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My freelance writing can now be found at mikeatkinson.wordpress.com.
Recently: VV Brown, Alabama 3, Just Jack, Phantom Band, Frankmusik, Twilight Sad, Slaid Cleaves, Alesha Dixon, Bellowhead, The Unthanks, Dizzee Rascal.
On Thursday September 17th, I danced on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
Click here to watch, and here to listen.
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
2007: The Year in Blog.
2007 was probably the year that, following several years of exponential growth, the blogging phenomenon reached some sort of plateau. The word itself has now passed into common parlance, and the existence of blogs is no longer regarded as novel, unusual, mysterious, or otherwise worthy of comment. Finally - and not before time either - we have reached a stage where no-one is predicting that 2008 will be "The Year Of The Blog". At some point during 2007, the last ever "What IS Blogging?" think-piece must surely have been penned - and for that alone, we must all be truly grateful.
Because, you see, everyone's got them now. Not just the tech-head pioneers, or the "If it moves, link it!" first wave (*), or the "Today I had a cheese sandwich!" second wave, or the pundits, the politicos, the hobbyists, the special interest brigades, the amateur journalists, the "writerly" types and the "Seize the Marketing Opportunity and make $$$!" hucksters... but also, and in ever greater numbers: newspapers and periodicals, private companies and public organisations, international broadcasting empires, grassroots community projects, established professional writers, politicians, presenters, academics, high-falutin intellectuals and Z-list celebs alike.
Until quite recently, the statement "I am a blogger" implied membership of a particular community: relatively small in size, and largely (and to the outside world, somewhat bafflingly) self-referential in nature. Now, it means little more than "I have a computer, a way with words, and some spare time on my hands." Blogs have been normalised, integrated... and some disillusiuoned idealists might even say that they have been co-opted. For literally millions of people, they are just another part of everyday life.
For the faddists - the sort of people who hung out on Blogspot or Livejournal for a few months, setting up Tag Boards, joining web rings and endlessly posting the results of "What XXXX Are You?" quizzes before getting bored and moving on - Facebook is the new blogging. (We thought that Myspace was the new blogging, but little did we know what lurked around the corner, and how many more demographic boundaries were to be breached.) I'd wager that the broad majority of people reading this have set up Facebook profiles and are still active participants, and that an unshakeable minority have resolved never to go anywhere near the service. By this time next year, I'll wager that anyone who was ever likely to dabble with Facebook will have duly dabbled, that the honeymoon period will have ended, that the last "What IS Facebook and what does it SAY about us?" think-piece will have been written, and that a significant proportion of profiles will be lying dormant and abandoned. It will have been an altogether shorter cycle of Big Boom and Slow Fade, tied as it is to a single proprietary site, a more restrictive format, and an emphasis on minimum-effort, short-attention-span novelty - and by the same token, that's why the blogging plateau is unlikely to start dropping off any time soon.
From my own highly subjective little corner of the blogosphere, 2007 was the year that the Bloggers With Book Deals started yielding tangible end results (otherwise known as, coo er gosh, BOOKS!), with many more to follow in 2008. As The Blogsbury Set came of age, and as "portfolio sites" started to make their presences felt, you could also detect the first rumblings of an increasingly widespread shift in priorities. ("Sorry I haven't had much time for blogging recently, but I've been SO BUSY, agents, deadlines, press & PR, oh it's all been such a GIDDY WHIRL!") And what with stunts such as Shaggy Blog Stories, which saw over 200 bloggers left out on the pavement as the Blogsbury glitterati sailed through the velvet ropes, and Post of the Week (over 200 blogs shortlisted to date, so why wasn't YOUR blog GOOD ENOUGH?), there was a distinct sense of competitiveness in the air, as a new élite basked in self-regard ("SO wonderful to see my DEAR FRIENDS doing SO well!") while the Not So Beautiful People muttered seditiously behind their backs ("Who the chuff does HE think HE is, and SHE'S nothing special, and who the f**k made HER the Queen of Bloody Sheba?")
OK, so I'm exaggerating to make a point. But since I have been, let's face it, one of the prime architects of the New Competitiveness, and even if my motives were always about net-widening inclusion rather than judgemental exclusivity, I am not without a certain amount of blood on my hands in this regard. And for that, and for the times where my well-meaning eagerness to champion and celebrate might have run roughshod over others' sensitivities, I can only apologise.
