Monday, October 22, 2012

Layer 548 . . . The Streets of London

The streets of London were busy on Saturday. Situation normal? Walking through the almost car-free, semi-pedestrianised streets of Soho and Covent Garden there were crowds of people of every age and ethnicity; hundreds of people - shopping, socialising, enjoying themselves. Prosperous-looking people, many of them laden with shopping bags - the majority of those bags bearing the names of up-market brands; none of them filled with ordinary groceries - none of your cheapo plastic bags from Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys or Lidl; or Primark, or Poundstretcher.

Recession? Falling incomes? Unemployment? Poverty? Not here, it seems. Maybe a metropolis is always different from its hinterlands. Over in Mayfair there were Bentleys and large black Mercedes on every street; huge Rolls Royces oozed silently like giant black slugs around their spiritual home - the streets between Berkeley Square, Grosvenor Square and Park Lane. It has to be said that nobody in Mayfair looked as though they'd been hit by austerity, or looked like they were 'in it' with the rest of us.

Meanwhile, that very afternoon, 100,000 people, many of whom had travelled to London from far away cities and towns, had marched in a huge demonstration against the government's failed austerity policies - setting off from the Victoria Embankment and wending their way via Westminster, Parliament, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, Pall Mall and Piccadilly to Hyde Park for a mass rally. This was an event organised by British Trade Unions, and the rally was addressed by many of their union leaders, and Ed Miliband.

100,000 may sound like a lot of people - but how come there weren't 1 million or more? Just how much social solidarity is there in this country? How many people, or how few people, are prepared to stand up and say, "We're mad as hell, and we're not going to take it any more!"



Incidentally - memo to Unison. Which complete prick within your organisation thought it was a good idea to buy shedloads of nasty plastic vuvuzelas and distribute them to the marchers? The cacophony made by these things was unbearable, and utterly alienating. A stupid, brain-damaging awful sound that stopped people talking, chanting and singing. A cretinous thing to do when half the point of a march is to hear human voices, to meet and talk with other people, and to raise consciousness - not dull it and blast it with ridiculous noise. All credit to Unison for getting thousands of its members out on the demonstration - but enough of the appalling racket already!

Contrast that with the brilliant sounds in other sections of the demo - brass bands, drummers, even bagpipes. Yes - even bagpipes sound better than bloody vuvuzelas.


Will any of this make any difference anyway? Probably not, but it's worth making an effort to do SOMETHING.


Was Brother Ed's speech any good? Not really, but at least he turned up and showed some solidarity and support. Which is a lot more than can be said for many of his so-called comrades.



All photos (c) Oxzen Images

Monday, October 1, 2012

Layer 547 . . . It was 50 years ago today - Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play . . .

Not quite true, of course. It was 50 years ago this week that the Beatles released their first single - Love Me Do. On October 5th 1962, to be precise.

It was 50 years ago this week the Beatles taught the world to play, in all senses of the word.

The Beatles were four strong characters who had worked and played hard for several years in dark, smoke-filled clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg, learning how to perform in a variety of styles for a variety of audiences, their music based mainly on the genres they loved best - rock and roll, and rhythm and blues.

They learned how to harmonise, how to improvise, and how to compose. None of them were musically trained, none of them could read music, but all of them were musically gifted. Yes - even Ringo, who was a very fine backbeat drummer. They were free spirits with an obvious love for the music they wanted to play - that of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, etc.

They startled and delighted a world that had come to believe 'rock and roll' was a mere mid-50s flash in the pan which had been co-opted and sanitised by the likes of Tin Pan Alley, Billy Fury and Cliff Richard. From Little Richard to Cliff Richard was a descent into musical hell, and the Beatles were a true phoenix, a harbinger of a new world of musical energy whose various forms would evolve and mutate throughout the rest of that decade, and beyond.

The Beatles didn't so much ignore the music establishment of that time as take the piss out of it. They were irreverent, witty, sardonic and anarchic. They did their own thing, and what they did was amazing. Love Me Do begins with a blast of bluesy harmonica that was impossible to ignore - even when heard through the tinny speaker of a transistor radio. This was . . . different! This was the clarion call of a new Pied Piper - clear, inspirational and compelling. We heard it and we followed. We had no idea where it was heading but we knew we wanted to go there. Anywhere at all was better than Cliff Street and Billy Fury Boulevard.

In the fullness of time, of course, it led to the assassination of John Lennon and the mediocrity of a post-Beatles McCartney, but back then it was an era of pure gladness to be alive, and a era of real excitement, as with each passing week new talents emerged. The rock and roll virus hadn't, after all, been eradicated. It had incubated in guitar shops and teenage bedrooms where pimply adolescents had spent hours hardening their finger tips, memorising three-chord progressions and learning how to play.

Soon after the Beatles there came bluesier, grittier bands such as the Rolling Stones and the Animals - their names reflecting more down to earth instincts than the Beatles, whose name was a weak pun and whose songs frequently spoke of 'love' or of wanting to hold someone's hand. The Stones' first album kicked off with Route 66, telling the world to get out on the road and 'get your kicks'. The second track was Willie Dixon's 'I Just Want To Make Love To You', and you can't express yourself much more clearly than that. Eric Burden, meanwhile, told us of the perils of spending our lives in sin and misery if we visited the House of the Rising Sun. ["The whisky-soaked menace of his voice sounded at times like Old Nick incarnate." - Martin C Strong]

It occurs to me now that my very first week as a teenager was the week the Beatles' released Love Me Do and the Fab Four showed the world where music, and the counterculture, was heading. A strange coincidence, and a very great blessing.

See also:
October 1962: the month that modern culture was born
This week sees the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first single. But as Love Me Do hit Britain's record shops, a series of issues – from the cold war to civil rights and sexual liberation – also started to shape a tumultuous decade and banish the austere mood of the 1950s
by Robert McCrum
Looking back, 1962 now seems to be the fascinating antechamber to the great party that was the 60s. But it's also a time capsule. Here are issues – civil rights nuclear disarmament, radical feminism, the dystopian imagination, secularisation – with which we are still grappling. But then the world was young – Lennon was about to turn 22, McCartney was just 20 – and Love Me Do, three words, two basic chords and a pocket harmonica, could change the hearts and minds of a generation.
See also:


Meanwhile, back here in the 21st Century, what do we have? Oxzen readers may recall some less than flattering comments posted on this blog recently about a band called Muse, who played at the Olympics closing ceremony. In fact some maniac decided that one of Muse's tracks, Survival, should become the 'official song' of the Olympic Games. Alexis Petridis had this to say about it, and them, in the Guardian recently:
"Comparisons are regularly made between their oeuvre and that of Queen, Rush and Radiohead . . . But none of them really capture the sheer level of trenchant preposterousness at which Muse operate. The most apposite comparison might be to say Muse have actually achieved what the Darkness set out to do: conquer the world with music that's clearly meant to be funny, but isn't supposed to be a joke.
You can see why the organisers thought Muse would be the right band to provide the official song of London 2012, but Survival didn't work – partly because it seems to have no tune whatsoever, but mostly because it didn't fit the event. The Olympics turned out to be as much about tiny human stories . . . as epic spectacle. With their choirs, string-laden intro, hysterical vocals and lyrics you might characterise as a bit Ayn Randy – "I chose to survive whatever it takes … vengeance is mine … Fight! Win!" – Muse got the scale but missed the humanity. Six albums in, this is a recurring problem: amusing and enjoyable as the aural histrionics are, you do start to wonder what, if anything, they're trying to express, or if it's just bombast for bombast's sake."

Apparently the Fox News pundit Glen Beck is a long-standing fan of Muse, despite their labelling him previously as "a crazy rightwinger". This probably tells us as much about the nonsense lyrics and nasty music of Muse as it does about the sanity of Glen Beck.

