Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Love life, love live music

What a wonderful weekend of musical entertainment it was. On Saturday I enjoyed the best of English folk music and on Sunday some of the best American Metal.

Show of Hands played the final date of their autumn tour at the local arts centre, supported by an excellent exponent of American folk music, one Mr Slaid Cleaves (google that name) and his friend Michael O'Connor. Cleaves took us through a predictable and slightly samey but highly enjoyable support set that showcased some of his crowd-pleasing tracks and prompted something of a rush for his CDs during the interval. Some of the songs, or at least the stories behind the songs, dated back to the 1860's and gave us a brief glimpse into the underbelly of American life. As with all folk music this was social history told in the musical form and as such it proved to be a highly enjoyable introduction to his work and to the American folk-music experience. Any open-minded music fans who like to kick back with a drink and let the world drift by but still want to hear intelligence and passion will enjoy Cleaves as the soundtrack to their lazy afternoon.

Show of Hands came perilously close to playing the gig of the year and I think the only reason they were relegated to third place was because I knew very few of their songs before I got there and couldn't sing along. Until the gig, their breakthrough classic "Country Life" was the only one of their songs I could recognise and is so good that it counted as my folk favourite even though I'd had the pleasure of seeing Roy Harper (supported by his son Nick) and the great Irishman Christy Moore. However, when they pounded out a storming rendition of their 'patriotic' classic "Roots" the pinnacle of English folk was reached. Never before had I heard a song that stirred such depth of feeling and, as much as I hate to say something so potentially blinkered and pompous, made me feel truly English. As mentioned above, folk music is social history sung to us rather than written in books and this song makes the point: "Without our stories or our songs how will we know where we come from?" Now the reasons for their cult following are blindingly clear and as we left the gig I was skimming the tour dates to find out when I could next see them. Check their website for dates near you and get ready to enjoy a great evening of live music.

Moving up the motorway to Birmingham and the NEC, we have an evening with the incomparable Marilyn Manson. This was my third MM experience and it came close to being the best, easily outstripping the Alexander Palace gig where a poor choice of venue (only 1 entrance!) and even poorer choice of support (even the brief appearance of Iggy Pop couldn't save Peaches's set) and equalling the London Arena gig where support came in the capable hands of Disturbed. In the NEC we were treated to Turbonegro's huge nod towards NWOBHM and the overblown stage posturing that goes so well with that style of music. Having lauded Birmingham for inventing NWOBHM and the devil (yes, they really credited Brum for creating the epitome of evil) they launched into their standout track of the night "City of Satan" and verily the crowd did enjoy themselves.

When MM hit the stage after a relatively short interval and sound check he started with the first track ("If I was your vampire") of the new album ("Eat me, drink me") just to ease us slowly into the set and then got everyone singing along as the band powered through "Disposable Teens" and "Mobscene". A relatively simple stage set-up and light show allowed the band to showcase the music itself and if anyone left disappointed it was only because a full 2-hour blast of Marilyn Manson live is just enough to leave you hungry for yet more. Every studio album was visited at least once, including Portrait of an American Family and even Smells Like Children. There were a couple of 2-3 minute breaks for costume changes and to allow for one or two large props to be added to the stage for particular songs, which ended up meaning the traditional encore didn't happen. That, for me, was a thoroughly pleasant change: no daft charade where the band says goodnight and leaves the stage for 2-5 minutes while the crowd chant and stamp until they reappear for a 'spontaneous' rendition of a few more songs. With a touch of crowd-pleasing brilliance, they finished the set with "The Beautiful People". When the last bar of the song was over, the stage lights went out and within a few seconds the house lights came on. How great is that? Here's a brilliant, stomping song that ends sharply (no fade-out) and then you're done. Wham bam thank you Ma'am, the set's over; go home! If only they could have played for another hour or had a post-gig club set like Prince does that would have rounded off a truly fantastic night.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

From Leona Lewis to The Pogues without a pause for station identification

That's how the music on the radio has gone today. Thankfully one of my colleagues is out of the office so I've been able to turn her radio off - two of them listen to the same station via their PCs and the sound comes through with a half-second delay on one of them so not only do you hear the same song but it's not even in sync. This really doesn't help when the song itself is dire enough to be inducive to suicide by itself.

Add to that the usual lovely work issues that we're still getting it in the neck from various angles due to problems which we didn't create in the first place and I for one have had enough. I used to think that by applying myself with a high level of dedication and efficiency I could be instrumental in getting everything running properly in here. Experience has now told me that I don't stand a chance where I am and even if the unthinkable did happen and I got a higher-level job it'd just be the same old story but with longer hours and more meetings. I really do think that so much administrative work is completely unnecessary and is done just to keep people in a job. It may not be that it was designed that way, I don't think the work anyone in here does was created just for the sake of giving them something to do (although that is true in some minor cases) it's more that someone higher up, usually in a different department/organisation decided they wanted something done a particular way and that caused enough of a ripple effect that people had to be employed to process additional information just to keep that one person/group happy.

