Tell me a line Make it easy for me Open your arms Dance with me until I feel all right
– I Can Change
In my own little corner of the world, there are few records that are as important to me as Sound Of Silver, LCD Soundsystem’s awesome 2007 album. So my expectations were high and the follow-up, This Is Happening, did not let me down.
I love this band. I love every time I listen to James Murphy talk about music. And the themes that run through their albums – growing old, what being cool means, listening to music – are big calling cards for me. They also blasted down my prejudice against electronica by mixing the wit of Elvis Costello with the physicality of the Ramones. Head and hips covered.
As a fan, this record came with an extra story – this is to be the last LCD Soundsystem album. Just when making it huge seemed like a possibility, Murphy will be pulling the plug on the full time LCD Soundsystem. So This Is Happening can be read as a last statement.
Not that it ever gets that heavy. No, it’s still a lot of fun. You Wanted A Hit has it’s tongue far in cheek. Pow Pow is a great bit of nonsense. Drunk Girls – derided by everyone I know – is fun but light. But it’s all designed to make you move, and the beats and rhythms hit and hit hard.
This album doesn’t reach some of the highs of Sound Of Silver, but they come close. I Can Change is the real stand out on the album. Murphy has stated this was his attempt to write an 80s synth pop song in the style of Yazoo. He nails it, with his best vocal to date.
The other songs on this album include Home and the rather large Bowie tribute of All I Want. Knowing it’s the last album makes it even more powerful.
There’s only 9 songs on this album. Maybe in retrospect, it wasn’t the grand statement we were hoping for with the follow-up of such an important album, or their last album. Which is a perfect thing for a band who put out an EP called “Confuse the Marketplace”.
What is left is a lovely goodbye. Like drinks with a friend who is moving on. Some laughs, some music, some heart, no sadness.
Goodbye LCD Soundsystem. I saw a couple of amazing gigs of yours. I loved every album. See you maybe one day.
Or you could be twisted or you could be insane Pushing the envelope against the grain Just playing along
– Shadow People
What an album. I quite liked 2007’s We All Belong. I liked 2008’s Fate even more. And that’s three fantastic albums in a row with Shame Shame, their debut for Epitaph.
Maybe the big label changed them because the first three songs just scream “single”. Their country-rock-meets-Teenage-Fanclub has never had catchier bits. Stranger and Shadow People open the album with the best one-two punch this year. Huge choruses, big sing alongs, and a pretty awesome band rumbling around the back. Then comes Station, a great “ballad single”, if such things still existed.
The band still sounds like a 70s band, recorded with 50s equipment. They are stunningly out of time. They maybe could have been alt-country. They should have been lumped in with the harmony folk of Fleet Foxes. Or the retro thoughtfulness of Midlake and John Grant. But I guess they are too straight for those scenes, and too weird as people. They are probably not ambitious enough either.
There is a vintage sound that I just love. And it’s not retro in a White Stripes way. It doesn’t sound like a 70s record. The harmonies are spot on. Like Fanclub, they are blessed with a band of great singers. Enoigh studio trickery to keep it interesting too.
Back to the record. It’s number 6 on the list so you know for me there’s not a dud track on here. Plenty more blissed out country pop gems and fragile ballads. Try Mirror, Mirror or I Only Wear Blue. And it ends well too – the title track is weird, sinister and a perfect goodbye from a record that seems to come from nowhere. I really can’t say enough about the songwriting.
I just kept coming back to this album all year. I liked it a lot on first listen. Repeated listening, it holds up. On shuffle, each individual track also holds up. And I’m still listening to it. You should too.
In some years this would be a top 3, if not the number 1 album of the year for me. Nothing in the record is keeping it at 6, other than, in a miracle of music, there are 5 albums even better!
Best tracks: can’t beat the first three – Stranger, Shadow People and Station.
7. Belle & Sebastian – Write About Love Rough Trade
I know a spell That would make you well Write about love, it could be in any tense But it must make sense
– Write About Love
Is it even worth trying to be critical about this band?
Is this their best album? No.
Will 2010 be remembered as the year this album changed the world? No.
Was it the soundtrack to my year? Yes. (although it came out quite late in the year)
I’m a huge Belle & Sebastian fan, and it’s been far too long between drinks (although the God Help the Girl album is a five star classic). I could not wait for this album and I’ve spent a lot of time with it. And it’s lovely.