Dorian Lynskey interviewed Muse for yesterday's Observer:
Muse have sold more than 15m albums. Like Depeche Mode in the 1980s, they are taken more seriously outside their homeland, in countries where people are less likely to arch an eyebrow at songs with rococo arrangements and titles such as Exogenesis: Symphony Part 2 (Cross-Pollination).
[Also taken more seriously in countries where people are less likely to speak or understand English, obviously.]
Because Muse's success rests on tours and albums rather than hits and headlines, they are not quite household names, so some viewers were doubtless puzzled during the Olympics closing ceremony by the trio's performance of Survival, a berserk, operatic anthem that seemed more appropriate to a supervillain than an athlete: "I won't forgive/ The vengeance is mine/ And I won't give in/ Because I choose to thrive." Bellamy admits that the song was already written when the organisers approached him. "It was definitely a bit more demented than I think they realised," he says with pleasure.
Muse were taken aback when The Resistance was embraced by swivel-eyed Fox News demagogue Glenn Beck ("the lyrics are just dead-on [about] what's coming our way") and the single Uprising began soundtracking YouTube clips produced by the kind of people who believe climate change is a socialist conspiracy and Obama is an Indonesian Muslim. 
Bellamy, a gifted musician but naturally shy, only reluctantly became singer and chief songwriter because "nobody wanted to join our band". They played gigs for five years before releasing Showbiz and even then Bellamy struggled as frontman. "It wasn't as fun as I thought it would be," he says. "The songs were a bit moody. When you're having to play them every night it can be a bit draining."

Here's a band that couldn't get a singer or a songwriter to join them, so they had to make do with a guy who clearly has no talent for either singing or songwriting. Quite incredible.

Muse played on the BBC's "Later" last week, and were awful. They were also featured on Mark Lawson's "Front Row" on Radio 4, and spoke complete nonsense with the creepy Lawson, who clearly has no musical  taste himself.

So here we are in England, in the 21st Century, where nice middle class youngsters learn to play musical instruments and often have the connections to get fat recording contracts, no matter how talentless and vacuous they might be. Such people are now the ones making megabucks out of showbiz - in part thanks to the likes of clueless Olympics organisers and to lunatics like Glen Beck who think bands like Muse and Coldplay are worth listening to.

What a bloody world. Things can't go on like this. Can they?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Layer 546 . . . The Rebellious Imperatives of the Self

It looks as though the word 'hipster' might be forcing its way into mainstream discourse, even though its meaning is still far from clear. For example, the Guardian's young film critic described the two lead characters in "Take This Waltz" as hipsters and was promptly and quite rightly denounced for it by various commenters. Even I could see that those characters weren't hipsters. The fact that someone lives in a funky part of town and is a self-employed "creative" type surely doesn't make them a hipster. To be a hipster means you also need a certain sort of attitude - self-consciously 'cool', smart, knowing, and fashionable in a bohemian kind of way. The couple in the film were actually the sort of people that 'beatniks' in the '50's used to call 'square' - meaning conventional, bourgeois and mainstream, with musical and cultural tastes to match. Their main aims in life seemed to be to exist in a kind of cosy and comfortable romantic bubble without too much connection with the outside world.

The rickshaw guy, on the other hand, was probably a hipster - a bedsit-dwelling, would-be artist; self-analysing, minimalist, sardonic, confident in his own sexuality, and a take-it-or-leave-it attitude.

We seem to need labels to describe human beings, whom we reduce to 'types' and tribes. Back in the Sixties there were Mods, Rockers, Hippies and Skinheads. Following that we had Punks, Yuppies, New Romantics, and so on.

College culture in the USA produced geeks, dorks, nerds and dweebs, based on young people's capacity for intelligence, social ineptitude and/or obsessive behaviour.

A geek is someone who's both intelligent and obsessive.  A dweeb is intelligent but socially inept. A dork is socially inept, obsessive and lacking in intelligence. A nerd is intelligent but also socially inept and obsessive. It's just about OK to be a member of the geek squad, but no-one wants to be a nerd, a dork or a dweeb.

As for hipsters, it seems we're about to see more of them on television.

How hipsters took over television

We've scoffed at them online and in books, but a new NBC comedy could be the first mainstream TV show to laugh at them.
It's a modern morality tale: the story of the hipsters, the counterculture phenomenon that ate itself. What began as a run-on from (anti-consumerist) slacker culture, wherein groups of wannabe artists with barista jobs congregated around urban areas (Hoxton, Williamsburg), has morphed into a multimillion-dollar industry trying to sell a mythical, neo-bohemian lifestyle.
With the kook well and truly out of the bag (and Urban Outfitters on high streets everywhere), a glut of anti-hipster literature grew against the seemingly self-satisfied and insular subculture, from websites and books such as Look at This Fucking Hipster, Stuff Hipsters Hate and Hipster Hitler.
Into this melee of so-called "hipster hate", steps comic Jimmy Fallon. His production company, Holiday Road, headed by former Daily Show boss Josh Lieb, is working on a sitcom about a decidedly unhip anthropology student who ends up living with the hipsters of Brooklyn, New York. 

Wikipedia says this:

Hipster (contemporary subculture)
Hipster refers to a subculture of young, recently settled urban middle class adults and older teenagers that appeared in the 1990s. The subculture is associated with independent music, a varied non-mainstream fashion sensibility, liberal or independent political views, alternative spirituality or atheism/agnosticism and alternative lifestyles. 
Origins in the 1940s
The term itself was coined during the jazz age, when "hip" emerged as an adjective to describe aficionados of the growing scene. Although the adjective's exact origins are disputed, some say it was a derivative of "hop," a slang term for opium, while others believe it comes from the West African word "hipi," meaning "to open one's eyes." Nevertheless, "hip" eventually acquired the common English suffix -ster (as in spinster and gangster), and "hipster" entered the language.
Jack Kerouac described 1940s hipsters as "rising and roaming America, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere [as] characters of a special spirituality." In his essay "The White Negro," Norman Mailer characterized hipsters as American existentialists, living a life surrounded by death - annihilated by atomic war or strangled by social conformity - and electing instead to "divorce [themselves] from society, to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self."
A 2009 Time magazine article described hipsters thus: "take your grandmother's sweater and Bob Dylan's Wayfarers, add jean shorts, Converse All-Stars and a can of Pabst and bam -  hipster." It went on to say, ""Hipsters are the friends who sneer when you cop to liking Coldplay. They're the people who wear t-shirts silk-screened with quotes from movies you've never heard of and the only ones in America who still think Pabst Blue Ribbon is a good beer. They sport cowboy hats and berets . . . Everything about them is exactingly constructed to give off the vibe that they just don't care."
In his 2011 book HipsterMattic, author Matt Granfield summed up hipster culture this way:
"While mainstream society of the 2000s (decade) had been busying itself with reality television, dance music, and locating the whereabouts of Britney Spears’s underpants, an uprising was quietly and conscientiously taking place behind the scenes. Long-forgotten styles of clothing, beer, cigarettes and music were becoming popular again. Retro was cool, the environment was precious and old was the new ‘new’. Kids wanted to wear Sylvia Plath’s cardigans and Buddy Holly’s glasses — they revelled in the irony of making something so nerdy so cool. They wanted to live sustainably and eat organic gluten-free grains. Above all, they wanted to be recognised for being different — to diverge from the mainstream and carve a cultural niche all for themselves. For this new generation, style wasn’t something you could buy in a department store, it became something you found in a thrift shop, or, ideally, made yourself. The way to be cool wasn’t to look like a television star: it was to look like as though you’d never seen television."
Is there such a thing as a sustainable counterculture? More to the point, is it possible for the broad mass of people to live authentically, to become their true selves, to discover their individual Tao and to live in ways that are independent, self-sufficient, creative, individualistic, non-materialistic and pay no attention to fashion, marketing and the insidious messages of the mass media?

Clearly things would be a lot easier for a lot more people in this regard if money wasn't such an issue. The cost of renting or buying a place to live in is, on its own, always going to make it harder for anyone to live according to their natural instincts, rhythms and cycles. People nowadays work far too hard and for far too many hours in the week doing largely uncreative and meaningless things just to keep the wolf from the door.

Plus there are millions of people doing important and meaningful work ranging from caring for the elderly to keeping the streets clean who are paid a pittance and nowhere near a living wage, and have no time or energy or spare cash for doing things for their own spiritual and mental wellbeing. Then there are millions of well qualified professional people who also do important work - teachers, doctors, social workers, engineers - but similarly work far too hard for too many hours of the day and often at weekends when they should be resting and enjoying themselves with friends and families, not rushing around doing household chores and basic maintenance routines the majority of their 'free' time. The idea of a work/life balance is a bit of a joke. Why is there no popular clamour for a four-day maximum working week? Because people are insecure and are afraid of demanding anything. Because people are often paid by the hour and need all the cash they can get in order to pay the rent or the mortgage.