(*) Non-sequiturial addendum, while you all prepare your "Oh Mike, don't be so hard on yourself" comments, bless your dear dear hearts but really there's no need, no need at all: With reference to that first wave of link-bloggers, it tickled me something rotten to read these recent words of advice from Jorn Barger, officially the World's First Ever Blogger, on the occasion of our medium's tenth anniversary: "If you have more original posts than links, you probably need to learn some humility." Because while part of me wants to say "Respect to you, Old Timer", the other part of me wants to say "Get with the program, Grandad"...
Friday, October 26, 2007
Grandad's on the guest list.
It's a strange age, 45.
Even up to a couple of years ago, taxi drivers would occasionally call me "young man". (Usually at journey's end, as I squiffily fumbled for change. They know what they're doing, the little tarts.)
Last week, as I was heading into town for my lunchtime cob (local vernacular; means "bap"), some old boy blundered round a corner, rather too quickly. "Sorry, youth", he muttered myopically, as our guts briefly barged. I can surf off such slip-ups for days.
But there again, see. On my way into the Bodega Social Club the other night, I was kindly spared the effort of walking all the way round the corner to the back of the roped off entrance walkway. As he chivalrously unhooked the front section of rope and beckoned me through, the smirking doorman bestowed this deadly rite of passage upon my stooped shoulders:
"Step this way, Grandad! You come on inside, and take the weight off your feet!"
"Grandad's on the guest list", I icily retorted - aiming for Imperious, but landing somewhere around Huffy. Yeah, that told him.
I always knew this would happen. Right from the age of 14, as my occasional dates with Uncle John Peel ("Britain's Oldest Teenager!" I joked, in the letter I never wrote) became nightly, unbreakable ones, I knew I these were no mere passing generational fancies. No, these passions were for life. (For a fickle little madam, I can be surprisingly steadfast.)
The other night at the Foals gig, with 95% of the audience under the age of 23 and a significant proportion in their teens, I counted just two other middle-aged men, up on the balcony, away from the fray. "Let's stand at the bar and look like we're Industry!", I muttered to Sarah as we wedged ourselves in, dizzy from the fug of Biactol, rotting trainers and two-week-old T-shirts.
I don't attend such events to be Down Wid Da Yoot, to leech off their energy, or indeed to feel much in the way of collective connection. I go because, on a good night, I get to witness a certain freshness of spirit - an instinct, an attitude, an attack - which has yet to be dimmed by recognition, repetition, routine. By them, or by me.
And besides: I was 19 once, and it hasn't really changed that much. (Just don't tell them that. Best if they don't know.)
That's why 45 rocks. Halfway between 20 and 70, and close enough to feel you can touch it all.
Caught up in the middle, jumping through the riddle, Grandad's on the guest list tonight!
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Statement of Jadedness.
Apologies for the hastily written and somewhat confusing post below this one, my dear dear friends. I’ve had concerned e-mails and everything! Bless your hearts!
My recent extended blog silence can mostly be attributed to the usual, fairly routine reasons. Firstly, I did feel somewhat out of sorts for most of last week. If I were the sort of person who was given to talking about mis-aligned energies, then I'd say that my energies were decidedly mis-aligned - not to say severely depleted by the rigours of being stuck with an exceptionally repetitive and mind-sapping work task. (Still ongoing, and in danger of wearing out my CTRL, C and V keys.)
I then proceeded to spend the Easter weekend focusing on matters which took me far away from the laptop - and indeed, as far away as possible from the deafening hum of the accursed de-humidifers. (The affected walls in the morning room are still only down to 80% humidity, so there's a way to go yet.) Thus did a brief bout of Blogger's Block morph into a recuperative spell of Blogger's Holiday.
Added to this, a right old tangle of distinctly jaded thoughts have been swirling round inside my head. These have arisen from various sources, but none of them have been of a particularly personal nature. Ordering them into some sort of coherent Statement of Jadedness Think Piece may well turn out to be a futile task - but let's have a bash, and see where it takes us.