2005’s The Life Pursuit was a pop/rock/dance extravaganza. This one dials it back a little. There’s definitely some fun and funky numbers, but nothing approaching the 70s T-Rex wannabes on their last album. In fact, we see the return of two B&S staples – the fragile acoustic songs, and the female vocals.
Although it’s simplifying it, it’s like they are torn between their two sides at the moment. The first half of the album is filled with the rockers. Seems like it could be the funnest B&S album yet. But the album trails off to a series of slow numbers at the end. A bit late era B&S, a bit early era B&S.
The dance/rockers (or potential singles) do everything they are supposed to. I Didn’t See It Coming is a hit right out of the box. Write About Love returns to a classic Stuart Murdoch theme – escape from sickness through fantasy (with actress Carey Mulligan on vocals). And without trying, they are just a little cleverer and wittier than bands trying to mine the same sounds.
As usual, the ballads are where the emotional heft of this record lays. Calculating Bimbo is an affecting a character study as anything Murdoch has ever written. Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John continues the soulful ballad that they are quickly mastering, while two friends quiet fall out with eachother. Speaking of quiet – I’m not sure any other band has the balls to be as quiet as Read The Blessed Pages’ sombre whisper.
This album, like Dear Catastrophe Waitress, has a bit of everything. It doesn’t have a solid narrative as an album – but that might be what five years off gives you. Part of me would have liked to have seen B&S turn into a blue eyed soul band, but it looks like everything is back to normal.
Which is why this album is not higher on the list – it’s exactly what I expected. No surprises. After 5 years, it’s is only just good enough.
But this band. Geez. I just love what they do. It just seems I love them more as the years pass. As all the contemporaries get deleted off my iPod, I’m tracking down B&S b-sides. I don’t find myself getting as obsessed with bands anymore, but for some reason this band remains. If you have not discovered this band, then this record is not a bad place to start (although maybe Dear Catastrophe is better…)
Every 7 years, my birthday falls on a Monday and there’s always great albums released. This year, this was one of them.
Best Tracks: Write About Love, I Want the World To Stop, Calculating Bimbo
There was no clip for Write About Love, but here are the band performing it on Jimmy Fallon. Why they keep doing silly things like having kids writing in the crowd. Just makes them seem like the most shut off indie band ever. Oh well. Great glasses Stuart.
I’ve known for a long time You are my love life Why can’t I be bright like my lover’s light?
– Hand Me Down Your Love
One of my problems with electronica, and dance music, for years was the bad lyrics. In the last five years, some fantastic pioneers have broken the mould, bringing fantastic lyrics, and original written voices to a genre mainly designed for the body.
I harp on this because it’s still new ground, and I am thinking this is the first really dorky lovey dovey dance album – with no irony. And it’s great.
I guess Hot Chip were always a bit bratty. Songs about wrestling and fighting, dressing up as the Joker in film clips – they were great at being the frat rock nerds of electronica. In a lot of ways, it’s quite Ben Folds Five or Beck.
And just like how all comedians can also play drama, these smartasses showed that they could put the jokes away and make something honestly affecting. And still danceable.
Just try and not get caught up in the fantastic opening track Thieves In the Night. Four on the floor rhythm and the prettiest melody you’ve ever heard – sung by Alex Taylor, who has a gift of a voice. And the hook – “happiness is what we all want”, is as direct and honest as anything ever said in pop.
Having loved this band for a while, this thematic left turn is so very, very fucking cool. It’s like you’ve been flirting and joking with a girl for ages, and then you actually find yourself alone, talking about life, the universe and everything. It’s a headspin, in the best way.
The love-in continues throughout the album. One Life Stand is, as the title suggests, a statement of commitment. Love for family and other band mates are covered in Alley Cats and Brothers. In fact, it’s quite interesting how un-sexual this album is. If they took away the beats it could almost be a Lionel Ritchie album.
More excitingly is this album had some genuine hits. It also had some great film clips, and a great live show. This band is only growing, and people love them. I’ve had dozens of great conversations with this people about this album. How we loved it. That voice. The big swooping melodies. The beats. And the love. It was their year.
Hot Chip were never going to be rock stars, in a Poison/The Strokes sense. They’re the smartass nerds. Who turned out to be hopeless romantics. And as it’s my top ten, that sentiment really hit me this year. Time to grow up, and stop pissing about. it came out at the start of the year and I feel it helped set the pace of 2010 for me.
Three albums in and these guys are better than ever. I can’t wait for number 4.