Contrast this with what Ian McEwan said about his life in the early 1970s in London, "when it was very bliss to be alive" : 'I had the time of my life':
"It was very easy not to have a job, to live the life of a full-time writer. I had a huge apartment in south London and it cost me £3 a week. The occasional review for the TLS, the occasional piece for Radio Times, and I could very easily pay my rent, buy a few books, make a weekly trip to the launderette. There were no machines everyone needed, apart from a hi-fi. I didn't feel poor at all. At the risk of sounding like Virginia Woolf, I could live on £700 a year."
These thoughts come to mind when I think about my son's current lifestyle. Now that he's living rent-free he can afford to pick and choose when to work and thereby generate some income. He has time to look after his physical fitness and his recreational needs. He has time to read, to listen to music, and to watch movies. His musical tastes are quirky and eclectic. He takes his dog for long walks. He spends time with his son. He sees friends and he cooks with basic, inexpensive ingredients. He's working his way slowly towards building up his own business that enables him to use a range of skills and abilities - teaching, coaching, interacting with people.

He has no-one pressurising him and keeping him to a contract or a timetable. He's a sidekick to his best mate who regularly needs him to help with his building and carpentry business, and they have leisure time together to practice their climbing and scrambling skills. He borrows his pal's 600cc motorcycle occasionally, and he's looking forward to having a bike of his own just as soon as his insurance company pays up for his latest accident - which was caused by a wretched car driver not looking where she was going. I guess you could say he's living in the 'Now', having learnt some tough lessons along his Way, whilst looking forward to further adventures and satisfactions in the future. He's even thinking about a move to a place of his own sometime next year.

All in all a son to be proud of - an individual who's his own person. Whether he's a hipster or not is another question. He's certainly a "character of a special spirituality", as Kerouac put it. And he's certainly "on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self".

Monday, September 10, 2012

Layer 545 . . . The Paralympics Closing Ceremony, or Death By Coldplay

The final event of the 2012 Paralympic Games  - the closing ceremony - apparently had a worldwide television audience of over a billion people, so it was something very significant which was worthy of some attention. The problem for me is that the more I reflect on it the angrier I get. Maybe it's because I'm a patriot that I actually care about the quality of what Britain offers the world. This country is full of inventive and talented people who are too often stifled and sidelined by fuckwits who have somehow moved themselves into positions of power and influence. And so we ended up last night with a situation where the Paralympics Closing Ceremony was little more than a Coldplay concert.

It seems the guy who had the power to determine the content of the Olympics ceremonies was determined to have a band called Coldplay at the very centre of this 'ceremony' - just as he was determined to have the Spice Girls and Dead Freddy at the centre of the appalling closing event (which wasn't really a ceremony) of the Olympic Games. This guy is a national disgrace. Take a bow, Kim Gavin.
["Gavin, who made his name overseeing Take That's spectacular stage shows, said he had turned down other groups that had wanted to get involved because he was convinced Chris Martin's band were the only ones for the job." - The Guardian.]

It may be the case that Coldplay are very popular with the sort of people who enjoy mawkish, sentimental ballady songs that are not too challenging and serve as adequate musical wallpaper in lonely suburban rooms where people sit updating their Facebook pages and making digital contact with their "friends". It may be the case that Coldplay give financial support to worthy causes. I don't really know, and I don't really care. All I know is that their music appeals to a few million people who apparently don't pay much attention to song lyrics because if they did they would surely realise they've been spending money on absolute bilge when they could be spending it on something of value.

Take away those few million Coldplay fans and what you have left is the best part of a billion people worldwide who are thinking, "Who the fuck are these boring idiots and what kind of dull, turgid shit are they playing?"

This would be in contrast to the billion people who appreciated the music in the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics that Danny Boyle had commissioned Mike Oldfield to write - original and appropriate music with soul, melody and rhythm; music to fill a stadium with magnificent and magical sound as a backdrop to fabulous visual stimulation.

It's possible to ignore the words of certain pop songs and still enjoy the music. If you ignore the words of Coldplay you're just left with some incredibly dull and unoriginal rubbish. So let's have a look at some of their lyrics. It seems a song called "Yellow" is one of their greatest hits.

Look at the stars
Look how they shine for you
And everything you do
Yeah, they were all yellow

I came along
I wrote a song for you
And all the things you do
And it was called 'Yellow'

So then I took my time
Oh what a thing to've done
And it was all yellow

Your skin, oh yeah, your skin and bones
Turn into something beautiful
D'you know? You know I love you so
You know I love you so


Your BONES? Go ahead and read the rest of it. It gets worse.

OK - so maybe this song isn't typical. Let's try another greatest hit.

The Scientist

Come up to meet you, tell you I'm sorry
You don't know how lovely you are
I had to find you, tell you I need you
Tell you I set you apart

Tell me your secrets and ask me your questions
Oh, let's go back to the start
Running in circles, coming up tails
Heads on a science apart.

Poetry it ain't.

Try again. Another greatest hit.

Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall (????)

I turn the music up, I got my records on
I shut the world outside until the lights come on
Maybe the streets alight, maybe the trees are gone
I feel my heart start beating to my favorite song

And all the kids they dance, all the kids all night
Until Monday morning feels another life
I turn the music up, I'm on a roll this time
And heaven is in sight

I turn the music up, I got my records on
From underneath the rubble sing a rebel song
Don't want to see another generation drop
I'd rather be a comma than a full stop

Maybe I'm in the black, maybe I'm on my knees
Maybe I'm in the gap between the two trapezes
But my heart is beating and my pulses start
Cathedrals in my heart

And we saw, oh, this light, I swear you, emerge blinking into
To tell me it's alright, as we soar walls, every siren is a symphony
And every tear's a waterfall, is a waterfall, oh, is a waterfall,
Oh, is a, is a waterfall, every tear is a waterfall

So you can hurt, hurt me bad
But still I'll raise the flag
It was a waaaterfall A waaaterfall

Every tear, every tear, every teardrop is a waterfall
Every tear, every tear, every teardrop is a waterfall

This one is a laugh out loud job.

I think I rest my case.


But for the record, here are some other descriptions of Coldplay I've picked up on the Internet:

You didn't have to be one of those people who thinks Coldplay are the cloven-hoofed musical emissaries of satan himself to have been slightly concerned about how appropriate a booking they were.

Thanks to their ubiquity on TV soundtracks – tinkling away as someone departs The X Factor or the DIY SOS tells their tragic back story – a lot of their songs have become musical shorthand for "oh, isn't it a pity", designed to elicit sympathy for whoever is on screen.

In the event that you felt bored by Coldplay, there was always something to distract your attention . . . There was interpretative dance, which was nowhere near as disheartening as interpretative dance to Coldplay looks on paper.

- Alexis Petridis in today's Guardian.

I loathe Coldplay for their pretentiousness and the level of self-pity that seeps into their songs.
- ZellHolland

Pyrotechnics are not enough to distract from the show's longueurs, those moments when Coldplay try to rock. Their rock gestures just don't convince, not even when Chris Martin hurls his guitar skyward at the end of God Put a Smile On Your Face. He's clearly more Manilow than Marilyn Manson, thanking us for waving our "beautiful arms", for giving him this "wonderful job", gushing showbiz gratitude that is probably genuine, but doesn't entirely feel like it.
Tonight's show works best when Coldplay lean upon their soppier, soft-rock instincts . . . As the soft-rock confections reach their crescendos, with the confetti cannons and fireworks at full blast, Emirates Stadium feels like the set of some twee, manipulative, "magical" mobile-phone ad – but then subtlety counts for little in venues like this.

- Stevie Chick reviewing Coldplay at the Emirates for the Guardian last June.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Layer 544 . . . The Buzz, The Waltz and the Human Condition

Lying in the blazing September sun this afternoon in my fabulously comfortable rocking sunlounger I felt more relaxed than I've done in years, or perhaps decades. Is it any wonder when the past six summers, at least, have been so bad, or simply non-existent? We now know that this change for the worse in our climate is down to a shift in the position of the Jet Stream, which may or may not have something to do with global warming. Either way, it's been fucking frustrating.


In the Guardian magazine today there's an article written by Decca Aitkenhead under the title, The Buzz.

