Sunday, 1 May 2016

An open letter to progressives within the Labour Party (and everywhere)

There is absolutely no way any of us can argue with the fact that this week - a week which has included a long-overdue holding to account of the Thatcher-era establishment not just for the police negligence which led to the deaths of 96 innocent football supporters, but the subsequent disgraceful attempts (involving collusion between police, politicians and the Tory press) to demonise those supporters and blame them for the disaster; as well as several Tory blunders - nevertheless did not end well for us or our cause.

The breakneck pace of the 24-hour news cycle and social media resulted in an awful lot of progressives both inside and outside of the party (along with many others of different political stripes) giving in to the temptation to react before thinking.  Within the party we're seeing the fragile truce that was beginning to take shape start to unravel, and the political shift which has seen many successes - to the extent that many of the doubters were beginning to come around - is under fire again.  Worse than that, our true opposition has been able both to use their clout in commercial media to frame the whole discussion on their terms as well as bury quite a few embarrassing problems of their own.

For my money, the way this came about - as well as the resulting infighting - has all the hallmarks of a textbook Lynton Crosby "ratfucking" operation.  I can quite easily see the man setting his minions to work trawling the personal social media acounts of Labour MPs and members looking for anything that could be used to cause damage (as an aside, I think that the party *really* needs to get wise in terms of training our public figures in the importance of privacy settings when using social media, but that's for another time).  Lost amid all the subsequent chaos, there's a pertinent fact that has fallen through the cracks - namely that when Naz Shah unwisely shared that particular Facebook meme, she did so in 2014. Aside from the point that this was well before she even stood for election as an MP, most Facebook users will be well aware that going back two years into someone's posting log either requires an awfully long time scrolling down, or using the dropdown menus to select a specific year, month or other period - and this method still requires you to scroll through all the posts for that period.  Why is this important?  Because it means that someone, somewhere spent a considerable amount of time trawling through at least two years' worth of Shah's posts in order to find the one post that caused the damageIf someone was set to that task, the implication has to be that Labour MPs and public figures were subject to a significant muck-raking expedition over their social media accounts - and it wouldn't surprise me if those of the Muslim faith were probably targeted first (because one of the biggest strengths of Sadiq Khan's Mayoral campaign has been the way he's successfully reached out to the Jewish communities in London).

Experience leads me to believe that this operation is classic Crosby - getting Ken to blunder in with his clown shoes was probably the icing on the cake for him - and I can picture Crosby rubbing his hands with glee as our party turns on itself, dances to his tune, and plays right into those hands.

This needs to stop, and it needs to stop *right now*.

As a Labour Party member and lifelong supporter I want to say to all of us, from the MPs on down, resist the temptation to turn on one another - we need a sense of co-operation now more than ever, and even if you're not entirely convinced by the direction the party has taken, please give it a chance to work - because real people are suffering real hardship under Tory rule, and fighting amongst ourselves is a surefire way of helping them remain in power (and cause greater hardship) for longer.  The same goes for those of us who support the new direction - please, resist the urge to score points and try to find common ground with other members where you can - we need all the help we can get to succeed.

There's an all-out attempt across much of the press (including some organs which normally align in our general direction) to paint this as a "crisis".  We have to actively be seen to co-operate with one another to blunt this attack and nip it in the bud.

Negative language and use of labels are the cornerstones of press campaigns from the Right against us.  We have to steer talk away from labels and terms like "anti-semitism" because right now it's just a stick with which they can beat us - by forcing us to deny these things, we still get associated with them anyway.  It's scant consolation to know in our hearts that the accusations are ridiculous while they're flying around and doing us damage, but I feel in my heart that the best way to counter them is to be as positive as we can.  

And doing so is not hard.  In the '30s we stood tall and proud with London's Jewish community to turn back Oswald Mosley and his band of thugs when they threatened.  Today we stand with every human being in the world who believes in the sanctity of human rights and dignity.  We stand with each other against any force which would oppress, denigrate or otherwise harm another human being on the basis of ethnicity, faith, nationality, gender or any similar label used to divide us from one another.  We stand with those who are at risk of, or currently subject to, exploitation.  And we stand for the hope that one day every human being on this planet will have their chance to live life to it's fullest and without fear.