Best tracks: Thieves In the Night, One Life Stand, I Feel Better
9. Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy Dead Oceans
I wish this road we were taking wasn’t made for breaking down I wish these nights of pleasure and these days of pain weren’t so tightly bound And I wish I was in heaven sitting down.
– Heaven, Sittin’ Down
Phosphorescent’s main man Matthew Houck had hit a creative dead end in 2009. After a couple of acclaimed indie albums on the super cool Dead Oceans label, he couldn’t figure out what to do next. To pass the time he released “To Willie”, a collection of Willie Nelson covers. That laid back country groove would be the heart and soul of his next album, this year’s wonderful Here’s To Taking It Easy.
And laid back it is. Slide guitars, sing-alongs and a deep southern boogie infuse these tracks with sleepy feel. It’s the kind of record that sounds best when outside, with friends, with beers. It’s not mopey either. Like the title suggests, it’s a celebration of relaxation.
At nine tracks, and little variation of pace, it might seem a bit slight. But the melodies and choruses stick. I don’t know what a Mermaid Parade is, but the loping sadness of that song, and that image, hangs around. There is something going on with those two most rock ‘n’ roll of themes – girls (Tell Me Baby Have You Had Enough) and escape (Heaven, Sittin’ Down).
In the end though, it’s just a fun, laid back, country-ish album – in a year when there were very few good ones. One listen to I Don’t Care If There’s Cursing, with it’s slide guitars and relaxed drawl is enough to draw me in. It’s somewhere between the Jayhawks and Creedence, and it’s a somewhere I usually love.
The album did very well for them, and hopefully it kicks them up to the next level. And lets hope they don’t get too excited about all the attention that they forget to take it easy.
Best Tracks: The Mermaid Parade, It’s Hard To Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama), I Don’t Care If There’s Cursing
10. The Divine Comedy – Bang Goes the Knighthood Divine Comedy Records
Have you sung along to all the silly love-songs you hate? And have you had to pinch yourself to make sure you’re awake? Have you ever felt like you could float into the sky? Like the laws of physics simply don’t apply?
– Have You Ever Been In Love?
Here’s a question – how many albums have their big single as the last track?
Not many I can think of. This is one. The song that finally saved this record from sinking without a trace is at the end of it – “I Like”, one of the loveliest of the lovely things on this record.
The Divine Comedy are still a recent discovery for me. Although in the last few years I have been hooked. Also, in Britain, Neil Hannon is everywhere – from the IT Crowd, Doctor Who, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and even the Ashes. He is the go-to guy for something British sounding. Having had several side projects, he finally made a Divine Comedy record. And it’s great.
From the first song you know it’s something special. Down In the Street Below could well be Hannon’s masterpiece. A five minute seduction that builds from surgically precise lyrics to a swooning lovely string laden chorus. Have You Ever Been In Love adds to the MGM musical feel.
Part of this album, and Hannon, for me, is the Britishness. When I first heard At the Indie Disco, I thought it was daft – a reeling off names from the indie world (Blur, Wannadies, etc). But I think of my nights at Notting Hill Arts Club, the regular seat we took and dancing our asses off. Maybe it’s a British Indie thing, those types of clubs. And Hannon nails it.
Then there’s I Like. Almost an afterthought, it was championed on radio and finally released as a single. Is it Hannon’s best song? It could be. Spritely and fun, it’s a simple love song – one that obviously connected with people. That rush of love, when you just like everything about someone, in a three minute pop song. I challenge you to hear it and not think of someone in your heart.
There’s not a bad track on here – in fact there’s not a track that is only OK either. Some of the deeply orchestral stuff has been set aside, as have some of the guitars. It’s a clear pop album. It’s been years since Hannon has communicated his world so clearly and without trappings. If people still thought of careers in terms of old models, this is a Graceland style late era revival.
Then there’s all those little things I love about albums. There’s a great end of side one/start of side two feel. The album cover is fantastic and even better on vinyl. 12 songs, 45 minutes. Just classic stuff in my world. While making my top ten list, this album just refused to budge. This album just made me so happy this year, and what the hell else should music do?
Eight (or ten, depending on how you want to count it) albums in, and amazingly, I would recommend this album as the best place to start. I’m not sure if there was a deliberate attempt to make an accessible but it’s worked. Hopefully I Like manages to sneak into radio stations and mix tapes, and the wonders of this album spreads.
And if you’ve not heard the track, you must hear I Like.