It seems there's a film that's about to go on general release called Hysteria, which "tells the true story of the vibrator".
The vibrator was invented by respectable Victorian doctors, who grew tired of bringing female patients to orgasm using their fingers alone, and so dreamt up a device to do the job for them. Their invention was regarded as a reputable medical instrument – no more improper than a stethoscope – but became wildly popular among Victorian and Edwardian gentlewomen, who soon began buying vibrators for themselves. For its early customers, a vibrator was nothing to be embarrassed about . . .
100 years ago women didn't have the vote, yet they were going to a doctor's office to get masturbated.
In 19th-century Britain, the condition known as hysteria – which the vibrator was invented to treat – was not a source of embarrassment at all. Hysteria's symptoms included chronic anxiety, irritability and abdominal heaviness, and early medical explanations were inclined to blame some or other fault in the uterus. But in fact these women were suffering from straightforward sexual frustration – and by the mid-19th century the problem had reached epidemic proportions, said to afflict up to 75% of the female population. Yet because the very idea of female sexual arousal was proscribed in Victorian times, the condition was classed as non-sexual. It followed, therefore, that its cure would likewise be regarded as medical rather than sexual.
The only consistently effective remedy was a treatment that had been practised by physicians for centuries, consisting of a "pelvic massage" – performed manually, until the patient reached a "hysterical paroxysm", after which she appeared miraculously restored. The pelvic massage was a highly lucrative staple of many medical practices in 19th-century London, with repeat business all but guaranteed. There is no evidence of any doctor taking pleasure from its provision; on the contrary, according to medical journals, most complained that it was tedious, time-consuming and physically tiring.
If the story of the vibrator tells us anything it is that men have been determined for millennia to deny the most obvious truth about women's sexual requirements. Explanations for this collective denial have ranged from profound fear of female sexuality to sheer laziness. Either way, Maines says, "The constant from Hippocrates to Freud – despite breathtaking changes in nearly every other area of medical thought – is that women who do not reach orgasm by penetration alone are sick or defective." Western society has steadfastly preferred to pathologise around 75% of the female population as frigid, hysterical or, as the Victorians liked to say, "out of sorts", than acknowledge the inconvenient truth that coitus might not be entirely satisfying to women.


Take This Waltz

Take This Waltz is the title of one of the tracks on Leonard Cohen's superb 1988 album "I'm Your Man". It's also the title of a film written, produced and directed by the multi-talented Canadian Sarah Polley, which has recently been on general release in this country. The film had an absurdly bad review by one of the Guardian's film critics, who gave it one star out of five. This man, who shall remain nameless, appears to be a complete cretin.


Cohen has written many songs that deal with frustration and longing, including "I'm Your Man" in which he recognises that people regularly cope with a host of unsatisfied desires and fantasies. With brilliant tongue in cheek humour Leonard declares that whatever it is someone might want, he's the man to provide it. It's only a chat-up line, of course: Len's too much of a realist to imagine that any complex human being can truly be satisfied for very long. The point is, so what? Only romantics go around imagining that things can be otherwise, even if some people pretend that all's well in their life by keeping schtum about their frustrations and their usually unspoken willingness to compromise and settle for safety and security when life with a particular partner turns out to be less than ideal. Buddhists recognise that the greatest causes of misery in life are unsatisfied desires and attachment.

In Sarah Polley's film a character called Margot is the one who's frustrated. In a neat role-reversal she's married to a steady, down to earth, practical, decent, domesticated guy called Lou, who's trying to write a book that consists entirely of recipes for cooking chicken. He spends his days cooking chicken in various ways, and writing up his food experiments. Whenever Margot gets bored with the travel guides she's trying to write and approaches Lou for some diversionary cuddles or sex he's invariably "busy" and not interested - even in bed.

Margot and Lou have an apparently wonderful "best friends" kind of marriage in which they regularly play affectionate little games and say "I love you". Lou's not exactly a physical kind of guy, and so he's perfectly happy with the marriage. Margot thinks the world of Lou and yet . . . she's bored. And frustrated. She knows she needs more. She wants sex and she wants passion, excitement, novelty. And true intimacy. Somehow "love" is not quite enough.

She also wants someone whom she can talk to, share thoughts with and explore ideas with. When she and Lou go to a restaurant to celebrate their 5th anniversary she suggests they might have a conversation. Lou's response is, what for? Isn't the point of going to a restaurant to simply enjoy good food and wine? Surely they can have conversations any old time? If only.

The film reaches its true climax with a long, circular tracking shot that cleverly reveals a series of episodes in Margot's future life with a new lover, whilst "Take This Waltz" plays as its soundtrack.

At the conclusion of the film it's not clear whether anything is resolved, other than Margot realising that there's more to life than coupledom, and maybe it's the journey that's important rather than finding a destination, or a refuge, or security, or any kind of permanence. It seems that Lou has also realised that he's better off alone than married to a woman he knows he cannot satisfy, no matter how kindly and decently he treats her. He is what he is. And she is whatever she is. Lou somehow seems to have discovered his niche - he's published his book and is contracted to write a sequel - with another 50 chicken recipes. Whilst Margot might just be back where she started - on the road to finding herself - but at least with an awareness that this is what she's doing, and what she needs to do. Which seems like a very Zen thing to have learned.

All in all this is clearly an "art" film, as we used to say, which is the antithesis of the standard Hollywood model with its fast-cutting, all-action, easy to follow story line about nothing very much, and unlikely to provoke any thought or reflection. Sarah Polley is a true artist who paints with long, slow takes of the camera and leaves plenty of time and room for contemplation, connection and consideration. She highlights several key aspects of the human condition, but doesn't tell us what to think about them and doesn't point to any simple conclusions. Her characters and relationships are complex, multi-layered and ambivalent. This is not a romantic movie. And there are no solutions to the human condition.


Leonard Cohen and his wonderful band are playing at Wembley Arena tonight and tomorrow night.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Layer 543 . . . Reflections in the Rain

What a pleasure and a privilege it is to be back in Bungalowland. It's a privilege to have a private place to come to where it's possible to properly touch base with oneself; to  be quiet, reflective . . . meditative even. It's a proper retreat from day to day routines, and whatever passes for normality.

It's a pleasure to be somewhere where there's a calm, quiet, civilised atmosphere, big skies, stunning landscapes, and no emergency vehicles constantly blaring sirens.

I'm supposed to be mowing lawns, pruning shrubs & trees and pulling up weeds, but the relentless rain has put a stop to that. I recall mum saying, as she did so many times over the years she lived here, "What a pity the weather's always so bad when you come down here". She was exaggerating slightly, but it's true that the weather was rarely calm, settled, dry, sunny and hot, here on the west coast, on the so-called English Riviera. It's also fair to say it was rarely freezing cold here in the winter, thanks to the Gulf Stream - not until these past couple of years since mum passed away - but that was fairly small compensation.

Looking out over the valley today it's impossible to see the furthest houses, let alone the hills and trees beyond them. The greyness starts down in the valley, amongst the mist-shrouded buildings and trees, then goes right overhead and just keeps on going.

I bought a pack of CoOp 99 tea today, in memory of mum. One of my earliest childhood memories is of going to the Cooperative shop on the estate we lived on, and buying tea and biscuits. Back then the word 'supermarket' hadn't even been invented. Most people bought their groceries from the CoOp. It was - and still is - a great concept. It's a retailer and/or a wholesaler that nobody owns, and doesn't even have shareholders. As a member of the CoOp you had your identification number, which you gave to the shop assistant when you paid for your purchases, and from time to time you received a 'dividend' from whatever profits the shop managed to make.

The Cooperative supermarket in Paignton is a sad sort of place. Even on a wet Friday lunchtime on a Bank Holiday weekend there are hardly any customers - just a few dejected-looking people shuffling around, seemingly oblivious of the awful pop music that annoys the living daylights out of me. I wonder whether people are actually put off using the CoOp by its irritating advertising campaign that has a Scottish voice-over that says a simple, a very simple, slogan: "The CoOp . . . . Gud with Fud". I wonder which genius thought that one up.

Breakfast in Wetherspoons was fairly horrible. I was feeling quite relaxed, anticipating a decent cooked breakfast with free wifi and my newspaper . . . as I stood at the bar for the best part of 10 minutes watching the barmaid take orders from whoever happened to be standing closest to her whenever she looked up from the till. Finally she said, looking directly at a couple who had just arrived at the bar, "Who's next?" It was my opportunity to say, very calmly and quietly, "I am. And I've been "next" for the past 5 minutes at least, whilst you've just been serving the first people you see when you close the till. Surely, if you haven't a clue who's coming and going from the bar, which you obviously haven't, you need to ask "who's next?" every time you are available to take an order? Isn't that the way it's supposed to be done - so  that people who wait patiently don't then get exasperated and infuriated? Haven't you ever been trained to do that? Or do you just expect customers to shout at you when you ignore them and serve people out of turn? Did you even see me standing here? Have I been invisible?" I know old people are supposed to be invisible, but it can get very wearing.