Call me naive if you will, but I can't shake the feeling that by standing our ground together and defining ourselves in our terms, we stand a better chance against the efforts being made by our opposition to define us in theirs.  Putting our own differences aside for now and standing proud against them as our predecessors once faced down the likes of Mosley can only strengthen our position.

Let's get this done and come out swinging.

Friday, 29 April 2016

A Stern Lesson In When Not to Be Too Bloody Clever For Your Own Good

Oh, for the love of...

Look, folks, it's very simple.  Rule Number 1; Never, ever, *ever* turn your back on Lynton Crosby until the ballots are in.

Let's get the basics out of the way first... 

Is Ken Livingstone a prize tool for blundering in with his bleedin' clown feet when he had no real need to do so?  Yes.

Is it worrying that the Labour Party can be blindsided by such an obvious bit of political opportunism (especially given the monumental effort Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan has put into placating the Jewish communities of London)?  Absolutely.


Was Livingstone factually correct when he stated that Hitler considered repatriation of the European Jewish diaspora as a solution? Yes - unequivocally so.

Furthermore, it is a matter of undisputed historical record that the most globally-visible Zionist group in the inter-war years was Lehi, more colloquially known as the "Stern Gang" - and you can read about them here:

For the sake of argument, I'm not going to go into the matter of how Avraham Stern's group was notorious for levels of dogmatic brutality that would give today's IS a run for their money (and if we were to play Devil's Advocate, given the horrific abuse inflicted on the Jewish diaspora in the early 20th Century, that kind of response is unsurprising).

What I am going to do is draw your attention firstly to the second paragraph of the preamble of the Wiki article [n.b. I use Wikipedia only for ease of access for all - I leave the citations in place for that reason] :

Lehi initially sought an alliance with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, offering to fight alongside them against the British in return for the transfer of all Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe to Palestine.[2] Believing that Nazi Germany was a lesser enemy of the Jews than Britain, Lehi twice attempted to form an alliance with the Nazis.[2]
..and thence to the final paragraph of the section entitled "Founding Of Lehi" :

In 1940, the idea of the Final Solution was still "unthinkable", and Stern believed that Hitler wanted to make Germany judenrein through emigration, as opposed to extermination.[23][24]In December 1940, Lehi even contacted Germany with a proposal to aid German conquest in the Middle East in return for recognition of a Jewish state open to unlimited immigration.[23]
So let's get this straight - no matter what your political persuasions may be, no matter how you may feel about the actions of the state of Israel in this day and age and no matter what your own religion or ethnicity may be - it is a matter of historical fact that one of the most globally-visible groups of Zionists in the inter-war years and following at least twice (and as late as 1940) attempted to broker a deal with Hitler and the Nazis, offering military support in exchange for a recognised Jewish homeland in Palestine.

The Nazi response to these overtures is lost to posterity - possibly as a result of the Soviet sack of Berlin in 1945, or equally possibly as a result of the Nazis' own attempts to cover their tracks as the net closed in on them.  Avraham Stern died in 1942 (in the darkest of ironies, mere weeks after the Nazi High Command had outlined their plans for The Final Solution), and Lehi's alignment subsequently shifted towards support of Stalin's Soviet Union.

So why am I writing this now, after far too long vacillating and leaving half-written posts behind me?

I'm writing this because I believe firmly in my heart that as furious as I am with Ken Livingstone's failure to recognise a blindingly obvious political trap; as much as the attempts to dishonestly draw equivalence between disagreement with the actions of the Israeli state and anti-semitism drive me up the wall, and as much as I wish to damn Lynton Crosby to an eternity of torment despite my own agnosticism - none of those things matter as much as the following:

You do *not* get to rewrite or realign the historical record for the sake of political expediency and expect me to keep silent.

Yes, Livingstone should be considered a prize pillock for once again trying to be a bit too bloody clever for his own good.  Yes, he messed up the semantics and yes, bringing that bit of history up when there was no real need to do so was a titanic political miscalculation.