If you've been out and about in Blogland over the past week or so, then you may well have stumbled across the news of a recent court case, in which a UK blogger was found guilty of conducting an eleven-month campaign of harassment against another UK blogger. (I'm deliberately not linking directly, but the whole gob-smacking story can be accessed through the shortlist for last week's Post of the Week.) The harasser's weapons included a deluge of abusive and threatening e-mails, accompanied by a similar deluge of malicious and defamatory blog posts and blog comments. The allegations levelled by the harasser against her victim (and indeed against many other people over the past few years) are highly detailed and deeply wounding, clearly intended to cause severe damage to both personal and professional reputations. Since they have been repeated over a network of interlinking blogs, calculated to raise their visibility in search engines, these allegations now show up on the first page of Google searches for several of the victims in question. As such, they are clearly visible not just to the victims' friends, relatives and colleagues, but also to any potential employers or clients who might be conducting some elementary research. Meanwhile, having failed to show up for her court case, and despite bail conditions which expressly forbade her from using the Internet, the convicted harasser continues to repeat her charges on her main blog, continuously and obsessively, whilst on the run from the authorities.
Two aspects of the case have been particularly troubling me. Firstly, the harasser has never actually met her victim in person, but instead has built up her impression of the victim's character almost entirely by reading her blog posts and making her own subjective interpretations. The harasser now claims that her own blog forms her legal defence. Not her testimony, but her actual defence. It is as if, by committing her wild and unfounded allegations to a publicly available blog, her words are somehow granted some sort of additional legitimacy. The whole mindset is manifestly delusional, but one of its chief delusions is to substitute online relationships - which can only ever be partial - for fully fleshed relationships in the real world.
Secondly, there would appear to be no mechanism for removing the offending blogs, now that their author has been found guilty of harassment. The allegations live on, and nothing can be done to get rid of them. As the blogs are hosted on the free Blogspot service by Google/Blogger - a US company - Google/Blogger are bound only by US law, and not by British law. This is the standard reply which complainants can expect to receive:
Hi there,The only example that springs to mind of Blogger actually taking action over "objectionable content" concerns an extreme homophobic hate blog called Kill Batty Man, which attempted to incite its readers to murder gay men. Even then, the blog ran for a year before such action was taken, and it took a major outcry from major league A-listers before anything was done. (More details here.)
Thank you for writing in regarding content posted on BlogSpot.com. We would like to confirm that we have received and reviewed your inquiry.
Blogger.com and Blogspot.com are US sites regulated by US law. Blogger is a provider of content creation tools, not a mediator of that content. We allow our users to create blogs, but we don't make any claims about the content of these pages. Given these facts, and pursuant with section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act, Blogger does not remove allegedly defamatory, libelous, or slanderous material from Blogger.com or BlogSpot.com. If a contact email address is listed on the blog, we recommend you working directly with the author to have the content in question removed or changed.
The Blogger Team
Meanwhile, a prominent US tech-blogger has recently gone public over a series of abusive and threatening comments which have caused her to fear for her own personal safety, and to cancel her public speaking engagements. In the fall-out from all of this - which has been immense - some people have accused her of hysterical publicity seeking, while others have set about drafting a high-minded "Code of Conduct" for bloggers. (It is this latter initiative which Unreliable Witness skewers so deliciously, thus saving me the effort of constructing a skewering of my own.)
Once again, most of these people have never actually met each other. All the abuse, all the second-guessing, all the amateur psychological profiling - it has all been constructed from reading blog posts, forming assumptions based on subjective interpretations, and gathering so much popular support for those assumptions that they begin to look as if they have real substance behind them.
It's precisely the same mindset that fuels the various bands of conspiracy theorists for whom the "social web" provides such a fertile breeding ground. Cherry-pick your material, garnish it with prejudice, spin it into the juicy narrative of your choice, and defend your position ruthlessly, without need for further question.
OK, time to scale things down a good few notches, in order to illustrate a wider point.
A couple of weeks ago, I began to worry about the apparent disappearance of a normally prolific UK blogger: not someone whom I read regularly, but someone whom I "know" from my various excursions within Blogland, and who is quite a well-known figure within her own particular sphere. I needed to speak to her about something - but she wasn't returning e-mails, and her blog had fallen silent. I decided to Google around for clues.