The pub filled up with wet-looking holidaymakers and their offspring. Sitting in front of me and behind me were families who had no concept of asking their kids not to shout/scream/run about and generally make life annoying for other people. To the left of me was a guy with a glass of beer who muttered incessantly like someone who has no idea what he's thinking unless he can hear himself speaking. After a while he said something about "bloody kids", got up, and left. Meanwhile, to the right of me, the rain was pouring on to the pavements and running down the windows.

Thinking about it today, I suppose I feel fairly annoyed that I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to either of my parents - since both of them died suddenly and unexpectedly. There was no chance to mentally and emotionally prepare for life without them. There was no sign that I ought to increase the frequency of my visits to them in order to make the most of them before they signed off. Dad seemed like the same, quiet, unassuming guy he always was, and at 67 he hardly looked decrepit or like he was about to keel over. He still made things in his 'workshop', still drove his car, still went shopping with mum.

After turning 80 mum no longer went out shopping, and didn't care to go out at all unless she was really pressurised to do so. Had she gone out for that evening meal with her two grandsons and their partners when they asked her, then maybe they wouldn't have returned to find her dying. Maybe she'd have had a seizure whilst she was out with them, and maybe she'd have been rushed to hospital, and been taken care of, and recovered. Maybe.

Not that she really cared for life any more. Not that she enjoyed being alive any more.

What's to like about being housebound, lonely, bored, arthritic and dependent on carers for pills, food, cleaning and washing?

Which is why we all need to celebrate life and good health - for as long as we can, and as often as we can.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Layer 542 . . . Being Ray Davies

Ray Davies is the most famous Ray Davies on the planet. If you google his name, then THE Ray Davies is the only Ray Davies to appear in the first few pages of search results.

There's a kind of global warmness and fondness for Ray Davies that has built up over the years. He's become some sort of national treasure.

Maybe it was unkind of Oxzen to mention in a recent post how bad Ray's singing was during the Olympics closing ceremony. The guy's getting on for 70, so what can we expect? Personally I expect plenty. Cohen, Dylan, Jagger, and the old blues guys, especially BB King, still sing incredibly well. This sing it like they mean it. They're still brilliant because they're authentic, soulful, natural singers. Ray Davies isn't, and he never was. He's an OK songwriter, and that's about it.

He seems like a very pleasant man. He was on Radio 4's Saturday Live this morning, talking about his upbringing in Muswell Hill, and the fact that he's lived in that part of London for the whole of his life. "I write songs about people, and I happen to feel that the suburbanite kind of person who's not much noticed is quite interesting." Hmmmm. Quite interesting.

It's pretty obvious that Ray Davies is no poet, he has very little in the way of artistic insight into the human condition, and never sets out to raise levels of human awareness or consciousness. A song like "Tired of Waiting for You" has a pleasant enough tune, but it's hardly going to be on anyone's list of desert island discs.

In this Youtube video Ray explains his early enthusiasm for music: "When I was a little boy/ I was just 13 years old / I wanted to be a blues singer / Like John Lee Hooker . . ."

It didn't take very long for Ray to discover he was no John Lee. Pleasant as Ray may be, I'm sticking to what I said about his music losing its appeal (for me) soon after "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night". I've now discovered that his brother Dave was responsible for the great guitar riffs that lifted those songs out of the ordinary, and gave them their power and their appeal - which was clearly nothing to do with Ray's very basic lyrics.

Given his well-known antipathy and feud with his brother Dave, it's perhaps not surprising that Ray shifted the Kinks' musical style away from hard-driving R & B, which was Dave's forte, and towards nostalgia, whimsy and easy-listening music hall, which is Ray's real territory.

According to Dave Davies, "Ray's an arsehole".
"Ray sucks me dry of ideas, emotions and creativity. It’s toxic for me to be with him. He’s a control freak".
‘We must be careful. We might be feeding Ray’s illness by making him think he’s more interesting than he is.’
What illness? ‘He’s a narcissist,’ says Dave. ‘I walked into a bookshop a month ago and picked up Tony Blair’s autobiography. I looked at the picture and felt sick. I thought: ‘‘Hello, he’s got the same thing [as Ray]. It’s some sort of ­grandiose disorder.’’ ’
Dave, you see, claims to be something of an expert on vanity and self-delusion. He has spent ‘a good part of my adult life studying metaphysics and psychology’.
Since when exactly? ‘When I first started to realise what an arsehole Ray was. I thought, I’m going to investigate this.’

Read more:

According to Wikipedia, Ray Davies has been diagnosed as having bipolar disorder.

Ironically, having complained about NBC's decision not to broadcast certain sections of the Olympics ceremonies, it turns out that Ray Davies and Muse were two of the performances that were cut. Good call!

The wit and wisdom of Ray Davies. Not.

Easy to love, and impossible to live with:

Friday, August 17, 2012

Layer 541 . . . Simply a Banana

One of the more interesting comments I've come across in defence of the 2012 Olympics' closing ceremony is, "A banana is just a banana". In other words, we shouldn't expect such a thing to be anything more than a facile, shallow entertainment, or some kind of gaudy circus with sound and lights.

I disagree. In fact I strongly disagree.

This is like saying that movies and television programmes can only be shallow entertainments that aim for the lowest common denominator, by which we mean a level of entertainment or stimulation that is little more than visual stimulation which grabs and holds the attention of a mass audience. I find this thought deeply depressing, not least because it's driven by business and commerce, first and foremost.

What those of us watching a three hour programme on the BBC tend to forget is that in most countries the Olympics' opening and closing ceremonies will have been watched by people tuned in to commercial TV channels, whose main concern is to sell products and make money for themselves and for the big corporations that can afford to advertise on them.

The assumption of the commercial TV stations is that anything that's too 'challenging' for their audience is likely to cause them to switch off or to change channels, with potentially serious consequences for the revenues of the TV stations. Their ability to charge very high rates to advertisers is directly linked to the size of audiences.

Hence the decision by NBC television in the USA to not show certain segments of the 2012 Olympics' opening ceremony, on the grounds that those passages would cause their audience to switch off or switch over. Instead they showed some talking heads in their studio discussing what had just been shown! In other words, they attract an audience by saying they're going to show the opening ceremony, but they censor what they consider the dull bits because they patronisingly decide that the majority of their audience won't like those particular bits. I guess this is standard practice on commercial TV. In fact it's their entire ethos and their modus operandi - which of course has led to the general awfulness of television right around the world.

Seen from this perspective it's a miracle that we in Britain still have the BBC and a broadcasting system that's funded by subscription first and foremost, and driven by a desire for quality plus a mission to 'educate, inform and entertain'.

Danny Boyles' opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics, and both the Beijing ceremonies, were informative, educational and entertaining. The London 2012 closing ceremony was none of these things.

It was just a banana.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Layer 540 . . . Yet More on the Olympics Closing Ceremony!

Either the Olympics closing ceremony was a ceremony or it wasn't. What I'm saying, of course, is that it wasn't. In which case it shouldn't have been advertised as one. What it was, was an outrageous waste of time and money, which its organisers were finally reduced to calling "a big party". So we gave these people - these idiots - several million pounds to organise a fitting ceremony for an important and many would say very wonderful gathering of the world's finest athletes and they blew the money on a trashy "party". Who's going to take responsibility for that?

The dictionary defines a ceremony as
1. A formal occasion, typically one celebrating a particular event.
2. An act, or series of acts, performed according to a particular form.
3. The formal activities conducted on some solemn or important public or state occasion.

So what actually took place? Clearly the producers of this horrible event thought they should say something about London and about British society. Fair enough. And what did they do? They built  small-scale and rather pathetic versions of well-known London landmarks and set them up in the stadium - the London Eye, Tower Bridge, the Houses of Parliament, the 'Gherkin', etc. A totally unimaginative, unneccessary, lazy and clunking way of saying "This is London". It reminded me of the hilarious incident in the film This Is Spinal Tap! when the majesty of Stonehenge was represented on stage by a ludicrously small model of three stone blocks forming a  Stonehenge-type arch. There was nothing the heavy-metal band could do about it once it had been lowered on to the stage - they played on regardless, no matter how ridiculous the whole thing looked.

So what else happened in the Olympic stadium?
London traffic, which needs no depiction at all since it's something we put up with rather than celebrate, was represented by newspaper-covered cars, vans and lorries trundling around the arena. Round and round they drove, to no purpose whatsoever.

Somebody sang a song on the back of a lorry.

A band played on the back of a lorry.

Another band played on the back of a lorry.