But that doesn't alter the fact that on the substance of the matter, he wasn't far wrong.

Monday, 8 April 2013

She Was A Crook (with apologies to Hunter S. Thompson)

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

As a humanist with little in the way of religious conviction, the preceding passage still resonates, and for the countless human beings whose well-being was sacrificed to suffer in the service of the late Margaret Thatcher's incalculable malice and greed I can only hope it comes to pass.

No doubt some will call the ululation from the sidelines - not just from those who strongly oppose her credo politically, but more importantly from those her government beggared, from their children and their children's children - unseemly and disrespectful.  Personally I feel some discomfort at the idea that this outpouring of catharsis is somehow celebratory.  But I feel just as strongly that the sanitised images and stories that will sally forth from our press and media - a hagiography which has undoubtedly been in the making for at least as long as "Tramp The Dirt Down" has been a rallying cry - is just as unseemly and disrespectful to those whose lives were made poorer by the ideology she championed.

She was a political animal of a dangerous kind - one that knew of the power inherent in dressing up policy which would have a high human cost with nostalgic longing and patriotic fervour.  Much was made of her supposedly humble upbringing as a grocers' daughter, but less attention was paid to her marriage to a millionaire who inherited a share of the family business and the power which that conferred in Tory circles.  But both she and her husband were also of a generation for whom the decline of Britain's imperial power and global status was taken as a personal affront to be fought by any means necessary.  This mentality formed the nucleus of the image she and her acolytes would project, but it was also the lifeblood of the dark, barbarous heart that beat below the surface.

When a person breaks into a home, holds a gun to another person's head and demands they surrender their valuables with the intent of selling them on for their own profit, it is considered criminal.  When financiers do the same to businesses it is called "asset-stripping".  If we take as read the well-known maxim that "War is a racket", then it's not too far a leap to conclude that Empire is a tool for perpetuating that racket by other means.  So let me preface where I'm going with the assertion that I am British, and there's a lot about the country I call home that makes me proud.  I do not feel the need to flagellate my home for the darker aspects of its history - even the more modern aspects of which took place before I was born.  However in the cold light of day and with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight it is impossible not to conclude that, prior to the Second World War, Britain's status as a world power was almost entirely dependent on appropriating the resources of the far-flung territories for a pittance and selling them off to make a fortune.  Now, the work that was done to add value to those resources was largely performed in the UK and with the decline of Empire came the decline of the advantages that cornering the market in those raw resources provided.  The business leaders of Britain in the post-war years were content to delude themselves that it did not matter, and that the ingenuity of British business was in itself a value proposition.  What followed the post-war years was a British industrial base where management were ill-prepared to cope with those changes and a workforce whose leaders did not understand - as well they may not have, because the hardships faced by those who worked to supply those materials were a world away.

Those who have a sympathetic view of Thatcher and the situation she faced when she took power tend to think only of the latter, and see the unions as having overstepped their bounds.  I have no doubt that the unions had developed a self-defeating myopia which not only proved counter-productive to the country, but also blinded them to the danger that Thatcher and her ideology represented.  Because what lurked underneath the flag-waving and "no-nonsense" patriotic invective was nothing less than a plan to apply the methods of acquisition that had worked in the imperial territories to the UK itself.  I'm prepared to give the late Baroness Thatcher the benefit of the doubt as to whether she realised this at the time - but I am equally certain that the cabal of very rich men who assisted her rise to power knew full well that this was the goal.  When old-guard Tories like Harold Macmillan admonished Thatcher for selling "the family silver", the Thatcherites crowed that he was a relic of the past and did not understand - but the truth was that he understood the consequences of what was happening all too well.  Like a fox in a henhouse, the Thatcher government laid waste to the industrial heartlands, selling off nationalised industries, utilities and resources left, right and centre.