I remember reading some of Jung's travel writing, specifically the part where he visits bits of Africa and is amazed at the difference in the way people live there. According to his observations, most Europeans spend so much of their lives living in their heads (being fussy about detail, doing tedious work that's nevertheless mind-centred rather than physical, over-thinking everything due to being trained that way by the prevailing culture, etc.) that we've lost a lot of our vitality. It's this vitality which he found very evident in the Africans he came into contact with during his travels and here we are nearly 100 years later and the same is as true today as it was then. We can grin smugly about how far we've come with our technological improvements, social welfare and the overall improvement in the material quality of life but we've lost something too. We've lost that part of ourselves that links us to the natural world. Science killed superstition, which sounds all well and good, but superstition was actually created by our own psyche trying to make sense of the suprasensible world through the physical world. You cut off that link and we're floating around in our own heads feeling detached and displaced, looking for meaning. Well, some are looking for meaning, the rest are happy to fill the gap with noise in the form of drugs, alcohol, increasingly elaborate and ever more shallow forms of entertainment (see any reality TV show for an example) and an unnatural attachment to lifestyle (as though the way your house is decorated and/or the food you cook/eat defines you as a person). A lot of those who are searching for meaning shun the traditional organised religions due to their generally dogmatic approach, exclusivity issues and their overall bad press, so there are countless faceless masses defining themselves as 'spiritual' because they bought an over-priced dreamcatcher from the local hippy tat shop and like reading books by Paulo Coelho.

Ugh, here I am wasting more time complaining when all I need to do is muster up the energy to get off my over-analytical arse and do something completely different. That, of course, will have to wait until the silly season is over and I can (possibly) afford to do a job that pays less but is more fulfilling. I've already moved out of London and now it seems my 'downshift' will have to include a double de-clutch in order for something to really start happening. Until then, it's back to the day job.

Keep your eye on the door, a tsunami of tedious paperwork is about to wash our intelligence down the drain.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Dross warning

How lazy am I? Surely a blog is meant to be updated on a regular basis and all I've done is whine about work. Once. Well this blog is called whining and opining so there'll be plenty of that. There'll also be a lot of dross and no shortage of repetition as I harp on even more about the blandness and tedium of my working life. There should really be some ranting too but I tend to get that out of my system by emailing my best mate with snippets like the following:

I have to admit I'm getting a little tense at the moment.

It's one thing having to hand-hold someone else who's not sure what they're doing but when they gets so confused they get panicky within themselves it's even harder, especially when all the fucking useless bitch has had to do is label a few filing cabinets and organise the appropriate inserts/dividers AND she's had it explained to her several times. Funnily enough that's not the worst of it. In this case she really does get confused and stressed because she is in fact as thick as two short planks covered in a dense layer of pigshit, which is why she was demoted last year. Of course, if the management here had even half a testicle between them they wouldn't have kept her on after her probationary period was up and we wouldn't be in this situation now. You know I said this isn't the worst of it? Well, there's another woman here who gets in a flap about everything at the drop of a hat and earlier on I had to show her how to get a bit of text to show up in an Excel spreadsheet. Ordinarily that's fine; if someone doesn't know something and they ask for help it's all good, it's how everyone learns and gets by. This fucking aggravating cunt kept harping on about how cross she gets when the computer won't do what she wants and kept interrupting me while I was trying to explain things to her. In the end I just ignored her completely and did the work myself. That one is more annoying because she's a grade above me and although once again I'm happy with the idea of people not knowing something and asking for help it's the fact that she wastes countless hours of time with all the faffing and gets paid more than me for the privilege.

As Billy Connolly once so rightly quoted: "JESUS SUFFERING FUCK"

So, this will mainly be the meek, plaintive bleatings which are all I can manage when a day of sitting at a desk, shuffling paper and trying to be helpful to everyone while hiding my boiling frustration has beaten my spirit down and left me mentally drained. I do occasionally have ideas that could turn into potentially interesting reading but they always vacate the premises by the time I get around to writing things down, the same way a cat will leave the house on the day you finally remember to buy flea spray. Look out for future inane ramblings about being unfocussed (yes I'm serious), more crap about work being crap (oh yes, even more), complaints about my new bike already starting to fall apart, a real bitching about the fact I've lost around 15lb in weight since July but don't feel any better for it, and various excerpts from whichever books I'm bring influenced by (warning: I get drawn into things very quickly and I'm currently reading Jung).

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Boredom as a way of life

The other week my acupuncturist told me I'm not really suited for the sedentary desk job that I have and I need to move around more. It's great when a medical professional confirms something you already know. He also said that at least 50% of the people in this country really don't like their jobs, yet another thing I already had a slight inkling of.

When I was at University I thought the admin/support people were completely useless. Now I am one of those people I know the truth: there are just enough useless people here that those of us who can do a good job have to spend an awful lot of our time clearing up other people's mistakes. It's not a case of institutional incompetence, it's more that it's very difficult to instigate change of any sort. If they hire someome who turns out to be no good, it's such a turgid procedure to get rid of them that they're generally just moved around until they're in the place where they can cause the least damage. Of course that means we all have at least one dead horse attached to the team cart, slowing us down to a crawl.

The thing is, I wouldn't mind having a tedious job quite so much if the management here was significantly better. I've been here for over two years (but hoping to find something else by Christmas) and every time you get a bit settled you're moved into another team in the latest restructuring effort. I've been in my current team for a month and I'm only just getting an idea of what I'm really supposed to be doing. They're supposed to be providing proper training for the new employees we've just taken on but the rest of us are taught/told nothing so you usually feel as though you're having to bumble your way through everything. Job satisfaction is definitely an oxymoron here unless you've got so little going on outside work you have to live through your job no matter what.

The other thing is more to do with environment: thanks to the rampant boredom the rumour mill here is in full flow most of the time. It used to annoy me no end that people would leap on any throwaway comment and twist it into an impending calamity but it's now obvious that people do it because they need something to think about and the job itself isn't enough. This is probably typical of admin jobs: you have to pay attention to lots of small details which are 'important' to the work but completely uninteresting so your brain is not engaged at all.

I think I've just proved how boring the job is: I've written those ridiculous paragraphs of prattle and that was more interesting than doing any work.

Monday, 22 October 2007

An end has a start

The first of many.