Today - on Radio 4
Thought for the Day
The Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sachs.
Passover - the Exodus.
Children have suffered badly in the modern world. They suffer the effects of an appalling rise in depressive illness, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and other stress-related syndromes among the young. There are more than 3 million children who live in poverty in Britain, even in this age of affluence.
There’s another kind of child poverty - emotional and psychological, says JS. Children need their parents’ time more than they need money. They need their parents’ attention more than they need computer screens and video games. They need values and a sense of identity more than mobile phones and credit cards.
The average child spends 35 hours a week looking at a screen, but only 35 minutes a week talking to their father. Those that value lifeless things eventually become lifeless. Only civilisations and cultures that cherish the young, stay young.
I’d go further than the Chief Rabbi and say that since children spend so many hours per week in schools, it’s crucial that schools are the place where they get quality time and attention.
They need positive interaction with adults and children alike, opportunities for communication and collaboration, and an atmosphere of caring and trust. They need all these things far more than they need sitting passively in silence, attention focused on the teacher at the front, desperately being drilled towards better test results.
Emotional deprivation and abuse goes on in too many schools, mainly because of the corrosive effects of pressure for higher test scores. The curriculum and the ability to perform in tests are now all that matters. Those who suggest we should be ‘child-centred’ are regarded as dinosaurs and idiots, if not actual loonies.
Enemies of Mankind
Tyranny, poverty, disease and war are the 4 common enemies of mankind, according to the late John F Kennedy. G. Brown is calling on Americans to remember these words and engage with these enemies. Meanwhile, 30% of children in Britain are officially living below the poverty line, whilst the richest and fattest in our society have got richer and fatter under his economic policies. More on happiness and inequality below. And don’t even mention the war.
Brown wants the US to lead the ‘remaking’ of global institutions - the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, etc. Brown at least seems to recognise that tackling the causes of poverty, disease, tyranny, anger and resentment is more important than and more effective than trying to contain and deal with their effects.
America, however, according to informed opinion, cares not a fig for the impoverished and the wretched of the earth and will continue to use its incredible wealth and power mainly and essentially to fight its ‘war on terror’ and combat its declared enemies, principally Islamists and leftists. No time or money there for greater equality and fairness in the world. What we have is ours. I got mine. I’m keeping it. I may have stolen and embezzled a lot of it in the first place, but I’m planning to grab a whole lot more of it whenever and wherever I can. So fuck you.
Remember - world illiteracy could be eliminated for the cost of two weeks’ operations by American forces and ‘contractors’ in Iraq.
Happy Go Lucky
Mike Leigh’s new film, released today, is called Happy Go Lucky. Primary school teacher Poppy refuses to let herself be unhappy. She’s fulfilled, centred, focused, non-materialistic, anti-miserablist, serious and sensible, caring for others and determined to make life better for others. Where does resilience come from in certain individuals? Upbringing, family circumstances, attitude? Luck? Genes? Schools and parenting? Mike, in his interview, was clearly not sure, and as an artist he probably doesn’t even aspire to certainty, isn’t interested in analysis or the ‘science’ of happiness, as such.
Professor Richard Layard has made ‘happiness’ an academic study. I’m about to start reading his book on happiness which is subtitled Lessons From A New Science. He says the three keys to happiness and resilience are 1) caring for others - not just living for yourself, 2) seeing the glass as half full, 3) living within a ‘trusting society’ - eg Scandinavia, where progressive social and economic policies have contributed to a sense of social solidarity and collegiality, where differences in earnings and wealth have been for decades kept within a much narrower band than in the UK and the USA, thanks to progressive tax and redistribution policies.
He’s particularly concerned about schools - the wellbeing and happiness of children - and creating programmes (of cognitive behaviour therapy?) to build resilience, enjoyment of life and better behaviour. We especially need sympathetic treatment of disadvantaged and challenging children, he says.
And so say all of us.
Amazing Journey - The Story of The Who (BBC4)
Two hours of pure joy. Watched it on D’s bass-rich TV, with the clean, digital sound also pumped through the sound system in the sitting room. Great crashing waves of sound - thumping and pounding drums, throbbing bass; scolding, scowling, scalding, howling, screaming and wailing lead guitar. Just like it sounded live back in the Sixties - immediate, raw, dynamic, thrilling . . . and quite shocking and scary.
Before The Who nobody actually frightened an audience, but back then we were innocent and unprepared for a bunch of unpredictable maniacs who thought nothing of smashing guitars, bashing in and toppling speaker stacks, scattering drum kits and hurling microphone stands.
If you were a working class lad who felt exactly what they were feeling and understood what they were saying (Bam bam bam bam . . . bam bam bam bam - People try to put us down! - talking ‘bout my g-g-g-generation!!!!) you absolutely loved it - after taking a few seconds to adjust to the initial shock of what you were witnessing. If you were a middle class mid-teens girl just out there having fun, or waiting for your heart-throb Herman and the wretched Hermits to come on as top of the bill - you covered your ears and ran for the safety of the back of the hall.
They revelled in their own power and fury, and if you happened to be standing next to the stage, up close and personal, you were likely to be flattened and blown away by the loudest, baddest and most anarchic experience of your tender young life.
Interesting to go back to the very beginning of the band, the accidental way they came together, the energy, the personality clashes, and their collective love of soul and blues. Mods weren’t into pop - we loved Tamla, soul and blues. The Who synthesised all of that, made it their own, and cranked it back out again with a full-on rock sensibility. They ROCKED!
But The Who were more than that. They were experimental, they took risks, and they were highly original. And “so much more powerful than anyone else”, says the Edge. And there’s a man who should know.
Noel Gallagher said some very acute and some very moving things about the right of Sixties bands to continue to perform, to tour, to keep on rocking. He’s always interesting to listen to when being interviewed because he’s such an intelligent observer and student of what’s gone on through the history of rock, and he speaks with wit, passion, precision and absolute conviction. Easy to see why Russell Brand considers him a mate.
John Entwhistle died of a heart attack whilst on tour at the age of 57. He was a unique musician. Nobody ever played a bass guitar in a manner so arresting (whilst being so still and minimalistic in his movements on stage), so outstanding, so inventive, so technically and dynamically perfect. He was the only trained musician in the band and he played bass like it was a lead instrument. That’s why they only needed, they only had room for, two guitars in the band. There was barely space for Townshend to perform in, let alone another rhythm instrument. In any case they didn’t have and didn’t need rhythm. They rocked.
Townshend and Daltrey both spoke with real love and affection for John, and for Keith Moon, who was a tragic figure in many ways, but whose drumming powered the band from the back of the stage with an awe-inspiring cacophony. He too was irreplaceable, which basically means that all three of the instrumentalists in the band were original and had a talent that touched on genius.
Townshend, the ex art student, was without a doubt a stunningly original and powerful artist. He peaked early, it’s true, and didn’t write very much of real quality either musically or lyrically after he fell into pretension and ego-tripping with Tommy, the first so-called rock opera (yuk!), which was one of the most over-rated albums ever. Belatedly he seems to have recognised that with the odd exception (Won't Get Fooled Again) his early stuff was by far the best, and so now he’s happy to be still performing those great, original songs from the Sixties. No shame in that at all.
It’s fairer to say that the first hour or so of this documentary was pure joy, rather than all of it, as it contained the best of the music and described the band’s joyful growth and development into a world-wide phenomenon. The second hour, the story of The Who’s decline and descent into musical mediocrity and craziness, together with the deaths of two of its members, was quite sad and disturbing, though still fascinating and insightful.
Seeing them back together again playing live at Wembley Arena with Sue in 1996, from a sitting/standing area quite close to the stage, was utterly brilliant. Zak Starkey, Son of Ringo, was on drums and was excellent - very powerful and reminiscent of the great Keith. Roger sang really well, and Pete windmilled away as effectively and enthusiastically as ever. And of course Steady Eddie, Johnny the Bass, drove it all with massive vibrations that jiggled and twanged every fibre in your body for every second of the show. You left with your ears ringing, your brain spinning and your whole body vibrating. And a great big grin on your face. The smile of the Buddha.
I doubt if I’ll ever see them again. Or the like of them. Last year’s show, back at the Wembley cattle shed, only this time with my good friend N, the only black guy in a sea of white, just wasn’t the same. I’d spoiled it anyway by seeing a ‘preview’ on TV. (They did virtually the same set at Glastonbury, just a couple of weeks before Wembley, including having the same fairly naff videos on a huge screen behind them.) Hence no surprises and no thrills. Also - we were too far away.
About as far away as I was when I saw them at Charlton football stadium in the Seventies - the last open air gig I went to? The last tour before their 1996 reunion? A gathering of bad vibes, violent throwing of half-full beer cans by drunken twats, and typical stadium-show crush, tedium and hassle. A nasty business that for me signalled the end of the dream, drew a line under any hope there ever was for a peaceful revolution through love and togetherness. By then all the mods and the hippies had disappeared anyway, leaving only a detritus of long-haired echos of something that used to be genuinely rebellious, idealistic, peace-loving, beautiful, stylish, dynamic and original.
So then there were two. Two men who nowadays love and respect one another, and have fun when they get together. Two men who as The Who have been through it all. But it just isn’t the same. RIP Keith and John.
Noel G suggested that if you could translate the amazing bass figures that John did in My Generation into words then he should have them for his epitaph on his gravestone. Bam bam bam bam, bam bam bam bam - tuddly dum, duddly dum, dum dum dum. Brilliant.
And to think I was meaning to write something about economics and the credit crunch. But fuck it. Why don’t they all just f-f-f-f-f-fade away?