Best tracks: I Like, Down In the Street Below, At the Indie Disco
Welcome to the Leaps And Bounds obligatory end of year lists.
Starting with ten albums that fell out of the top ten that I wanted to write about. This was culled from a big list. Several albums, such as ones by Old 97s, Crowded House, Nada Surf, Vampire Weekend and Lazy Susan did not make this list. Even though I like them more that some records here, they are a) pretty obvious for me and b) not much more to say other than I love them and they are great. Here are 10 fantastic albums that, on the whole, surprised me with how good they are.
(These ten are not really in order)
11. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs Merge
It only doesn’t make the ten because it’s too long, and large sections of it pass me by. But the highlights (The Suburbs, Modern Man, City With No Children, Month of May) are out of this world. I love a good concpet album, and I love the Springsteen working class element. I also love that they made something eally simple and open, after the bleak darkness of Neon Bible. A landmark record by an important band.
12. Free Energy – Stuck On Nothing DFA
There’s a fair bit of hype on these guys, mainly cos they are on DFA Records and their album is produced by James Murphy. But I wonder what the indie hipsters make of it when it basically sounds like a Cheap Trick record. Sweet, 70s guitars, and a carefree pop sense makes this album a lot of fun. The kind of fun usually associated with power pop and the kind of retro-dagginess that is found in bargain bins quite quickly. I love me a bit of silly stadium rock and I’m glad someone else thinks so, here in 2010.
13. The Morning Benders – Big Echo Rough Trade
This record is worth noting for the breathtaking opening track – Excuses. It is my song of the year. It’s heartfelt Spector-ish pop, with a mountain of strings. The rest of the album does not live up to that track, but there’s plenty of pretty moments. If they can trump Excuses on their next album then we have a keeper.
14. Pernice Brothers – Goodbye Killer Ashmont Records
I’ve not really loved a Pernice Brothers record since 2001’s The World Won’t End. In fact – I wrote them off. But this record came out of nowhere. It doesn’t break a single boundary, but it is significantly better than the last 3 of their albums. There is an element of fun. We Love the Stage in particular is kind of – funny. And Joe Pernice is about the saddest songwriter I know. The guitars sing, the songs are crisp and even Joe sounds excited to be there. It wont change their career but I’ll be pretty happy if they keep making this album for the rest of their career.
15. She & Him – Volume Two Merge
I loved She & Him Volume One so much, it was going to be tough to follow it up. Initially, this album was a bit of a letdown – the innocence and naivety had gone. But slowly the sweetness, and that voise, won me over. A little more produced than their debut, it was fragile and lovely thing regardless. It would be suicide if this was Volume Three, but as an act trying to cement a career, this is a fine effort.
16. Spoon – Transference Merge
This is their LCD Soundsystem album. All sound and rhythm. These guys can almost do no wrong. Killer chops, a one of a kind voice and musical turns that no one sees coming. Coming off their most produced and slick album, they made something raw and daring. A for effort, and B+ for songwriting – kind of let down by a long record, lending an air of being unfocussed. Would have been a monster of a 10 track album.
17. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast Kanine
A friggin excellent guitar record. It hints at the interplay found in Television, but riffs as simple and primal as Nirvana. They perfect that indie guitar and vocal sound too. The album is short, sharp and snappy. I have no idea what any of the songs are about either. What is worrying is everyone I know who knows these guys reckon they are the biggest cocks they have ever met. So much so that it’s tainted them, leaving them sitting outside the ten. That said, even good albums happen to bad people.
18. Teenage Fanclub – Shadows PeMa
Five years since their last album, the Fannies return with their lushest, warmest album to date. We are so far away from that noisy four piece band from the 90s. Sometimes the lyrics kind swing towards banality, but on the whole the loveliness cuts through. This record is one big, happy hug. So many highlights too – Baby Lee, Dark Clouds, When I Still Have Three to name but a few. I kind of miss having a couple of rockers but I repsect these old hands for trying something different.
19. Tift Merritt – See You On the Moon Fantasy
So many of those country-ish songwriters I used to love have fallen by the wayside. Merritt was never one of my favourites, but her last album, Another Country, was something special. See You On the Moon makes it two for two. It’s hard to explain why – other than it’s a solid album. The songs are her best yet – always tender and clever without being showy. Merritt is in fine voice. And it’s what’s not there that makes the difference. No self centered depression, cartoonish genre studies or any need to show off at all. There are times when I feel like a smart, simple songwriter album with no faults, and this year was this one. It may be a little unspectacular but damn it’s good.
20. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor XL
And now for something completely different. This album is utterly mad. With all the stops and starts, I wonder if the mastering house put the CD gaps in the wrong place. It was a year for rock, and this was easily the weirdest rock album of the year. Four 7-minutes-plus epics, usually played at thundering pace and a hail of lyrics, all based around the American Civil War. It’s definitely an American brand of rock – part Springsteen (again), part Neutral Milk Hotel. It’s played with such passion I don’t know if it’s a band or a knife fight.
30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.
I have spent half my life making websites on the web.
I love what has come to be called “blogs”. I’ve been with them ever since they started – GeoCities, blogspots, tumblrs, wordpress, livejournals and all.
I know a lot of people are on the fence when it comes to this brave new world. At worse, it’s narcissistic indulgence. But I like it. And either way – it’s a big part of our culture now. Our stories are now on public record.
I started ‘blogging’ in 1996, with a GeoCities website. It mainly focussed on my obsession with comics. I became a part of the online community for the Legion Of Super-Heroes, my favourite comic at the time. I looked after a chronological timeline of these fictional heroes. I also did a complete annotation on the Batman mini-series The Long Halloween. Basically, I was a comic nerd who expressed his interest. And I met a few nice people too.
My interests changed to music, and so did my website. I started simply listing bands and posting photos of various things. It was so crude it’s ridiculous. Eventually, I decided the Australian band You Am I were my favourite band. My website became a shrine to both them and me – and renamed “You Am I And Me”. It started me on another journey completely.
The internet was very exciting at this time, especially if you had very particular interests. I jumped straight into the music online scene – webrings, fansites, newsgroups and more. Someone would decide to devote themselves to a band and create a page. Lyrics, photos, tabs and more.
You Am I were a big band and there were several other fan sites at the time – I thought I’d just be one of them. I did work hard on mine, in the way a teenage kid might customise their car. Pretty soon I was transcribing articles and scanning in CD single artwork. I think I did a pretty good job.
And the other You Am I websites fell away. It’s a continuing theme – dead sites. And I just kept at it. Newer You Am I sites started and fell away as well. Eventually, I decided to make it more seriously. Paul Stipack, who ran the fantastic Oz Music Central, and I made a deal. I would take some of his You Am I work and create the new You Am I Central.
My story with You Am I is for another time. But the You Am I site led me to meet the band, and the band officially endorsed me. It was something I became known for in the Australian music scene. I was also the common person for a whole country’s worth of You Am I fans.
It’s an amazing thing, in retrospect, that my little blog – of a lonely nerdy kid in suburban nowhere, Sydney – became somebody to some people. Just by putting myself out there with what I loved. And I got to meet people with the same interests. That You Am I website launched me out of being a nobody into the world of the Australian music scene.
Websites were very basic back then. I started with various wysiwyg editors – culminating in the long forgotten HotDog 4. But I also learnt how to do it all the HTML stuff from scratch. In my prime, I could make amazing websites with just a text program.
I developed a style and a sense of what I liked and what I didn’t like. For example – I still hate flash. Flash sites are all looks and no content. It’s graphic designers taking over – not people with something to say. Maybe it’s the Scott McLoud learning – just because it’s visual doesn’t mean it has to be just graphics.
I also read a lot of design blogs – the best being Jeffrey Zeldman. The man is a true internet pioneer, but I guess he might be considered old-school now. But there was a real movement there – the world of web standards and cross compatibility. Was a time you had to create a site for Netscape and other browser users would be damned.
I’ve not kept up my skills. I don’t have the time. I would come home from school and type code for 6 hours. I don’t have time to do that anymore. I can still make a decent website. But I lost it with php and mysql – database tables essentially. It’s the new backbone of the web, and I’ve lost the touch.
I maintained a personal page throughout this time (called Pop-aghanda), hidden away in the You Am I site somewhere. The internet was big news, and my work as getting recognition. I appeared on Triple J, age 17, talking about You Am I and then being the guest on a webchat with ‘fans’. The Australian Sound and Film Archive got in contact and asked for my permission to archive the site for historical importance.
People started to ask me about doing work for them. The only people I wanted to work for was Ivy League Records – my favourite Sydney label at the time. I volunteered to do their website and did so for a couple of years. It led to more contacts and more involvement in the music world. Along with working at a record shop and a radio station, websites became my way of contributing to music.
I would help other sites all the time. I would review and scan in rare CDs I had for other sites. I was more than happy to answer people’s html questions if I could.