But let us pause for a moment here, because that's not quite how it happened.  The initial moves between 1979 and 1982 were actually very tentative, and at the turn of the year there was a growing consensus of opinion building that whatever the Thatcher government was doing was not working.  The emergence of the SDP and the spectre of a coalition between the SDP, the Liberal Party and Labour combined to make Thatcher's foundations seem distinctly shaky.  What followed, with a twisted sense of serendipity, was the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands and a burst of patriotic fervour, fanned by the Murdoch press into a towering flame of misplaced triumphalism - ensuring the Tories a second term.  This technique would be used again to tragic effect nearly twenty years later, transforming what was expected to be a weak Presidency backed by a cabal of right-wing ideologues into a scorched-earth behemoth that would do more damage to the social fabric of the USA than nearly half a century of Cold War tensions.  But I digress...

Thatcher's Tories won that election not on the strength of their policies, but on what was at least a half-manufactured swell of nationalistic belligerence - a belligerence which dovetailed nicely with the Friedmanite/Hayekian view of economic policy which was then pursued with gay abandon.  The financial markets were treated as a deity whose rules were sacrosanct and inviolable.  Profit was the goal, and all other considerations were considered irrelevant.  Compassion was weakness, the social fabric of decades was nothing more than a hindrance and devil take the hindmost.  Industries which had sustained entire towns were declared anachronistic and destroyed, with the unions which held those communities together unwittingly playing into her hands by making a stand.  All those who could not "get with the programme" were considered an irrelevance, with no thought given to the human cost of such actions.  The gods of finance promised a new high-tech economy would rise from the ashes and they were believed - nobody ever seemed to question them on exactly how such a change would come to pass, or ask in detail what was required to do so.  The economy of the UK would have tanked at that point, and the Empress naked for all the world to see - had not a sudden injection of capital arrived in the form of exploiting the oil fields of the North Sea.

But with the financiers counting their billions from the sell-offs as the rest of the country wondered just what the hell was happening, it was a simple matter to claim that this one-off windfall was in fact the result of successful economic policy - and so we come to the 1987 General Election where enough of the public bought the spin to keep the Tories in power again:

The result was the final round of sell-offs.  A bargain-basement trawl through public utilities and housing from which a select few made a gargantuan financial gain, and left the shelves of UK plc. utterly and irretrievably empty.  It also left the people of Britain entirely dependent on the financial industry, which from then on would effectively be able to hold the country to ransom if its rapacious demands were not met.

What followed were nothing more than desperate attempts by successive governments to cover Britain's vulnerability - and all that was left with which to do so was the tattered flag that Margaret Thatcher once wrapped herself in.  There wasn't even enough left of that to cut up for rags to dry the tears of the communities she destroyed.

And as Britain's lights flicker on in the dusk of the evening she died, they will illuminate rooms containing everyone, from the small number of very rich people who will never have to worry about anything again - to the countless millions who wonder how they are going to get by in a country of ever-diminishing returns.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Some vocab revision for our expensively-educated PM

noun həʊ.məʊ ˈsek.sju.əl/, /ˌhɒm.əʊ -/ˌhoʊ.moʊˈsek.ʃu.əl/ [C]

a person, especially a man, who is sexually attracted to people of the same sex and not to people of the opposite sex

noun ˈpiː.dəʊ .faɪl/ˈped.oʊ-/ [C]

a person, especially a man, who is sexually interested in children

Now, these definitions are from the online Cambridge Dictionary, and personally speaking I'm not convinced by the "especially a man" clauses, but I think it's pretty bleedin' obvious that the two nouns refer to very different things.

So why is it that the immediate response of a supposedly intelligent man - a man who is supposedly the standard-bearer for the modern Conservative Party in which knee-jerk discrimination is a thing of the past - to the luckless Phillip Schofield presenting a list of alleged sexual abusers of children within the Tory ranks is to claim such a list risks "an anti-gay witch hunt"?

For starters, the most prominent name doing the rounds among social media over the last few days was known for being avowedly heterosexual (as well as being a bigoted racist and misogynistic creep - I hope the brain tumour that killed him was agonising), but that aside - equating paedophilia with homosexuality is not only contrary to modern scientific knowledge (which asserts that paedophilia is a pathology, whereas homosexuality is not), it's also a socially irresponsible throwback to everything Cameron claims to have repudiated.