Almost immediately, I discovered that this blogger had signed up for various "social networking" and "community building" sites, of the sort that are generally identified with the whole "Web 2.0" phenomenon. (Here's the Wikipedia entry for Web 2.0.) Many of these sites are based around the concept of registering for the service in question, selecting a name and a small identifying graphic (or "avatar"), filling in a simple descriptive profile (gender/location/interests), and building up a social network of "friends", who have also registered for the service.
This particular blogger certainly wasn't short of "friends", and yet none of them seemed to be remarking upon her disappearance. Well, why would they? After all - and I don't mean to castigate these people in any way, but this goes to the heart of the matter - they're not her friends.
Nevertheless, there was something both poignant and troubling about scrolling through all these public declarations of "friendship", which didn't seem to amount to much more than a hill of beans. For me, it gave the lie to the whole concept of Web 2.0 and "social software". Because friendship - true friendship - is based around a good deal more than assembling a reassuring little cluster of avatars on a web page - as if they were stamps, or realistic indicators of popularity.
True friendship is when your real life neighbours interrupt their Friday night dinner party to spend two hours helping you shift piles of soaking wet plaster from your collapsed ceiling, in their best clothes, with smiles on their faces. It's not saying "Check out this link!", or "Nice avatar!", or "Ooh, I like Coldplay too!"
(She was fine, by the way. An actual friend of hers e-mailed me, and put my mind at rest.)
OK, so you and I are sentient, emotionally intelligent human beings who can easily distinguish the virtual world from the real world. But when you're taking a quick break in the office, are you more likely to hook up with your online "friends", or to turn round and talk to the flesh-and-blood people at the row of desks behind you? Which is the default option? Who knows you best? With whom do you have the most in common? In such instances, would you rather be your real life self, or the idealised avatar-based approximation of yourself? And on those occasions when you do meet up with your fellow bloggers in real life, do you ever find yourself "acting out" your online personality, staying true to that avatar? How do you address each other, if one or the other of you writes under a pseudonym? Does it feel more appropriate to continue using the pseudonym, because switching to real names seems a little too forward? And what of those Myspace types, eagerly amassing hundreds of "friends", some of whom genuinely do seem to be confusing virtual and real life notions of social interaction?
With our shiny Web 2.0 "friendships", we can eradicate the awkwardness, the mess, the sweat, the lumps, the bumps and the peculiar dark corners, in favour of edited and idealised representations of ourselves. If we're not careful, these ersatz relationships can start to feel more appealing than the real thing. And if we're prone to certain ways of thinking, then these illusions can easily convert into delusions.
Reality check: over the course of the past five and a half years, many of the people whom I have met through blogging have graduated into Proper Real Life Version 1.0 Friends. And that's great. Seriously great. But couldn't we come up with more fitting words than "friend", "neighbour" and "community" to describe our Web 2.0 interactions? Or would such a shift fatally undermine the business models that are springing up in the wake of this latest attempt at a paradigm shift?
(Ooh, I think I feel a conspiracy theory coming on! Who's with me?)
Friday, January 05, 2007
Things I have learnt from Celebrity Big Brother, #1.
Despite my fondness for getting pleasantly pickled on a fairly regular basis, and my general reputation for being a "good" drunk (articulate and affable to the last, even though I do tend to stray into "too much information" territory), I'm no good at dealing with "bad" drunks. It's the loss of rationality which unsettles me the most; if someone is no longer capable of having a joined-up conversation, then I am at a loss with them.
Unfortunately, I'm also very bad at disguising this unease, which filters through as a kind of cautious distaste, bordering on superiority. More unfortunately still, most "bad" drunks are also adept at picking up on this, and so I am frequently taken to task for my perceived prissiness.
Initial impression: he's a poor man's Johnny Rotten, a latter-day Gizzard Puke, a rebel without a clue, the latest in a long line of witless dullards who have appropriated the trappings of "outrageous" rock-and-roll behaviour, but without any real fire in their hearts. Whereas Rotten's contempt was impassioned, lethal and withering, Tourette's V-signs are a mere learned pantomime.
Inside the house, his fellow contestants have no difficulty in grasping his schtick, and compartmentalising him accordingly. The token rebel. It's what he does. It's his act. None of the squares are freaked out, even for a second. They're in showbiz too. They've seen it all before.