A Robin Reliant car blew up and out staggered two people dressed as Batman and Robin. Apparently this was supposed to bring back hilarious memories of an episode in an ancient 'comedy' series about South London lowlife losers which most of us never ever watched anyway on account of it being very silly and completely unwatchable. Since the car blowing up was meaningless to most Brits watching, it would have been completely baffling to the rest of the world.

The top of Big Ben then opened up and an actor appeared declaiming a few lines of Shakespeare, which could barely be heard. Presumably this was the formal and solemn part of the ceremony.

Am I making too much of this fiasco - or does it actually matter what occured last Sunday?

I think it matters. Here's part of a letter that was sent to a newspaper in the USA this week:

Olympic Games closing ceremonies embarrassing
Posted: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 5:58 am
The closing ceremonies of the Games in London were an embarrassment to Western Civilization and showed how morally bankrupt the British have become.
In Beijing, China’s message in their closing ceremony was clearly the virtues of statism. They proudly showcased the merging of corporatism and communism. Flying, identically dressed humans creating a Tower of Babel represented the “cog in a machine” values of their culture and was done so artfully that most people never recognized the symbolism.  
The British showed they have no philosophy, no values except rock and roll, big-breasted chicks, rap stars riding in Rolls Royces, and no real clue that their expression of morally bankrupt worship of materialism is repugnant and why the rest of the world thinks Western colonialism needs to be overthrown, violently. Most Olympic hosts make some effort to show their cultural values in a positive light.
The British seemed completely unaware that their cavalcade of campy, garish and pompous frivolity made Beijing’s Kafkaesque showcasing of Big Brother look moral by comparison.
Very bad message. The games were great, they did a good job. But if that closing spectacle did not offend you and make you afraid for Western Civilization, you aren’t thinking clearly. Obviously the Brits weren’t.
Sonny Craig
Apache Junction
[See also Oxzen's comment on the website.]

Since it was Lord Seb Coe who claimed the credit for the good parts of the Olympics then presumably he's the man who appointed the men who were responsible for the closing ceremony. More on this anon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Layer 539 . . . The Closing Ceremony - More Reviews

I'm still feeling baffled and unhappy about the Olympics closing ceremony, and how badly it reflected on Britain and on what had been a near-perfect two weeks of Olympic Games.

Michael Billington in the Guardian completely failed to get to grips with it in his review, and it may be that Michael is now past his sell-by date as a reviewer. Here's part of what he said:
How do you review an Olympics closing ceremony? I'm not sure you can, especially when it is a mix of pageant, pop-concert, street-party and presentation ceremony. Unlike Danny Boyle's opening ceremony, Kim Gavin's closing one had no hidden narrative but simply amounted to a kaleidoscopic spectacle based on what Gavin himself termed "a mashed-up symphony of British music".

I leave it others to judge whether the big musical section was a fair summary of British pop over the past 50 years. But it certainly produced some eye-catching moments including a reconstituted version of John Lennon singing Imagine, Kaiser Chiefs backed by an assembly of leather-clad bikers, Annie Lennox standing at the prow of a skeletal ship with Gothic attendants and the Spice Girls emerging from a fleet of London cabs. We even got a tribute to British fashion with Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and other supermodels clad in symbolic gold.
I'd almost forgotten that horrible interlude of British so-called supermodels strutting around the stadium after arriving on the backs of trucks. This was another pinnacle of flash and trash and celebrity-obsession.

Mr Billington might have been at a loss as to what to make of the whole debacle, but he was at least honest in saying he needed to leave it to others as he hadn't a clue himself about musical merit. Fortunately there were many Guardian commenters who were more than able to offer pithy comments 'below the line':

Three words: it was shit.

[Response to citizenx3]
Not sure it was that good to be honest.
I came away from the Olympics with the view that to be a modern Britain you have to either ride a bike really really fast or be in a pop band.

leather clad bikers??? mods on scooters, surely - couldn't have got it more wrong.

Of course you can review it - it was shit. From the revelation of equality and achievement we sank back into sexism, mediocrity, and money. The first image of a passive woman concocted for the sole pleasure of men was a shock after the beautiful androgyny of strength. Instead - an image of a beautiful woman you can only long for, while into the stadium rolls a luxury car you can only envy. The values of the Olympic games fell away, and never have the values of capitalism looked so thin and tawdry and obvious.

How do you review a show like this, asks the Guardian's tired old theater critic. How about you get someone who knows about pop and dance, as this was only ever going to be theater in the pejorative sense. It was appallingly bad and returned the image of "GB" to that of sad old camp "theater" living off of fading memories. Even what was supposed to be current and "happening" looked more tired that the truly old . . . And why, if you can't persuade nearly-dead defenders of their brand to risk tarnishing it with an appearance, or to get the dead to dance, embarrass us all with virtual or tribute contributions? Bowie by virtue of a corporate fashion show and The Who's Pinball Wizard via the Kaiser Chiefs doing a west end show version of that scene from Quadrophenia....pointless...and the whole thing. Lennon, disinterred for the evening, was possibly the only poignant lyrical contribution of the night, "Imagine there's no country," after an inter-national contest between fiercely patriotic gladiators for the last 2 weeks...that was fun, but then ending it with him as a Stalinesque face or giant cream cake, that was high camp . . . but if you ask the guy who is famous for working with Take That to choreograph a farewell from London you can't expect much else really, can you?

It was everything we feared the opening ceremony was going to be: Naff music, excruciating faux 'celebrity' appearances, terrible lip-syncing (and some seriously off-key performances by the people not lip syncing). And the sound! Whoever was in charge of the mix for broadcast will hopefully never work in the industry again.

Britain's justification for shite always seems to be 'weird and wonderful'. I have to say that I thought it was one of the biggest pieces of indulgent jingoism I've ever seen. A tacky pop concert with the occasional Shakespeare quote scrawled on the floor and performers riding scooters concealed in union jacks . . . The Olympics is something that belongs to the world and I just felt like Britain missed that and treated the entire thing as though it belonged to them. They hosted it, they didn't own it.

A tepid, embarrassing, sobering celebration of everything shit about our country, and a total anticlimax to a blinding two weeks.

1 plus though - no Macca!! No Cliff!!

One Direction are like dementors given musical form. In 3 excruciating minutes they almost managed to sap my olympic spirit, together with my soul.

The closing ceremony reduced popular culture to its lowest common denominator - a shiny soulless vamp with neither context nor meaning - the athletes corralled into place as the compliant appendices of an exercise in corporate-sponsored gurning.

The Rio presentation was the best thing about the whole evening !

George Michael. Why did he get to sing his latest shit single????

What a disappointment after the wonderful opening ceremony and the uplifting games. It wasn't fun, it wasn't clever. Those who had talent were overwhelmed by noise and confusion - and the choir matching actions to John Lennon's Imagine! Who thought that was a good idea?? Too many celebs and lightweights - this surely cannot represent the best of Britain's music past and present. Where are the Rolling Stones when you need them?

Eric Idle had come up with a new verse that actually added some context to Always Look on the Bright Side and it was great to see that he was still allowed to go with "Life's a piece of shit" - I was a bit worried that that might have been cut.

Why reprise the opening acts whilst the athletes came in? It was like listening to musak in the supermarket - missed opportunity to employ a bit more of what is after all, probably the best back catalogue of any country in the world.

After two weeks of exceptional athleticism and hard work from the female competitors, rewarding physical skill over looks, was it really appropriate to feature supermodels ?

- Is an Olympic closing ceremony really the best place to allow George Michael to plug his new single ?

- Yes, we all like the Pet Shop Boys but after they've done their bit do we need to have to listen to a recording of it again ? I thought the producers were upset they had to leave out so much British music, so why repeat bits ?

Half these acts weren't fit to appear on the same stage as the athletes, let alone lord it over them for the evening. A really awkward meeting of Sport and Entertainment.

Presumably someone at the Guardian was aware of the general reaction to this mess - if not Michael Billington himself - so why publish this ludicrously rose-tinted review-that's-not-a-review?

I think people are disappointed because Danny Boyle showed with the opening ceremony that Britain could be creative, fresh, entertaining and modern. The closing ceremony seemed like such a wasted opportunity. A symphony of British music? Fine if that is your plan - go for it, but at least do it properly. You have tens of millions of pounds and you hire ed sheeran to sing pink floyd and the kaiser chiefs to sing the who. How good would the ceremony have been had the director actually got pink floyd and got other British greats like led zep, the rolling stones, radiohead and the smiths? Instead we had some smash hit poll winners party style event which was mostly rubbish.

The closing ceremony reclaimed the last two weeks for the dead-eyed corporate lackeys who aim to make a killing on the back on sporting achievement and spectacle. It put everyone back in their place. Some say the athletes were having a ball. They didn't even have toilets.

Boris' stage managed 'spontaneous and wacky' dancing was pitiful, especially given the fact he warned us that might 'do something crazy' a few days ago, just in case we needed a reminder that he intended to go on the PR offensive again. Even more pitiful is the BBC obliging this man's egocentric whims and allowing this shite to appear on our TV screens. Depressing stuff.

Opening ceremony: genius
Closing ceremony: shite

So, so disappointing.
Flat, uninspiring, and as someone else said, like an extended Brit Awards.

Pity, as the past two weeks have been amazing.

I got pissed so thought it was great

It was dreadful. Everything I thought the opening ceremony would be (and wasn't). Corporate, celebrity-driven, tacky, ITV Saturday night, legacy trodding rubbish.

It was the CD collection of a certain type of man in his mid 40s. Why were Kaiser Chiefs there covering the Who? Where were the Stones? Why did George Michael plug his new single? That disgusted me - the man tried to sell his new song to us ugh. Jessie J endlessly hollering, and Annie Lennox braying.
In Hyde Park they had Blur, the Specials, New Order - why weren't they at the closing ceremony? And no it's not a matter of taste it's a matter of playing Great British Artists, of which Jessie J and Ed Sheeran and Taio Cruz are not.

When Freddie Mercury showed up on video it sent shivers down the spine, he would have torn the roof off that place. Instead we got a barely coherent guitar solo that went on too long and then Jessie J doing an awful Queen cover.

And did anyone else think that a lot of the artists were singing very flat?

Yes, I know it was a tribute to the British fashion industry (and why highlight fashion, we do have other industries), but the Olympics surely should be an inspiration for young girls to want to be Jessica Ennis and not Kate Moss.

One moment we are watching the montage of Jess's years of dedicated training reach its climax in the 800m and see her crying with her gold medal, and then, boom, it's right back to normal with our stupid celebrity culture that hugely rewards the likes of Kate Moss for merely looking good and making smoking and a poor diet look cool.

If they'd just put the athletes in the stadium and had a bit of a Brazilian disco that would have been totally fine. Instead we were treated to a recycled (they played loads of the tracks twice!) necrotic display of British pop history that then extinguished the brilliant feeling of the last weeks and all the hard work of athletes worldwide by letting coke sniffers like Brand, Moss and bless him George Michael take centre stage.
At least Cameron's image was permanently damaged by being caught dancing to the Spice Girls.

I didn't watch it all as it met my expectations of having to listen to ghastly pop music sung off key with appalling sound. Embarrassing to watch with some truly awful performances (yes George Michael I'm talking about you) that seemed to go on for ever. Absolute tripe for kids. I had no idea who Ed Sheeran was/is but he had me hiding behind the sofa in shame.

I also hate the way people are making others feel obliged to praise it so as not to run the risk of sounding cynical. Let’s be honest, if what we all witnessed last night was completely unconnected to our 'national pride' and just a show on after Eastenders, we'd all call it shite.

I saw it as our chance to get revenge for all those years of Eurovision humiliation. You think you can do pop pap? THIS is how it's done!

...oh, and meanwhile the ATHLETES themselves are relegated to standing room only, suddenly irrelevant, with only their medals to bite to remind them of their moment

Embarrassing, aimless crap. Brillant, eccentric opening ceremony, wonderful fortnight of sport, world-leading broadcasting with long-to-linger images...and then this! Like a giant provincial dad-dancing wedding reception presided over by superannuated DJ. I am no spring chicken, and I have lived through many decades of exceptional British music: none of which was showcased last night.To inflict that turgid, zombified, down-beat medley on all those young athletes, full of life and up for a party (as were most of the audience) was little short of criminal. And to end with Eric Idle singing "Bright Side of Life" surrounded by Roman Legionnaires: I've heard edgier stuff at the sing-songs at my 93 year old mother's care home! If Danny Boyle deserves a knighthood for the opening ceremony, then whoever put this mess together derserves to have his head spiked up on Traitors' Gate!

Four stars? Are you mad?
Opening ceremony was breathtaking. Closing ceremony made me pine for the glories of the Jubilee concert.
I have loved every minute of the Olympics. The Athletes, Volunteers and even LOCOG deserve every plaudit. But last night has left me feeling depressed. It was like a reorientation programme deliberately engineered to help us get back mundane reality. "Like, ah, I forgot we are shite after all!"

George Michael was shocking. Why did they think it a good idea for him to shamelessly plug his new single? What right gives him that? A man who hasn't done anything good for twenty years? No other act got that opportunity.
Annie Lennox = awful.

As previously mentioned, the organisers completely underestimated the time it took to get the athletes in, hence 'replaying' the soundtrack to the first part. Crap.
Ed Sheeran's cover was terrible. Why cover Wish You Were Here with no lead guitarist? Mike Rutherford? Purleeese!
What was telling was that truly iconic acts (bar The Who) were absent - and only used via muzak and dance sections (or from beyond the grave).

If they'd actually got Bowie or Bush to do something that would have been a coup. As it was, we were left with the tired (and overdone) Queen remnant - who have been marketing Freddie's legacy for 20 years.

Gold. Silver. Bronze. Lead.
It should have had Vera Lynn, Lulu, Sandie Shaw, and Cilla Black.

I thought Children in Need was in November, not August.
For the most part, it was uninspiring, messy, and lacked class. The opposite of everything that had preceded it.
Still, hopefully we built up enough credit over the last couple of weeks that we'll be forgiven.

Someone above summed it up brilliantly. It was everything I feared the opening ceremony was going to be like.
Bits were good. Eric Idle, The Who and the PSB. But most was poor to dire and didn't make any sense (why was everything wrapped in newspaper?????). Fitting that the three biggest stars of the night (Lennon, Bowie & Freddie) are either dead or retired.

If we're lucky, that closing ceremony won't have undone everything that has been good about the last two weeks.
If Boyle gave us a vision of Britain that we should aspire to, the closing ceremony was a sharp reality check.
If I was made to guess, I would've named Simon Cowell as the bright spark responsible for last night.
Turgid, self-aggrandising toss.

I was sat with my brazilian girlfriend and she came away from it completely baffled and not a little bored - surely it's not about appropriating the Olympics into whatever country is hosting it, but including the rest of the world too. We already had an utter shite Jubilee concert with the usual offenders, why do another one?

Democratic? Was it bollocks. It was carefully choreographed. Sure the athletes came in feeling cheerful and ready to party. They were then herded into pens and remained invisible for almost the entire remainder of the following celebrity fest (oops, sorry, "ceremony"). What should have been a celebration of the athletes was instead handed over to a set fo largely naff celebrities.
Eric Idle did his best but should have been visibly surrounded by athletes.

Hopefully thats killed off George Michaels career for good now. Used to be a fan too.
Why did they build a white pyramid in the middle and then just take it down again?? Why??
The fashion bit. WTF? Who on earth thought that actually fitted in with anything? It was almost as if they'd thought they would get Bowie until the very last minute and had to fill in.
COMPLETELY cocking up the timing estimates on the athletes entrance. By about 40mins. Shocking - especially as the only contingency plan was to repeat the first 40mins soundtrack.

On a positive note the set design and lighting were superb. Whoever thought up the seatback pixel LED things is a genius.

I wanted to vomit when Take That were playing as the Olympic flame was being lowered. It felt like the symbolic rape of everything that the flame stood for. Does anyone really think their music has anything resembling the required poignancy, dignity and class for such a moment? Kinda like trying to trim a bonsai tree with a gaudy lawnmower.
I am deeply embarrassed that this is how we signed off to the world after the sheer wonderment of the past two weeks and opening ceremony.

It turned into the usual cult of celebrity which seems to take over everything these days.
It would have been lovely to have some kind of story or theme written through this or at least seen the athletes that have given us so much enjoyment celebrated more. Instead we were assailed with that rubbish.

Disappointing. It just felt like they'd got the leftovers from the Queen's Jubilee concert out of the freezer and bunged them in the microwave. Soulless, corporate, predictable, bland, safe. None of the jaw-dropping "This can't be really happening" moments or genuine emotion of the opening ceremony. When they did try to create emotions, e.g. by projected footage of dead people (btw, they do know Bowie is still alive, don't they? Only they gave him the same treatment as Lennon and Mercury), it just felt manipulative and manufactured. Where Boyle gave us a jug of lovingly crafted, homemade organic lemonade, they gave us a bottle of Coke.
I thought Take That was an unbelievably crass choice for just after the extinguishing of the torch. Really, they might as well have got Mr Blobby or Black Lace, as it couldn't have murdered the dignity of the moment any more than it did. And I say that not because I dislike Take That - I do, but I would have found any cheesy manufactured pop acts that I really love equally inappropriate at that particular moment.