The mask just slipped again - and I genuinely hope that the gay men and women who were willing to give Cameron the benefit of the doubt in the last election have taken note.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Karl Rove channels Warden Norton

(With apologies to Drifty for shamelessly aping his style...)

Watching Karl Rove's increasingly desperate attempts to deny reality even as his Fox News colleagues were grudgingly accepting President Obama's re-election last night

I couldn't help but be reminded of this scene from the classic movie The Shawshank Redemption.

Specifically, the frantic attempts of a man who has always used other people's resources and power for self-aggrandisement and enrichment to use the same bullying, hectoring tactics even as that power has been openly defied, followed by the alternately panicked and incredulous look in their eyes as the enormity of that loss begins to dawn on them.  Their futures are now as uncertain and fraught with peril as those of the people they once lorded over, and they are now at the mercy of people who have no significant interest in their well-being.

As a rule I try to suppress feelings of schadenfreude, because I always end up feeling a little guilty eventually.  But I must confess that I'm going to let myself enjoy this one - at least for a while.

To our progressive cousins across the pond, my best wishes and congratulations.  Your road's still going to be a rough one, and sadly President Obama and the Democrats in Congress are still not in a position to grant every wish you demand.  Push them and hold their feet to the fire as much as you can, because ultimately your voices are the only thing that can give them strength and courage against a well-funded radical right-wing movement that will do everything in it's power to halt progress.  Just don't give in to the temptation to turn on them and each other in the face of the inevitable occasional disappointment - because the heirs to Rove and his ilk will be waiting in the wings to exploit that at every turn and undo the work you've fought so hard to make happen.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Why The Music And Entertainment Industry Deserves A Cactus Enema, Vol. 1.

As this is intended to be a politics-and-media based ranting outlet, given the dreadful events in Norway and the shameful way the early reporting on the atrocity panned out, one could expect a rant on that.

But the truth is that while I do care greatly about that subject and have been a card-carrying anti-fascist since my teens, I'm going to veer away and talk about the one thing that has been consistently scoring higher on the "Most Viewed" logs of the news sites today, the "unexplained" death of musician Amy Winehouse.

Now, aside from the grotesque grief athletics covering the pages of every red-top that had paparazzi stalking this young woman through the very worst of times, (tempered by the fact that at least the News Of The World is not one of them), what has got me about this is the fact that I shouldn't give any more thought than a token moment of sadness and sympathy for her and those that genuinely cared for and loved her, but for reasons I'm not sure about, I do.

Maybe it's the fact that she was a similar age to my own younger sister, who I love dearly and with whom she shares a name. Maybe it's because I too spent time around the Camden scene in my late teens and early twenties and saw how corrosive it could be. Maybe it's because I'm a gullible, easily-led fool who decries the whole "celebrity" circus while sneaking the occasional furtive look when the mood takes me. But the fact is I was not a fan of her music, and had earned many a withering look from Mrs. Blue over the years describing it as "Sylvia Young soul", "Re-heated Motown leftovers" and "Really no better than Lily Allen's output, when you get down to it" - yes, I am a music snob.

And the worst kind of music snob too, one who had the bit between the teeth, saw it peter out due to random misfortune and, frankly, mediocre talent - who then spends significant time pointing out exactly what's wrong with the ones who are making and have made it. To be fair, I'm well aware of the ridiculousness of my position and the utter lack of any right to say what I'm saying on the matter.

Enough about me though, time to get to the point. When I was a starry-eyed teenager with a well-loved Korean Strat copy, a few chords under my belt and a desire to get up on stage and assault people's ears, the way to do it seemed fairly clear. To whit; getting together with a bunch of like-minded mates, practicing for hours at home and saving up Saturday job money for the privilege of renting a damp rehearsal room for four hours a weekend, then being prepared to spend the next few years in the distinctly unglamourous cycle of claiming the dole, living in squats and spending months doing toilet-circuit gigs around the country for petrol money and not much else - in the hope that you could build up enough buzz to get some A&R guys from small labels to show up at a gig and be impressed either by the music, or (more honestly) the fact that you've got a bunch of mates who'll show up consistently to anything you do. This process is hard and the rate of attrition was high, so by the time the fresh-faced teenagers who had dreams of success had been transmogrified into poorly-fed refugees with thousand-yard stares (many of whom had been in at least two or three different bands by then), that was usually when things started to happen.

