Dear Peter Gabriel…

6 12 2011

Dear Peter Gabriel,

Since Sir Jimmy Saville is no longer, and I now know that Santa never was, I have come to the conclusion that I have no other choice but to lay my wishes at your feet: I wish, Peter, for Christmas, or a Birthday, or just some random occasion within the next year, for an album of brand new Peter Gabriel music.

I’m sure I’m not alone in my longings. I am quite positive that if I put my mind to it, I could find at least half a dozen of my friends who would feel similarly. And the rest? Well… they just don’t know what they’re missing! But they will do Peter. When your new album comes out, I’ll invite them all round, lock the doors and crank it up to 11.

Peter, I know you’re probably not a sucker for flattery, but I might as well start there before I have to resort to more stringent forms of coercion. Up truly is one of the all-time great albums. I’m not just saying that. Perfectly crafted songs, oscillating between naked minimalism and dense, multileveled orchestration. The lyrics are fun, moving and dark in equal measure (well, actually let’s be honest… not many of them are fun!)

Every track is perfect: The angsty ‘Darkness’, the infectious grooves of ‘Growing Up’, the spine-tingling-soulfulness of the Blind Boys on ‘Sky Blue’, the beautifully disorienting drumming of the ‘No Way Out’ outro, the two-headed beast that is ‘I Grieve’, with its industrial-ambience and ridiculously catchy middle section, the Levin-fuelled grooves of ‘Barry Williams’, the soaring note-perfect vocals of ‘My Head Sounds Like That’, the many-layered and perfectly toned guitar work of ‘More Than This’, not to mention the Hammond breakdown at the end, the rich strings and haunting vocals of ‘Signal to Noise’, made all the more poignant by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s posthumous contribution, and the vulnerable simplicity of ‘The Drop.’ I honestly don’t think I’d change a note…

So all I’m asking, Peter, is for more of the same, or better. Please.

Don’t get me wrong, pretty much everything you’ve produced since has been far better than the mediocre output of almost every other artist and band around, but it’s time for something new. Sure, you can sing Arcade Fire and Neil Young, and Regina Spektor, and do a pretty good job of it too! Sure, you can rework your old material in new, beautifully orchestrated arrangements that make the hair stand on end on the back of my neck. You can sing with apes, and get mentioned in a Vampire Weekend track and win Grammys… All of these are laudable achievements, but where’s the new stuff? Where are the 130 ideas you’ve been working on? Where’s the legendary I/O album I’ve been salivating over in anticipation since 2004?

I understand Up took you ten years to perfect. I’ll do you a deal, I’ll stay off your back until September 2013, by which time you will have had a full eleven years since Up. But if I don’t get something good by then, you can count on me coming after you! The clock’s ticking Peter! I’d settle for just a song or two, in whatever stage of completion… go on, stick some on a disc and post them to me, I won’t share them. It can be our little secret!

Anyway, I guess I’d better wrap this up before I end up sounding a little like that guy in the Eminem song ‘Stan’ (what was his name?). You know… “I hope you can’t sleep and you dream about it. And when you dream I hope you can’t sleep and you scream about it”, that kind of thing. I’m not crazy. I’m not about to offer to call my first child after you (though in exchange for a signed copy of the new album and a gig ticket, I might consider Gabriel as a middle name). I’m just a poor, eager fan, listening to Up, getting nostalgic, and writing letters that’ll never get read. But since Santa failed to give me a Mr Frosty and Saville never arranged for me to feed lions in a zoo, I’m quite used to writing unrequited letters…

Yours hopingly, longingly, jadedly,

Liam Thatcher

p.s. – I just realised, I quoted an Eminem song, the lyrics of which mention Phil Collins by name. Sorry about that. I hope you’ll forgive me, and please rest assured, Collins is top of the list of names I would never consider inflicting on any future child or pet!

p.p.s – Best not to tell my wife about this letter. She already thinks I’m a little bit strange…

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I am a worm, and not a man…

13 08 2011

Yesterday I learnt a sad, hard lesson: I am inept at barbecuing.

Well, that’s not strictly true… I didn’t get far enough to test my skills at the actual cooking. I suppose what I mean to say is that I am inept at lighting barbecues.

There are many factors I could blame for my failure:

  • The charcoal was old, and perhaps a little damp
  • I didn’t have the right equipment
  • It was too windy
  • Once the coals started to get warm, the rain began to fall

But as they say, ‘a bad workman blames his tools’ and I know if I’m honest that the failure was not due to any implement, but to an individual. There is one person to blame for my incompetence, and one person alone: my father.

You see, nobody ever taught me to light a barbecue. Surely that was his job! I was taught to tell the time, swim, ride a bike, and spit cherry stones with laser-like precision… but nobody ever taught me how to get little blocks of charcoal hot enough to burn a burger! Why this omission from my otherwise adequate education?

