In pursuit of happiness part 2

I’ve just finished reading David Nicholls’ ‘One Day’ which I liked a lot. It didn’t look quite as good on the tube as, say, Satre or Proust, but it did look a lot more believable. It’s full of humour, pathos, emotion and class-related awkwardness. I really liked the book, and it was about as British as ‘Friends’ is American. I think that the ‘cleverness’ of the format (catching up with the main protagonists on the same day over a twenty year period) is actually a bit limiting, and I don’t think that this gimick is necessary, but I can’t remember the last time that I read a book quite so quickly, and felt as though I knew (and cared about) the characters quite so much. It’s a bit disappointing that the book has to be turned into a film; the film serves little purpose, save to pander to those with little or no imagination. If the characters are as you imagined, it’s just like reading the book again, and if they’re nothing like you imagined, well that’s just irritating.

It’s the characters in any book or film that make it stand out. Getting you to care about these fictional people is a large part of the battle. The characters in ‘One Day’ were drawn in 3D, and when they weren’t, that was clearly deliberate, almost as a way of making the key characters stand out. One of the reasons that I dislike soaps so much is that every character exists completely in 2D, and displays such a limited range of emotions at any one time as to represent nothing but cariacature. ‘One Day’ is about life, chance, fate, friendship and love, and despite the condensing of a year into a day in every chapter, it’s clear that all of these occur in parallel, not in series.

One of the overriding thoughts I had upon finishing the book was about how unhappy the characters seemed for much of the time, and how surface happiness often masked some kind of inner turmoil. I’m sure this isn’t what I was supposed to be left with, but there you go: lots of money or too little money, hectic social life or no social life, relationship or single life, unrealised ambition or unfulfilling present: it didn’t seem to matter which stage we were at, there was always something gnawing away at our heroes, making sure that true happiness remained just out of reach. And maybe this is true to life; maybe we can’t ever be 100% blissfully happy at any one time; there’s always things going that worry us, things that could be better, and even if it were possible to attain a state of happy nirvana, wouldn’t that just make us all too aware that we were at the top of the mountain, with only one way to go?

I actually find this thought that unobtainable (complete) happiness rather comforting, and it does take the pressure off somewhat. If it’s never possible to be 100% happy, it should never be possible to be 100% sad: they’re just opposite sides of the same coin, and there’s no one without the other. No matter how rough things get, you can always grab hold of lots of happy thoughts, of things that are going well, just like golden tickets (I’m thinking more Crystal Dome than Wonka here). Each day should be a nice mix of sad and happy thoughts, of moments of elation and moments of despair (ok, maybe that’s a bit strong for every day, but you get the idea). It’s these extremes of emotion that remind us that we’re human, that remind us that we’re alive. No-one wants to hang around the person who’s a perpetual misery, whose glass is always half-empty, but there’s a reason why the word ‘grinning’ is often followed by the word ‘idiot’, and anyone who claims to be happy all the time maybe just hasn’t got a particularly well developed sense of emotion.

So go forth, rejoice and be happy. Or sad. Just try and make sure they exist in approximately equal measure.

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My compressed 30 day music challenge – the first ten days

Impatience is just one of my many faults, and when I was kindly sent the link to this month-long challenge, the first thing I did was look ahead to the questions that I wanted to think about and to write about. They say that good things come to those who wait, but I like to grab things I like the look of rather than wait for them to come to me. I know that if I have too long to look forward to something, I’m guaranteed not to enjoy it when it finally comes around due to the length of the build-up. This is also a great thing to blog about, because I don’t really mind if no-one reads it; it’s fun to do, and therefore has some value to me. I think that people’s musical choices can say a lot about them (it can certainly tell you whether or not they actually like music) and because my tastes are fairly varied and I get bored easily, I’m always interested in what other people like and why they like it.

I’ve not spent 10 days on the list below, but I have spent a little time thinking about them, so here goes:

day 01 – your favorite song:

I’ll take this to mean my favourite song of the moment, which is ‘the age of the understatement’ by The Last Shadow Puppets. That’s Alex Turner (of Arctic Monkeys fame’s) other band. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to the lyrics in any detail, but I love the title of the song, its epic feel and the fact it sounds a little bit like Bowie. My favourite songs ever, and by this I mean the only ones that I’ll never skip on the ipod are ‘Sugar Kane’ by Sonic Youth, ‘Davyan Cowboy’ by Boards of Canada and ‘A Day in the Life’ by The Beatles: I don’t believe that there’s any song that you can hear somthing different in every time that you listen to it, but these ones go as close as any. I remember listening to ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana when I was 15 and feeling like this was the kind of music that I’d been waiting to listen to, but this sounds so pathetically teenage that I won’t mention it.

day 02 – your least favorite song:

Toss-up here. My first ‘least favourite’ would be the ‘comedy’ song, like the ones done for comic relief (yes I know it’s a good cause but they always make me cringe, when a band and some comics get together for something that isn’t funny, but it isn’t really music either). ‘The Stonk’ by Hale and Pace was probably the nadir. This tripe ties with pretty much anything done by Robbie Williams. This man makes music for people who don’t really like music. It’s not that it’s awful to listen to (apart from his rapping) but that it’s so anodyne, and so obviously designed simply to be ‘un-hate-able’. For that very reason, I hate it, even more than the Stonk. I don’t like Kings of Leon or The Killers either, but that’s mostly down to the people who feel that this really really standard music is something that borders on genius.

day 03 – a song that makes you happy:

‘Barbra Streisand’ by Duck Sauce. It’s simple, funny, upbeat and reminds me of happy times with Victoria. What’s not to like? Can’t imagine I’ll be listening to it much in a few years time, but it’ll always have happy memories.