Things not so good: Emeli bloody Sande starting things with a whimper, montage of people crying (very sad), Stomp on twice (much clanging), Jessie J singing four - yes four - times in tacky look-at-me bodysuit, Taio bleeding Cruz, John Lennon's face boxes, repetition of the music whilst athletes arriving, Emeli Sande again, flag companions dressed as hookers. It was very Brit Awards but I suspect the great acts like Bowie and Rolling Stones wouldn't have gone near it, the latter mostly as they'd not be paid.

Olympic ceremonies are always naff. Are people really reviewing it as if they expected to see some sort of cutting edge music festival? It was shit but then it's not really aimed at people who like Billy Bragg.

[Wrong about Olympic ceremonies always being naff. Zhang Yimou and Zhang Jigang showed us how to do them four years ago in Beijing, as did our own Danny Boyle a couple of weeks ago. - Oxzen]

Closing ceremonies aren't generally remembered.. but this one just might be....
..for the shameless commercial promotion of British fashion, for the embarrasing use of Rolls Royces now produced by a German company, for presenting to the world how we seem to want to dwell in the past, how our culture can be whittled down to pop which we gave to the world back in the 1960s (and not much of merit ever since), how we insist on plastering the Union Jack over everything as if that alone gives it some kind of kudos, how somehow we see relevance in a plastic inflatable octopus with an aging DJ as its "brain".

The Olympic Games were organised very well. We got everything ready on time, but end up showing how Britain is slowly going down the plughole with really nothing new to say. The opening ceremony showed we were once the workshop of the world, the closing ceremony showed we don't know where on earth we are going any more.
Quite sad really.

I personally thought it was was deeply disappointed climax to a thoroughly inspiring two weeks. There was no central concept or over-riding vision.
The fashion segment was unforgivable (Victoria Beckham included in the same list as Vivienne Westwood and Paul Smith? Really?). George Michael outstayed his welcome, the whole box-building thing seemed pointless. And if you insist on pursuing the questionable idea of turning a closing ceremony into a pop concert the very least you can do is sort out the sound and make sure most of your acts can actually sing.

And those acts should be paying tribute to the wonderful participants of the last fortnight, not stroking their own egos from on high. The self-satisfied sneer on Liam Gallagher's face was sickening.

I've no doubt the likes of Kate Bush and David Bowie were approached but quickly bailed when they discovered what a mess it was going to be. Well done them.

Prince Harry seemed a rather junior choice to represent the Queen at such a high-profile international event. Firstly, why couldn't she have turned up herself or, failing that, sent Charles? They've had seven years to clear a space in their diary. And really, would it have been impossible for William to get one night off work?

The entire country was on display to the world and the two senior royals buggered off on holiday. Their absence looked highly disrespectful. And it makes you wonder what we pay them for. If it had been a fucking horse show you can bet they'd have been knifing each other to get the best seats.

"I leave it others to judge whether the big musical section was a fair summary of British pop over the past 50 years."

OK, then. It was shit. Top to bottom and all the way around, shit. I will happily forget the Closing Ceremony ever happened and cherish all the other memories I have of the London 2012 games, from the torch procession through the magnificent Opening Ceremony through to the incredible athletes and the fantastic BBC coverage.
The Closing was a shower of shite and has no business being associated with all that preceded it.

Last night was just bland and vacuous, with the spectre of money rather than medals - as personified by the unworthy appearances of Kate Moss and George Michael - providing a terminal click to the artistry and effort seen over the past fortnight.

Originally I was very cynical about the corporate Olympics. But I was softened by Danny Boyle's inspired opening ceremony that dreamed an inclusive vision of modern Britain. Then I was seduced, firstly by the achievements of Jessica Ennis, and became progressively excited, awed and moved by the brilliance of so many great Olympians pushing the boundaries of human possibility. It felt like, for once, all the dross and crap of the world had been pushed aside to allow genuine magic a chance to rule our imaginations. I was truly inspired. Then last night's closing ceremony, an OK magazine view of Britain, reminded me what living here is really like, and I came back to earth with a jarring bump...

Well, I guess after the amazing last two weeks we needed something to gently lower the tone and ease us back into the lameness that is day to day life in Cameron's Britain.

The key word here is 'gently'; Kim Gavin and David Arnold slammed both feet on the brakes and sent everything achieved in the past fortnight hurtling through the windscreen.............

well done chaps!

You get served up a diet of slick, airbrushed, perfect professional culture every day. What Boyle did was give us something different - flawed, utterly genuine and human. The gulf between rich celebrity and ordinary person on the street was bridged for once.

I understand that not everyone will have liked it, but the amateurism was not an embarrassing, unintended mistake - it was an artistic choice which carried a totally intended message (we are not like Beijing - we wouldn't airbursh an unphotogenic six-year-old out of the ceremony for not looking slick enough).
Because Boyle put his own emotions into the show, it moved me. I just felt there was no emotion in the closing ceremony - it was entirely cynical, corporate construction.

I am sure the Queen very wisely stayed well away! Why on earth would she have wanted to witness this witless cringe making crap?

Four stars? ...Seriously?
It almost single-handedly undid all the optimism and euphoria of the previous two weeks.

Was really looking forward to this but it was lacklustre and ill conceived for such a big occasion.
To have the entire library of British music available to pick from and build an epic finale too, I dont think its unfair to have expected more than two songs from Emelie Sande (some agent she has) and then One Direction, Pet Shop Boys and Our House by Madness played on repeat for the first 90 minutes.
It then began to resemble a shambolic X Factor final style cheesy mess.
I enjoyed the elderly Norman Cook in an octopus but after all the fireworks, bells and whistles I couldn't help thinking what a wasted opportunity.

In case no-one has posted this already - an acerbic take on the closing ceremony that clearly articulates why I hated the closing ceremony more than I could ever have imagined possible.

It was like all the awfulness that was extracted from the opening ceremony - the fact that no X-Factor, manufactured rubbish was allowed to taint its artistry - was concentrated into 3 hours of Oxford Circus, souvenir-shop rubbish. Check the link here:

I think that most of us here are just trying to deal with how incredibly shit the closing ceremony was, so that we never have to think about it ever again. Even though I tried in vain to get at ticket to any event possible and failed, I thought the opening ceremony was brilliant, and the games superb. It's the (c)losing ceremony that needs to be banished as quickly and as absolutely from our memories, so we can remember how bloody good the rest was.

Someone asked why George Michael got to sing his latest single - and it's an important question. The choice of acts and the worldwide exposure was worth millions. The money involved would be worth looking at - especially the links between the record companies and sponsors. Blur get an off-camera gig in Hyde Park, while Beady Eye get a prime location. And how come Ed Sheeran always gets to play at these things?
On a more serious note - Leonard Cohen would have been brilliant. Hallelujah as the final song.

That closing ceremony was what I was afraid the opening ceremony was going to be like. Thankfully, Danny Boyle came up trumps.

The worst part about the whole thing last night was that it teased us into remembering the great great musicians we’ve produced, only to then dump on us with something completely different. Case in point – the big intro showcasing David Bowie…only to give a soundtrack highlighting british fashion (models) – including a plug for Victoria Beckham :(
There were quite a few individual lowpoints –
George Michael seriously outstayed his welcome. Freedom I could take, but that naff second song took the life out of the stadium and dragged and dragged and dragged…

"I still despise the smug smooth-jowled politicians cashing in on "feel good factors", and recoil from the horrible adman slogan, "Team GB". And I still hate the nationalistic jingoism of the modern Olympics, compared to the original games of classical times, which focused on individuals not nations." This is what Richard Dawkin's said and I agree - these elements are what I have hated about the 2012 Olympics. I've adored the sport - particularly seeing Andy take victory over Federer. The British seem to lose sight of the human sport and turn it into romanticised rhetoric of royal glee and lasting legacy. The amount of commentators I've seen interview medal winners and thrust a romantic vista upon them - 'What must you think when you cross the finish? I'd imagine you consider all the points leading up to it..being coached by your uncle as a child, losing at sport's day, getting beaten by school bullies', to which their response is an unpretentious and brilliantly honest 'Sorry to disappoint you but, no, I'm just thinking about where the f*cking line is.'