This world was clear and distinct from the other path into showbusiness, which involved stage school, learning the rudiments of the craft you had chosen and applying them diligently. Those that followed this path and succeeded usually ended up in theatre and musical productions, or in production outfits creating material for manufactured pop groups - it was a career path rather than something you felt driven to do at the risk of your health and sanity.

Now, as a Labour supporter it pains me to say this, but the rot really started with Tony Blair in 1997, because his interpretation of benefits required that one be actively seeking employment. This effectively ended the "auld alliance" of sorts between the Establishment and grafting up-and-coming musicians (which amounted to "we'll give you enough to make sure you don't starve, just don't get ideas above your station until you make it"), for which he was rightly pilloried by the same musicians he'd spent the last few years courting in an attempt to appear "down with the kids" (along with Billy Bragg, of course...). The response was the ludicrous "New Deal For Musicians", a fig leaf if ever there was one.

So at this point you may well ask, "What the hell has this got to do with Amy Winehouse?" - which is a fair question and I ask for your forbearance.

What this *really* meant was that in Blair's vision, the path to stardom should be approached as a career path just like any other, which led to the championing of institutions like the BRIT School and BIMM, whereby the young stars of tomorrow (plus a larger percentage of also-rans) would be educated in the ins and outs of showbiz, and the lucky ones would be set for stardom at around the same age that most of their peers would either be taking their first forays into work or going to university.

At the same time, the music industry itself was changing. The supposed sea-change that accompanied the advent and wake of Nirvana's "Nevermind" was quietly being undone, as the myriad scruffy oiks who had been signed were quietly and unceremoniously dropped from the majors who had worked themselves up into a feeding frenzy signing them up just a few years before. In the UK, the Britpop "phenomenon" was slowly wheezing its last as the big names either released turgid, coke-adulterated rehashes of the same riffs that made them famous in the first place or distanced themselves as much as humanly possible from the carnage, and the rest were quietly dropped from their labels for being, frankly, crap. The labels amalgmated themselves into a dwindling number of what can only be described as gigantic amorphous pustules, and the return of the old guard was heralded not only by the rise in manufactured pop artists (Billie, Britney Spears, Boyzone, B:Witched et al), but also by the advent of reality TV show Popstars, in which, like a nightmarish low-budget version of "Frankenstein" shot in an unreconstructed 1980s Coventry meat-market nightclub, the festering, reanimated corpse of Pete Waterman was suddenly once again regarded as someone worth listening to in musical terms. Remember it was less than half a decade between "Smells Like Teen Spirit" crashing into the UK Top 10, and the 7-week presence of the execrable Simon Cowell-masterminded version of "Unchained Melody" performed by Robson & Jerome at the number 1 spot.

To this newly-consolidated industry, the rise of these new performing arts colleges must have appeared manna from heaven, because the graduates of these institutions would know exactly how to press musical buttons to get a hit, would have just enough personality to maintain an image, but most of all would be prepared to play it safe in musical terms - writing new material, but keeping it all in a package that would sell to as many people as possible (which means tickling the nostalgia nerve and *never* doing anything new). Everything could be compartmentalised and targeted, there would be something for everyone, and if the sales didn't match expectations - who cares? Drop 'em and there'll be a fresh bunch along by July and we get to make money off of their efforts too!

Which brings us back to the point. Now, I don't know about you, but the experiences of myself and my friends over the years have taught me that in this modern world, the years between the age of eighteen and twenty-five are among the most chaotic and unfocused of your life. Some will be at work already and some will stay in education until their early twenties - but this is a time of experimentation and working out just who the hell you are. You may look at yourself and either like, or at least be able to cope with what you see and in which case you should count yourself one of the lucky few. Confusion and self-doubt abound - whether it be related to your appearance, abilities, sexuality or whatever. This time is experienced with your peers but at the same time it is intensely private. Just about the last thing you need at this point in your life is relentless intrusion into what you're doing and who you're doing it with along with wild and lurid speculation as to why you're doing it.