day 04 – a song that makes you sad:

Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks. It reminds me of my parents, though it’s worth pointing out that this is not enough of itself to make me feel sad. They lived in London in the late 1960s and early 1970s and it always makes me think of them as a young couple. I’m not sure why that’s sad, but that’s what nostalgia tends to do to me, even if it belongs to someone else.

day 05 – a song that reminds you of someone:

Most songs remind me of someone. Anything by Steve Brookstein reminds me of my brother, who decided that his album represented a sound purchase. ‘Crazy’ by Let Loose reminds me of him (we have a routine) as does ‘Still Take You Home’ by the Arctic Monkeys, which was the precursor for a very entertaining night out on the West Coast of Ireland. The ‘King of Carrot Flowers’ by Neutral Milk Hotel is my choice though, because it’s one of my favourite songs of all time, and reminds me of my favourite person too.

day 06 – a song that reminds you of somewhere:

‘Has it come to this’ by The Streets. The beat reminds me of the rhythm of the tube, and the song reminds me of London, even if it’s not quite the London I know. Mike Skinner’s first album was truly original, and I like the fact that his music provides an ironic antidote to American rap. He speaks about greasy spoons, public transport and going to blockbuster, rather than guns, bling and hos.

day 07 – a song that reminds you of a certain event:

‘Chasing Rainbows’ by Shed 7. Euro ’96 will forever be remembered as halcyon days. I spent much of my time in the garden in Durham watching the football and not worrying about my degree. I remember every day as being very sunny, and even remember England playing some good football at times. We seemed nailed on to win the tournament, but were then robbed by the Germans on penalties in the semi-final. It’s far more English to laud the plucky losers than the eventual winners, so I think that it’s fitting that it happened like it did. This song is from 1996, and sums up how I felt about England then, and still do.

day 08 – a song that you know all the words to:

‘Gold’ by Spandau Ballet. This used to be my karakoe song, until my brother informed me just how bad I was at doing it. It probably didn’t help that we were in a dive bar in Texas at the time, and I thought it would be humorous to wear a short-sleeved checked shirt with top button done up and then give a load of hicks some real 80s new romantic stuff that they just knew they wanted to hear. I’ve since experimented with ‘You Can Go Your Own Way’, ‘True’ and ‘The Reflex’, all with limited success.

day 09 – a song that you can dance to:

I’d like to think that I can dance to any song, but even if that used to be true, it’s certainly not now. My dancing is now confined to weddings, and though I maintain my strict rule never to dance on carpet, I’m sure I still look as much of a prick as the people I’m dancing with. For this reason, I suppose I should choose (ironically) ‘U Can’t Touch This’ by M C Hammer, if only because I think my patented dance moves that come after ‘yo ring the bell, school’s back in’ are very special. The fact that ‘Out of Touch’ by Uniting Nations would have come a close second proves that any credibility I may have built up through any of these answers has now disappeared entirely.

day 10 – a song that makes you fall asleep:

‘The Shining’ by Badly Drawn Boy. It’s the first song from his album ‘The Hour of Bewilderbeast’, and when I was staying in Boston with my friend Ryan in 2003, I slept on his couch, and fell asleep each night listening to this song. It’s a real slow-burner and the lazy ‘cello at the start is such a lovely song for late at night.

Face the Music

Everyone’s a fan of lists. Channel 5 in particular. List shows seem to have spawned from programmes such as ‘I love 1973’, and the public’s love of nostalgia in general. They started with the ten best films, or albums, which seemed fair enough. Suddenly ten wasn’t enough, and we moved into the top 100 best…, and the categories became rather more desperate too. I’m pretty sure I’ve spent a Sunday night watching the countdown of the ‘Top 100 love scenes in family movies from the 1980s starring Molly Ringwald’. Whereas the original list shows meant that some pretty big decisions needed to be made, nowadays it’s more tricky just finding enough examples to cram into the list. What’s left to do? ‘Top seven days of the week’? ‘Top 100 colours’? I, for one, am on the edge of my seat.

This all acts as an introduction to this particular entry, which is a list about albums. Ten year’s worth of albums in fact. Starting in 1991, purely for the fact that it’s a palindrome, and for someone as ‘curious incident-y’ as me, that’s where you need to start.

In a bid to remove all controversy, these aren’t necessarily those albums that I think are the best of that year, simply the ones I reckon I’ve listened to most often. They’re probably the albums that I liked most in each particular year, though I seem to remember that as an angsty 15 year old, music was one of the main ways that you fitted in, and if you carried round a vinyl copy of ‘blood sugar sex magik’ in an Andy’s records bag, a reasonable amount of cool would be heaped upon you even before you opened your zit-encrusted mouth in front of a moderately attractive girl.

1991 – Nirvana, Nevermind
1992 – Tie: Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted and Sonic Youth, Dirty
1993 – Suede, Suede
1994 – Portishead, Dummy
1995 – Oasis, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (of course)
1996 – Cake, Fashion Nugget
1997 – Tie: Prodigy, The Fat of the Land and Ben Folds Five, Whatever and Ever Amen
1998 – Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane over the Sea
1999 – Moby, Play (and may I be forever damned for this, especially given the number of times I played porcelein)
2000 – The Avalanches, Since I Left You

What a very depressing list. I wasn’t aware that I’d spent my time from the age of 15 to 24 desperately trying to fit in with the crowd, though my listening tastes would suggest differently. 1998 represents a high point, with 1999 the nadir.

When I’ve recovered from my despond, I shall compile a 2001-2010 list, which will hopefully be less predictable and formulaic.