"He's a pussycat at heart. You can tell."
He is also, clearly, a "bad" drunk. I can already feel myself tensing up.
Eventually, and with a thudding inevitability, Donny ends up in the outside jacuzzi: fully clothed, fag still lit, expensive radio mike still attached (and hence beyond repair). Watching him from the other end of the garden, those same tell-tale signs of unease are beginning to flicker across the faces of his fellow housemates.
Except, that is, for Cleo Rocos: a carefully preserved (we're the same age; I can say these things) television comedy actress, whose main claim to fame was appearing as an over-the-top glamour girl on the Kenny Everett Show in the early 1980s. Cleo, as it swiftly transpires, is quite superb at handling "bad" drunks like Donny. Smiling, supportive, and utterly unruffled, she takes him in hand, leads him away from the others, gets him cleaned up, lends him some dry clothes. Without coming across as even faintly bossy, or critical, or disapproving, she takes full control of the situation. Donny is putty in her hands.
There's a wonderful, telling moment, which resonates with me more than any other. As Cleo hands Donny his change of clothes, a moment of clarity emerges from the foggy depths of his booze-addled soul. It's there in his eyes, as he holds Cleo's gaze for a second or two, with a mixture of surprised realisation and warm, trusting relief. It's a look which says: F**king hell, you're alright, you are. It is not an expression which I am used to seeing in situations like these.
The whole episode is a master class in how to handle a "bad" drunk, and I have learnt something from watching it. Once again, by placing real-life inter-personal relationships under a microscope, and by raising the emotional temperature in order to elicit a series of controlled reactions, Big Brother is - whether by accident or design (and I couldn't really care less) - usefully illuminating the human condition. This is why, for all its peripheral irritations, I never tire of watching it.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
Nicholas Hellen is the new Serenata Flowers.
"My place, posh frock, or else the Mother gets it."
And so, just three days after Girl With A One Track Mind first published it on her blog, and following a steady ground-swell of linkage from duly appalled fellow bloggers, an odious piece of e-blackmail from the Sunday Times finds itself at Number One on Google for a search on its author's name. Coming hot on the heels of last month's similarly successful blog-link campaign against a spam-commenting online florist, this is further proof of the power of the collective link.
Of course, some might maintain that Abby "One Track" Lee was "naive" for thinking that she could hang on to her anonymity, and that Hellen was only hastening the inevitable, and that the rest of us are being "naive" for throwing up our hands in maiden-auntish horror. Happens all the time, journalism's a rough old game, only doing his job, yadda yadda.
To which I say: isn't that the moral equivalent of justifying the theft of an unattended handbag on the grounds that someone was probably going to steal it anyway, and so you might as well get in there first?
Actually, no. It's worse than that. Handbags and their contents can be replaced; personal privacy can't be.
If Abby Lee and her supporters are to be branded as "naive", then that's only because, like most reasonable people, they operate from the assumption that most of us are still minded to treat each other with fairness, decency and respect. In which case, I'm glad that, in these hard-nosed, cynical times, Nicholas Hellen's e-mail still has the power to shock.
In any case, the balance of shaky assumptions lies firmly on Hellen's side. Assumptions that Abby Lee would comply with his demands through fear, or that her vanity and/or desire for "success" at any price (to use a somewhat dubious definition of the concept of "success") would send her rushing into the arms of her captors, posh frock in hand, ready for her Glamorous Makeover. Not to mention the assumption that the unmasking of the author of a newly published and still relatively unknown book constituted a legitimate, public-interest news story, fit for Page 3 of a "quality" Sunday broadsheet.
But perhaps Hellen's most "naive" assumption of all was in thinking that he could f**k with an extended community of nice, friendly, supportive people with Google Page Ranks of 5 and 6, and an aggregated readership of thousands, and get away with it. Hopefully, this little campaign will send out a signal to Old Media's most reptilian foot-soldiers, in possibly the only language they respect or understand, that we are NOT to be f**ked with in the future.
Update: Nicholas Hellen defends his actions to vnunet.com (on page 2 of the article).
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
The vinyl count-down.