While the old "claim-dole-and-spend-a-few-years-on-the-road" method was certainly unglamourous, what it did do was harden you. There are few more dispiriting feelings in the world than playing to the landlord and his dog in a pub/music venue a hundred miles from home, knowing that there may not be enough diesel in the tank to get you back and that cheese on toast three times might be the extent of your sustenance tomorrow. Sometimes you even had the local nutter come in, throw things at you throughout your set and mutter darkly about what he intended to do to you when you packed down and came outside. In short, you only stuck to your guns if you *really* wanted to do it and you learned to accept a ton of disappointment and knocks on the way.

Now - look at this video that Mrs. Blue sent me earlier of Amy Winehouse, on the cusp of fame, playing on Jools Holland:

The occasional glances at the audience and the Cheshire-cat grin at the end are endearing, but look at the rest of the body language. She's holding that guitar to her chest like a pre-schooler holds a comfort blanket and she's staring furiously at the fretboard as she sings. If this doesn't set alarm bells ringing I don't know what could - yes, she's got talent (those jazz chords that eluded me for years are *down*), she's got sass and she's got a hell of a voice but she is patently *not* *fucking* *ready* to cope with fame yet.

However her management and label spot a goldmine - she's singing lyrics that resonate with a generation of girls about her age, but she's setting it to music that your Great Auntie Mabel could dance to and not give a fig about what she's actually saying. "Wow!", they think to themselves, "That's at least five demographic groups we can sell her to!".

And so the machine builds up. No years of trudging around in front of unappreciative audiences, no nights spent thinking "Fuck you, I can do this" as the electric meter clicks off, the stomach starts groaning and the damp sets in - this is a rocket ride straight to the big time. But she's not prepared for the viciousness inherent in the industry, and as the stories from people who encountered her in person now pouring forth attest to, she is *not* comfortable in her own skin yet, she has *serious* self-worth issues that have not been resolved, and frankly she is too fucking sweet-natured to deal with the beast that she's trying to ride, at the same time that most of her peers are just finding their feet in the world, with ample time and space to fuck up and regroup when things get nasty. This is all happening in public view and it's happening right *now*.

Much will be made of the role of drugs (in which I include alcohol and nicotine) and addiction in this story. Much will be made of the "27 Club" which she has sadly joined. Talking heads will speculate endlessly on the pressures of fame driving her to seek an escape, just as illustrious predecessors like Joplin, Hendrix and Cobain did, the only problem with that being that it's all bollocks.

Recreational drug use is something that a significant number of young people encounter these days, to an extent that even I don't understand at times. It's largely unspoken - but ironically, going down to the pub, getting together with people and having a bit of blow, amphetamine or even the disassociative anaesthetic ketamine (which the Torygraph can neither spell nor research, so they call it "horse tranquiliser") is probably one of the few things that made her feel normal. The only problem being that the difference between her and her peers was this - while their intake was limited by a wage packet or student income, she had a near-unlimited supply of money with which to feed the habits once they took hold.

So in the coming days and weeks, the entertainment industry will "mourn a wasted talent". They will serve up the same re-heated cliches they used for Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix just as the industry hammered her work into a re-heated, radio-friendly, Motown-lite package and they will cluck sadly at the public's appetite for salacious stories that clearly forced them to put paps outside the Hawley Arms night after night. But it wasn't the public who put a 20-year-old woman who had talent and sparkle - but sadly not yet the chance to either ground herself fully, be comfortable in her own skin or provide herself with the emotional armour necessary for fame - in the spotlight. It wasn't the public that knew that if she ended up a trainwreck, another would be along in a year or so to take her place and keep the money rolling in (thankfully, Adele seems much more self-assured).

It was an industry that has no qualms about spitting out its young when they've outlasted their usefulness, stamping on dreams and providing a small cadre of very rich men with an endless supply of income in the name of what was originally supposed to be art.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Phone Hacking

What we've got:

What we need: