiculous is that – to even think to do something like that?” And many of the crowd at Bang Said The Gun, a popular spoken word night in south London, laughed with him.

I didn’t laugh. I didn’t laugh because I was too busy wondering exactly how dangerous a joke like that is. He was effectively saying, in a flippant, light-hearted way, that if you haven’t directly experienced it, don’t write about it.

Which set me thinking: would he have told Hubert Selby Jnr to not write the rape scene in Last Exit to Brooklyn because he was not rape victim nor rapist? Would he have told Patricia Highsmith not to write The Talented Mr Ripley because she had no direct experience of murder? Would he have stopped Shakespeare from writing anything but the occasional poem about his early years in Stratford-upon-Avon?

I suspect not, because he would see that these were serious writers and would do what he could to encourage them. So I do not believe that he meant this joke to be taken as a general truth.

However, even if we look at the specific example he sets – that of the poet writing a break-up poem without having experienced a break-up – we can see that even this is wrong. For example, we know that Morrissey was famously celibate and had no boyfriends or girlfriends during his songwriting heyday in the 1980s.

That didn’t stop him writing one of the greatest love songs of all time, There is a Light That Never Goes Out. He was able to write this song, not because of a love that he had directly experienced, but because of his unique sensitivity to the human condition.

To give Tshaka the benefit of the doubt, he might have meant that if a writer writes about a difficult subject – a break-up; an abortion – and does not fully think through the subject, then poor quality writing is almost certainly the result. But that could equally be the case whether someone has experienced something or not – anyone who has been to a few open mic nights knows that.

Tshaka Campbell has been writing poetry for 20 years. The crowd was full of people there to see him, the headline act. Many were no doubt writers or aspiring writers, likely to be influenced by this charismatic performer and therefore take his ill-judged joke seriously.

I would be really sad if an aspiring writer came away from that night and decided to steer clear from daring, imaginative work, and write only from their own experience, because they believed it more artistically credible to do so.

The present glut of poets, and Campbell is not one of them, who seem to only write in the first person, suggests that the ‘only write from your own experience’ philosophy has its adherents. What I would like to see is more poets bravely experimenting with different styles and techniques – developing characters, writing from unusual perspectives, using satire and irony – before hitting upon a style which suits them.

As the songwriter Conor O’Brien, from the band Villagers, said in a recent interview:

“It was Dylan who made me realise that you could just lose your mind a little bit, and sometimes when you’re adventurous and you have that spirit in you something quite fundamental comes out.”

Which seems like a much better piece of advice for a writer than telling them what is off limits.

So perhaps Tshaka Campbell should impose a small limitation upon himself: stick to performing his often brilliant poetry, and leave the jokes to the comedians.