Yesterday evening, back in Nottingham and hence re-united with my turntable, I started working my way (in chronological order, obviously) through the boxed set of Clash singles which my darling sister gave me for Christmas.
I tried combining this with some simultaneous ironing, but had forgotten how short singles are. Especially early Clash singles. You don’t get this problem with iTunes playlists, do you? Nevertheless, I did enjoy re-acquainting myself with the rituals of sleeves, lids and needles, which lent a strange sense of significance to each single I played.
(Word to the lapsed vinylist: remember, you should always put the previous single back in its sleeve before placing the needle on the next single, or else your attention will be disrespectfully divided. Also, it’s OK to leave the turntable lid up for single track 7-inch sides, as the accumulated dust levels will be negligible, and you’ll only make a distracting clunking noise through the speakers, however softly you close the lid.)
Yes, significance. Something about the physical act of choosing each successive piece of music leaves you with the feeling that you “own” your listening experience, on an altogether more direct, personal level. Because you’ve put the work in, you are more minded to recoup your investment by paying closer attention to what’s playing.
And then there’s that lovely, warm, rich, bottomlessly muddy analogue sound, with its irreducible curves. Just as you cannot express Pi in a finite set of decimals, so you cannot compress the infinity of musical sound into a series of rigid binaries – at least, not without excising a crucial component of its essential mystery. With analogue sound, no matter how often you listen to a piece of music, you will never quite hear all of it – and so you will keep returning. With digital music (and I’m with Neil Young on this one), if you play it once then, somehow, you’ve heard it all.
However, none of this stopped me from momentarily pausing over the fading notes of “Jail Guitar Doors”: a B-side of no great distinction, which I was in a hurry to dispense with as “White Man In Hammersmith Palais” was next in line. As my impatient hand reached down to lift the needle, a little voice inside cried caution.
“No, don’t do that. Let it play out in full, or else you’ll screw up the Play Count.”
How quickly we adapt.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Open Mike #6 - Question 2.
Milady de Winter asks:
Mike, as a gay man well versed in the modern world and this being World AIDS Day and all: what is your opinion on the archaic and, in my opinion, homophobic rule regarding gay men and giving blood? I've been on my soap box about this all day at work as the blood doners are coming round and I'm boycotting them.
Oh, lawks. This was supposed to be a bit of light-hearted fluff for a Friday - and now here I am, mentally knackered at the end of a rather trying Tuesday on the mainframe, and faced with the prospect of knocking out another extended essay on a Major Issue. You've got me confused with a Deep and Knowledgable Authority Figure Slash Spokesman For His Community, with carefully evaluated opinions on stuff that actually, you know, matters! Hay-ulp!
Although I have always rather shied away from making AIDS-related posts on December 1st (a.k.a. World AIDS Day), this doesn't mean to say that the day ever passes unremembered. Far from it. However - and perhaps this is surprising for someone of my generation, who came of Gay Age in 1982 - my direct personal experiences with the full-blown illness have been few and far between - and for the most part, they have occurred at one remove. I have never lost a friend to AIDS, and I have never been to the funeral of someone with AIDS. There have just been the occasional slight acquaintances, and friends of friends - and, OK, there was that one guy I slept with after a New Year's Eve party in the early 1990s, but we only ever met the once, and... you know how it goes, right?
Naturally, I have known (and indeed had sex with) a few HIV+ people over the years - and obviously many more whose positive status has never been made known to me - but (and how can I best put this?) their status has only ever hovered in the background between us: as an abstract piece of information, rather than as a tangible reality which has ever required a more direct personal engagement.
I have always, always practised safer sex, and have never been tempted to lapse. Not that this has been too difficult, given my historic lack of enthusiasm - in either role - for that particular act which is so often held to be virtually synonymous with gay male sexuality.
(In fact, that handy little phrase "Sorry, I don't have any condoms" has saved me from several potentially awkward situations over the years - and so, if anything, the global tragedy has worked very slightly in my favour. Talk about Survivor's Guilt.)
And so, as a mere remote observer, I have never quite liked to claim the disease for my own by dredging up some tangential reminiscences, seasoning them with a few well-meant homilies, offering them up on this site, and standing by for compliments in the comments box. It would feel a little stretched, a little forced - and even slightly exploitative. Such matters are best left to those with stories which are truly worth telling, and memories which should never be forgotten.