I think of that generation of web creators and think – we were just obsessed kids. Instead of drawing guitars in our schoolbooks, the web let us make something that could be seen by others. With no recourse too. I could put anything I wanted online, and the only people who would find them are people with similar interests.
That era, the turn of the century, rise of the fanpage. Someone needs to write that story down. Maybe it’s too recent, but it’s a hell of a story.
You Am I and Ivy League fell away for me as well. I handed the reins over to others. Popaghanda died a slow death (although I have it archived somewhere – and it has my top ten albums of 1999 as an article). I had started my own band, and my web publishing and graphics skills concentrated on that.
I’m not sure if anyone is really monitoring trends for the web. For me, it seems there was an era where the web tried to be serious. After years of flashing graphics, clip art and fluoro colours – it seems like the web was starting to be a serious thing. Every small business got websites, and they couldn’t look like a 17 year old’s blog. Domain name costs plummeted, and a generation of web designers graduated and got to work.
Then there was MySpace, who took over a lot of what GeoCities and the like stood for. Free, easily formatted and easily linked – MySpace gave people an easy online identity. But MySpace was limited, even though it had a blog feature – some people want more than an identity.
Which was me. Having always written online, made lists and just basically being a self centred modern man – I needed something more than MySpace. So I started Gluing Tinsel To Your Crown, a random writing blog.
The design aspect of blogging has taken a backseat – at least for me. It’s to easy to use templates, and most of them are quite pretty. I know I can pay a bit more – get a domain name, take charge of the designs. But then I would be a ‘blogger’, and I have nothing against that – I just have a lot of other things to be first.
What has changed is what I write about – and how I approach it. I read a lot of blogs, and surf them randomly too. I know a lot about what I don’t like about blogs. Reactionary pieces. Repeating links and nothing else.
So, I approach blog writing with a philosophy. Yet another McLoud-ism comes into play – write like everyone you know is dead. I’m starting to get these long, loosely connected essays down. Writing in columns – like this 30 for 30 thing – also works, I think. Personally, I don’t like graphics to get in the way, and I like my text big and readable.
So ends 30 for 30. It’s back-to-basics blogging for me. Putting myself out there. Starting conversations. Keeping a record. Friends who have read an entry or two have taken time to talk to me about it, if it suits their interests.
I often ask people about what they write on their blogs too. It’s a give and take. All the links on the right are friend’s pages – and well worth checking out. Blogging isn’t for everyone, but I would love to see more people I know expressing themselves. If you have a blog and I’ve not included you, please let me know.
The annual top 10 albums of the year will follow in December, and a new writing project starts next year.
Leaps And Bounds started in 2005, ostensibly a travel blog, named after the Paul Kelly song. After what I learnt from Douglas Adams, I became a fan of blogging for bloggin’s sake. After mucking about with blogspot and then tumblr, before finally settling into wordpress.
I flirted with other things. An online version of my old paper zine (Strum) or my technology blog (Great Leap Forwards). But I realise I don’t have an agenda to push anymore – I’m not making websites for single bands. I’m writing to write.
Blogging technology has became pretty great as well. It was really easy to merge in previous blogs, even from other services. Now Leaps And Bounds is a happy little log of the last five years.
It’s not the last five years that’s interesting. It’s the next 30. It’s the fact that I’ve lost my very first few blogs, but I don’t think that’s possible now. This record will exist for all time.
30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.
I agree with William when he said, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.
This column is about trivial things. This one, God, is the most trivial of all. I want to make that clear from the start – and I think it’s the great downfall of God and religion. How important people place it in the lives.
God, beliefs, morality, religion – these are the last things I use to form an opinion about a person. I have so many friends with so many varied beliefs. And it matters not one iota what they believe in. Just as what I believe in isn’t really anyone’s business.
But I thought I’d get a few words down about it – this trivial, trivial thing.
When I was very young, I was given a book. Not the bible, but rather This I Believe, an anthology of writers talking about their varied faiths, edited and compiled by John Marsden (doesn’t look like it’s in print anymore). Amongst other things, it inspired me to write down my own thoughts on faith, God and religion.
I do it every few years. Just write down what I believe. It’s very therapeutic.
Before that book, I had gone to church with my parents occasionally. I was so bored and inattentive at the time that I’m pretty sure those visits had no affect on me as a person. My parents stopped taking me very quickly in favour of Chinese language classes.