The art of barbecuing is shrouded in mystery and intrigue. People seem strangely cagey about their methodology, and there is something unnervingly ‘cloak and dagger’ (or rather ‘apron and tongs’) about the way in which the secrets are guarded.

It has been this way since primeval man first learnt to burn things and eat them. For many thousands of years, women and children have been banished from the grill, lest they discover the techniques behind the wizardry of the embers. Women were told ‘this is a man’s job’. Or perhaps if he were feeling a little more devious the male in question would adopt a tone of faux-chivalry and say, ‘put your feet up love and let me serve you’, whilst children were scared with stories of explosions, scorchings, and facial-scarring.

But presumably there would be some point at which the child would be taught the methodology of barbecuing? Just the male children, of course. Stone-age fathers who gave birth only to daughters would have been scorned, or considered cursed, for having not produced an heir to the grill.

At some point in time, the young boy would come of age and be allowed into the circle of trust – perhaps once he had undergone a right of passage, such as slaughtering a wild boar with his bare hands, or spending a night in a snake infested cave – only then earning the right to learn the secrets of the cinders. At that point, and not a moment before, would a father take his child to a remote forest, and teach him the ways of barbecuing. And as they left the village, the other stone-age fathers would exchange knowing looks; today is the day a child becomes a man.

Somehow I missed out on this experience.

At some point in the early ‘90s, the father to son transmission of the secrets was interrupted, and I was never inducted into the order of the embers. I feel that perhaps I was the only one. Did I not prove myself? If there was some kind of task I was meant to complete in order to ‘come of age’, nobody ever told me! I would happily have wrestled a bear, or drunk the blood of a goat, or whatever it took to earn the right to learn this precious skill.

And so, alas, last night I spent hours standing before a pile of frigid coals, using an entire box of matches, googling many tips and techniques, writing the majority of them off as old wives’ tales, and finally retreating inside to the hob and the electric grill. I smelt of smoke and had nothing to show for it.

I can’t help but wonder if Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book, felt the same sense of shame and bewilderment as I did? Was King Louie some self-referential device, used to vent the author’s personal angst at his inability to barbecue?

What I desire is man’s red fire, to make my dreams come true.’

All this is to say that I am not to blame for my failure. I am the victim of inadequate parenting! I have been overlooked and under-taught and I protest that my inability to light a barbecue in no way diminishes my masculinity.

That’s my excuse, and I’m clinging to it ‘til I die.

p.s. Dad… I’m only joking; I don’t blame you. But seriously…

Give me the power of man’s red flower, so I can be like you!





Give yourself a pat on the back

1 08 2011

I have a theory which I suspect it will be of great interest to budding writers. I’m no mindreader. Nor am I adept in the art of suggestion and mental manipulation, but still, I believe it is possible for authors to write their own reviews through the hands of others.

You heard me right. I believe it is possible to embed within your work subliminal messages which will find their way onto the pages of the broadsheets. All you need to do is place within your work a witty, well-crafted, single sentence, which accurately sums up the entire piece, and which you would happily see at the top of a review.

There’s quite an art to it. It needs to be long enough into the work for the reviewer to have formed at least some basic conclusions, but not so far in that their minds are set already. It needs to be amusing and gripping; a fun, funny, or poignant aphorism that is so memorable that every reviewer will wish they had penned it.

Typically this phenomenon exhibits itself in negative ways; an angry reviewer picks up on a critical or deeply ironic phrase with which to lambast its author. For example, Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece, Waiting for Godot, which opened to mixed reviews. Some loved it, many more hated it. They felt it was abstruse, convoluted and monotonous. And many reviewers found in the mouth of Estragon the perfect line with which to begin their scathing reviews:

“Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful!”

I wonder if Beckett knew that line would be used against him. I suspect not, otherwise he might have said:

“Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s deep!”

Just the other week I went to see a new production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. I dislike Chekhov intensely, and am not overly keen on Andrew Upton’s translations either (he has lulled me to sleep in public on two occasions now), so I was amused to spot the standout line which summed it up for me, when Ranyevskaya declares boldly:

“Don’t waste your time watching plays – I bet it wasn’t funny at all”

Correct. And I needn’t give any more of my time to reviewing it…

Next time you go to the theatre, watch a film, or read a book, ask yourself the question “If I had to extract one line which accurately summarises the whole, what would it be?” It will produce some surprising, profound or at least very amusing results.

My theory is this: If it works on a negative level, why should it not work on a positive one? Why should an author not be able to implant a positive statement, a glowing report, a witticism so clever and flattering that it sways the opinions of the reviewer and makes it into print?