However, I do have a vivid memory of the screening interview which I attended about six years ago, at my previous place of employment, with the intention of donating my blood - and of the awkward surprise and embarrassment on the face of the rather ill-briefed young nurse, as she falteringly tried to explain why my blood could not be accepted. And yes, I remember feeling a sharp pang of wounded embarrassment of my own. After all, I prided myself on being clued up in such matters. So how could I not have known that all gay men - or indeed any men who had ever had even one same-sex experience, of any nature, no matter how long ago - were still being barred from donating blood, even though all donations were now being screened for possible infection?
Did I feel unfairly discriminated against? Hell, yeah. Any straight person who had ever had unprotected sex could donate, whereas Lil' Ol' Goody Two-Shoes Me couldn't. Where was the fairness in that?
Was it - indeed, is it still - evidence of institutionalised homophobia? In the light of all the recent legislative changes in this country, it is a viewpoint which has progressively become more and more untenable. Not so much homophobic, as hyper-cautious - maybe excessively cautious.
But is this caution truly excessive? Reading the explanatory document "Why we ask gay men not to give blood", as produced by the UK Blood Transfusion Service, I cannot help but feel that their case is, by and large, a sound one. Yes, all donated blood is screened - but this is not a perfect process, and infected blood can still slip through the net. It's a tiny risk, but a real one - and so, arguably, any measures which can significantly reduce that risk should be followed, regardless of the feelings of unjustified exclusion which they might cause. After all, what's more important here: sparing hurt feelings, or saving lives?
Of course, I could always choose to treat this exclusion as evidence of my continued status as a member of an Oppressed Minority - but in this case, I have actively chosen not to do this. In my experience - and counter-assimilationists amongst My People may commence hissing here - the less that we gay men consider ourselves to be marginalised victims, and the more that our social interactions spring from the assumption that we are already fully integrated and equal members of society, then the less that straight society will marginalise and victimise us.
I might be missing some important facts here, and my lurking inner Peter Tatchell would actually quite like to be proved wrong - so, if you know of any compelling counter-arguments which I might have missed, then (ahum) please deposit them in my box. (Now, that's an invitation you won't ever hear me issue lightly.)
Monday, December 04, 2006
Open Mike #6 - Question 1.
Dearie dearie me, I really do seem to be losing the power of written expression altogether. Evidence: I spent over an hour and half yesterday evening, penning a mere 120 word blurb on one of my favourite singles of the year, for the forthcoming "Best Singles of 2006" round-up on Stylus. And that's not counting the time I spent doing the research, either.
So, yeah: the plan was to answer all ten of your questions over the weekend in a fairly quick-and-dirty, rapid-fire manner - but the aforementioned Failing Powers got in the way of doing this. This wasn't helped by the gargantuan nature of Question Number One, either - in which jo asked:
Has the proliferation of alternative sources for finding and hearing new music such as music blogs, YouTube, Myspace, etc., helped or hindered the populace in the quest to find new music?
Do you think these alternative sources are allowing smaller acts who might not have caught the attention of music scouts or writers previously to promote without the backing of giant label conglomerates - and if so, do you think this has led to a dearth or a surplus of quality music?
Is it simply nostalgia for previous decades that causes us to feel that music from *then* was, in general, better than whatever is *current* - or is it that we simply manage to blot out all the crap that was around *then*, and create a rosy post-image?
Blimey, jo! And, er, Naughty jo! Not only did I say "one question per person only", but I even said it in bold type, so that no-one could miss it!
OK, so let's try and answer this one without turning in a 5000 word dissertation on The General State Of Popular Music In 2006. Yeah, fat chance. Brevity has never been my forte.
I'm not sure that I can speak for the general populace, but YouTube and Myspace in particular have certainly made it easier than ever before for people like me to access new music with a minimum of effort. For instance: the last time that I posted a list of my favourite tunes, I was able to add helpful illustrative YouTube and/or Myspace links for all of them - and in 11 cases out of 20, I was able to supply both. This wouldn't have happened 12 months ago, and I most certainly welcome it.