And since then I have had zero contact with formal religion. It just doesn’t affect my life. If it wasn’t for This I Believe, and it’s unwritten challenge of – hey kid, get your philosophy in order – I probably would never have thought about God again.
That’s probably not true actually. Because my life journey through my beliefs is a river, not a line. And what has shaped it has been a million influences.
At 17, writing my first ever This I Believe essay, I would say I was a half hearted atheist. Around this time, I discovered the word ‘agnostic’. I can’t remember who said it (it might have been in the book) but agnostics are just the WORST.
Believe in something. Don’t choose “can’t decide”.
In the last 13 years, I have moved away from atheism. On one hand, I discovered certain pros for the competition, which I will get into. But more importantly, I have some very worrying cons against atheism.
To start with the last one, there was a Global Atheism Conference in 2010, held in Melbourne. Global Atheism Conference? Come on. What kind of bullshit cult is this? In the last decade, Atheism has become a religion of it’s own – or at least it’s edging that way very quickly.
The only, and I mean ONLY, people who have ever tried to push their beliefs on me have been Atheists. They take out ads on buses in London promoting their wares. They ridicule and make fun of those who have not read their books and see things differently. And now, they have closed off little conferences that do nothing but preach to the converted.
Atheists, like all religious nuts, believe they are right. And yes, they use science and so their beliefs are not, you know, like fairies in a pretty garden. But it is turning into a bullshit mass movement. And my idea that belief should be trivial is being left behind by this Atheist movement.
Can you really tell me that all atheists know everything about their beliefs? Or have they just read two Richard Dawkins books and are now smug assholes?
Now, I’m not talking about ALL atheists. I’m talking about the ones that organise conferences. The ones who buy ads on buses. The ones that ruin holidays with their politics and beliefs. Where is Pete Townshend to hit them with a guitar.
Atheism used to be easy. You don’t believe in fairy tales. Nowadays, when you say you’re an Atheist, people ask you when you last read The God Delusion.
So, nothing against those who don’t believe there’s a God. In fact, good on you for thinking about it and deciding on something. And fuck those bastards who have turned it into a religion in and of itself.
Not that I’m an atheist anymore. In the years, my view has changed to include a God. Here is a quick headline rundown of how I went from a to b.
From not believing there is a God, means there is no meaning to life.
If there is no meaning of life, then I quote Joss Whedon – “If what we do doesn’t matter, then all that matters is what we do”. Basically if you want meaning, you create your own.
From there – there’s the Oscar Wilde idea of “My life is my life’s work”. If we create meaning to our own lives – wouldn’t we want it to be the very best meaning? Which means we’ve now reintroduced the idea of living a ‘good’ life.
So what are the criteria of a ‘good’ life? Is living by the code set up by the bible? Or something that is personal? Personal is of course the best. But no man is an island, and you have to take moral codes and lessons from what is around you.
I decided to become an artist. Write music. Be a writer. So my personal definition of a good life became to live an artistic life. And to live it fully. Essentially, to leave behind a good biography for someone to write. Taking cues from my idols and heroes, from Keith Richards to Stanley Kubrik, or whoever. Live an interesting, artistic life.
But interesting by who’s account? From here we find Bob Ellis, who wrote in his “The Nostradamus Kid“, the idea of the future camera. That one day, someone will invent a camera that can look back in time and see everything we have done. And we need to perform for that camera, and that future audience.
(It’s not far off from Willie’s “all the world’s a stage” thing)
Who is this imaginary future audience, who’s audience-ness is shaping my life and my actions? It’s no one. They don’t exist. They are just a focus of an idea. Like a meditation mantra. Something un-nameable to hang something on.
And if you’ve come that far, you might as well just name that imaginary thing “God”.
Because for me – if life is a story – then God is not it’s writer. It’s not even it’s editor. It’s the reader we are trying to impress.
So, God is not a person. Certainly not one that looks like Alanis Morrisette.
But it is a belief in something that doesn’t exist, outside myself, is judging me. When I lie in my bed at nights and wonder if I’ve been good to God, it’s me wondering if I have had a “good” day, and if that audience will look at what I’ve done and think of me well.
Which excludes me from being an atheist.
The popular question is – does God exist?
The popular answer is – it doesn’t matter.
For years, that answer seemed like hocus pocus bullshit. But now I agree. It doesn’t matter. I’m not sure it’s for the same reasons the church would give. But here are my reasons.