I shall put this theory to test and report back to you after the publication of my forthcoming book Five Stars and a Well Deserved Booker Prize.





Terry Jones: International Marketing Guru

4 04 2011

Well, Terry Jones, you have much to teach us about how to propel yourself to worldwide fame. Who knew that simply putting the word ‘International’ in front of a parochial, minority event, without backing from the government or religious communities, would raise your profile so immeasurably?! I would never have thought to publicise a localised mock trial by the Dove World Outreach Am-Dram Group as an international event, but your superior marketing skills have once again blown me away!

I am in awe of your selfless willingness to step, once more, into the limelight! I am amazed that you can sleep at night, whilst dozens die on the other side of the world as a result of your actions? It was truly sacrificial of you to give up your beauty-sleep in the cause of truth. If there’s any way I can support your campaign, perhaps by donating a packet of Nytol, do let me know.

And Terry, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to encourage you with a little verse from the Bible. Ok, I admit, I’ve added in a few words and twisted it a little, but that’s fine by you surely? I mean, I readily accept I won’t have mangled Scripture with quite the aplomb you have demonstrated, but after all, I am no International Superstar… just an amateur blogger in a backwater village on a small island. It comes from Matthew 7 (that’s in the New Testament, in case you haven’t yet read that far yet):

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not found churches that unwaveringly denounced Islam? Did we not burn their books in your name? Did we not clearly and aggressively stir up hatred against your bride (after all, we’re meant to be a persecuted people, right?!) Did we not withhold your grace from everyone, that they might see the error of their ways? And did we not do it all in your name?’ And then I will declare to them ‘…..’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Fill in the blanks!

See also: ‘Book burners: Give Jesus back his coat’





The Royal Wedding: A nude, 3D dance-fest?

10 03 2011

One of the top trends on Twitter today notes the fact that the date of the Royal Wedding is the 66th anniversary of Hilter and Eva Braun’s wedding. Incidentally, people point out, they went on to kill themselves the next day… Spooky huh?

I find it peculiar the way people latch onto stats like this. They spot omens and tell-tale signs in the most trivial of coincidences. Football commentators are the worst. How many times have you heard some ridiculous stat like…

‘The last six times x team have played in red against a team in blue, having scored in the first 7 minutes, with their goalkeeper using black gloves, and only one English player in their squad, they have always gone on to lose the game and the league!’

…as if that means anything?!

Can’t we let a coincidence be a coincidence without attaching meanings, symbolism, suppositions, superstitions (and typology?!) to it? It’s not spooky, it’s not mysterious. They just have a limited number of dates to choose from!

Well, just to add fuel to the fire, here are a few more thoughts about the royal wedding. In case you weren’t aware, April 29th is:

  • The 65th anniversary of Father Divine, a religious leader who claimed to be god, marrying Edna Rose Ritchings
  • The 58th anniversary of the first 3D-TV broadcast in the USA
  • The 43rd anniversary of the Broadway opening of the musical ‘Hair’ in which the cast stripped entirely naked
  • The 29th anniversary of International Dance Day
  • The 25th anniversary of a fire in the Los Angeles Public Library, which destroyed over 400,000 books

By my reckoning, we can expect that the Royal Wedding will be quite an occasion: The entire thing will be conducted in dance, fully in the nude, broadcast on TV in 3D, culminating in a colossal fire, and William declaring himself to be divine!

Just imagine what other amazing insights we could discover if we applied the principles of the Bible Code to the wedding invites!!





Samson and Delilah

9 03 2011

I haven’t inflicted a ridiculous poem on you for a couple of weeks. So here you go. It’s a monorhyme (meaning that each line ends with a near-identical rhyme) on Samson and Delilah:

Sam and Del (09/03/11)

Samson was uxorious
His hair was quite luxurious
Delilah was injurious
Her love for him was spurious
She acted kind of curious
And then she made him furious
When feeling proditorius
She turned a bit coiffurious!!

_____

Glossary of terms:

Uxorious – Being excessively submissive to one’s wife
Injurious – Malicious. Likely to cause harm.
Spurious – Not being what it purports to be. Fake.
Proditorius – Treacherous, traitorous
Coiffurious – Ok, I made that one up… I seem to make up a new word every time I write a new poem. But hey! We. needed a word in the English language for ‘hairdresser-esque’





Greed

12 01 2011

About as much wisdom as I can muster so early in the New Year – a couplet on the perils of greed:

Greed (12/01/11)

If you’re lickerish with liquorice,
You’ll likely end up sickerish.

_____

Lickerish – adjective. Greedy.
Sickerish – Ok, so I made up that one up, but hey… My creativity is still in hibernation and will emerge from its state of torpor some time around mid February. Until then you shall have to make do with made up words.