These days, I regularly use both sites in order to decide which gigs and albums I should review, or whether it's worth turning up early to catch the support act. If I read of a new song or act on a website, or a message board, or in the print media, I can be listening to that song in seconds - and because the content is being streamed rather than downloaded to my hard drive, nobody seems to mind. This makes for a more reliable - and more ethically defensible - alternative to peer-to-peer file-sharing sites, which I only access in cases of dire need. (Compare and contrast with the trigger-happy days of Napster and Audiogalaxy.)
All of this has to be set against my declining interest in old media - both print and broadcast - as reliable sources of information. Radio One is a hyper-active, unlistenable racket; I'm still (just) too hip for Radio Two; and as I don't own a digital radio and can't stream live audio at work, 6 Music has yet to become a regular listen - even though it is clearly the station which most closely matches my needs. In fact - and in a highly unexpected reversal of roles - it's now K who relies on the radio for most of his new CD purchases, as he is a long-standing fan of Radio 3's Late Junction, and he frequently uses the "Listen Again" service in tandem with the archived playlists on the show's website.
Meanwhile, Top of the Pops and CD:UK have vanished, Popworld is as nothing without Simon Amstell at the helm, and I can never get it together to set the Sky box for all those late-late-night Channel 4 music shows. Which just leaves Jools Holland's Later, which will occasionally - very occasionally - throw something new in my direction.
As for the music press: Uncut and the NME are shadows of their former selves, Q and Mixmag are comics for people who don't really like music, Mojo is overly heavy on the retro, The Wire is impenetrably "difficult" for a shallow soul like me, Straight No Chaser is indiscriminately nice about everybody and everything, which makes it an untrustworthy guide... which leaves Plan B (excellent in its way, but mostly far too indie for my personal tastes), The Word (trendy vicar stuff for the most part, but I have long since learnt to live with my inner Mark Ellen), The Guardian on a Friday (but please don't get me started on the questionable merits of Alexis "Man at C&A" Petridis) and the Observer Music Magazine once a month (probably my favourite read of the lot, despite having its own fair share of horrors: that "Record Doctor" of theirs should be struck off the register forthwith, for instance). Oh, and there's always fRoots and Songlines - both excellent in their way, but somehow they have never become essential purchases.
All of this means that, thanks to the likes of the ILM message board, webzines like Stylus and MP3 blogs like the ever-reliable Fluxblog, the web is now by far and away my main source of information regarding new music - and I should imagine that applies to many thousands of others. Do I think that's a healthy, democratising, liberating shift of emphasis, which enables people to make a freer set of personal choices? Absolutely. Much as I regret the passing of the Top 40 as a mass-consensus barometer of popular taste, I'd rather have things this way round. Maybe that's partly why my tolerance for music radio has diminished; why should I endure five consecutive crap songs in order to discover one good song, when I could be assembling my own playlists instead?
Has all of this helped smaller acts to flourish? Absolutely. I cannot recall a time when live music in this country was in such a healthy state - or maybe it's just a local upswing, and I'm just lucky enough to have access to six excellent venues, catering for all sizes of audience, and all within 15 minutes walk from my front door.
Has this led to a dearth or a surplus of quality music? A moot point. It has been a particularly rubbish year for the singles and album charts, with the intelligent and innovative new pop and R&B of the first half of the decade increasingly giving way to identikit faux-rebellious "corporate indie" bands, dreary singer-songwriters, and a iredeemably fossiled slurry of creatively bankrupt commercial dance tunes. So, in order to get to the good stuff, you really do have to make a bit of an effort - but once you do (and really, it's not that great an effort) - there's as much good stuff out there as ever.
As for jo's "are we just giving in to rose-tinted nostalgia, or was music really better in the old days" question: it's problematic, as...
a) The popular music of our formative years will generally cut deeper than anything we will ever experience in adult life, for reasons which shouldn't need spelling out.
b) Old music tends to feel more "significant" than new music, as it accumulates depth and weight over time.
c) I genuinely do believe that the singles charts were objectively at their best between 1964 and 1984, with "golden ages" from 1964 to 1966, and again from 1979 to 1982. But that's just the singles charts. Once you look beyond the commercially popular, the seemingly "good" years and "crap" years even themselves out to a much greater degree.
Extended ramble over, or else we'll be here all night.