Religion and God are, most thinkers will agree, a necessary invention at a certain stage of civilisation. People generally create moral codes, and tend to do it by committee. Religion – big and small, good and bad – spawn from this idea.
The fact – and it is a fact, really – that God doesn’t exist should null and void the lessons learnt in religion.
BUT – a big capital BUT – where have I learnt my moral code?
I’ll tell you. There’s one person who taught me more about good and evil, right and wrong than anyone else.
And that fucking do-gooder doesn’t exist either.
I’ll give you another. Captain Kirk. Or Spiderman. Or any character ever played by Steve McQueen. I am the product of learning from thousands of people who don’t “exist”. Does it null and void the lessons I’ve learnt?
Did the boy who cried wolf actually exist? Why don’t atheists attack that story?
So, there is some value in fictional people.
Now, lets take that further.
Dee Dee Ramone is a hero of mine (especially during high school). The guy is dead. I’m never going to meet him. The Ramones were personas at best. They are almost cartoons. How much does “Dee Dee Ramone” exist? That’s not even a real name.
What about Keith Richards then? If that guy was a fictional character, he’d be an unrealistic one. Again, I’ve never met him. What I learnt reading Rolling Stones biographies – is there more value to that than Catcher In the Rye? I don’t believe there is. Both are stories and I’ve taken what I chose to take from them.
Someone I have met then. Michael Stipe for example. I shook his hand once, and had a small chat. Those 3 minutes of confirming his physical presence had little affect on how I feel about the guy, and what I learn from him.
Real, not real. Fiction or fact. Alive or dead. It’s all the same. What gives something value is me, and where I choose to find inspiration.
So whether God exists really doesn’t matter. I’m not dealing with truths when I think of beliefs. I don’t know if there was a Jesus, anymore than I don’t know if Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads to play guitar. But I know which one I’d rather believe in, in both cases.
The problem is religion. It’s usually a pretty bad thing. But as the years go by, even I’m softening to that.
I have an addictive personality. It’s probably lucky that Paul McCartney got to me before God. But I look at KISS conventions, or the Joni Mitchell message board, and I think – a lot of what religion does for people is here. Community. Self validation. A feeling of being unique and special within a group.
Beth, for years now, has been someone I go to when I want to talk about these things. I once asked her about religious nutters. In particular, a guy I saw on the street with a Jesus sandwich board, ranting and raving.
She said, and I paraphrase, that guy is just a lunatic. Pure and simple. And he uses religion as something to be insane about. It’s the same lesson as anti-racism 101. That group of black kids that broke into the local shop aren’t black kids. They are just kids – and dickheads at that. Skin colour, belief, age, gender – any combination of those can produce a dickhead.
Religion is so big, there’s bound to be some real dickheads there. If you took religion away, they’d probably be a dickhead about something else.
(I mean, the Nazi’s were Darwinists gone mad. It’s not hard to see the religious parallels there. Dickheads are everywhere.)
So that is a brief overview of why I decide to not Not-Believe in God.
But then there are the reasons I do.
And I just have to look at La Sagrada Familia. God, that is a fucking humbling experience. Looking up at those spires, and the work – since 1882 and not scheduled to finish for another 15 years – and you think, man, Gaudi really loved God. I mean he really, really loved Him.
That sort of outpouring of inspiration is – well – inspiring.
I want to live like that. I want to express myself with such thunder.
And God can take me there. I’ve chosen my own unique God to be my guide, but a God nonetheless.
Also, a lot of my heroes believe in God (although mostly troubled and turbulent relations at best). Stuart Murdoch. Neil Finn. Craig Finn. Jeff Tweedy. Tim Rogers. That’s just the music guys.
There’s no shortage of inspiring works in the name of God. So many churches. A million songs, movies, poems and books. It makes me think if you let yourself go to something bigger than yourself, then amazing things can happen.
This was a tough piece to write. I hope that you take it in spirit it was intended – a discussion rather than, ironically, a sermon. I usually don’t talk about this stuff, but I do think about it a lot.
In those very rare times I do talk about God, I have come up with a perfect nugget-sized analogy to sum it up.
The school of painting I’ve always been drawn to have been the impressionists. Those murky colours and shapes that suggest reality but don’t reflect it. Like the awesome “The Fighting Temeraire” by Turner or “Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte” by Seurat. And so – I take an impressionistic view of life.
I’d rather blur reality for the sake of beauty.
This I believe.
(Small post script. The name ‘Danny’ means ‘The Lord is my judge’)