Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Sod it, I'm moving to Iceland...

Ok. Unless you meet one of the three categories below:

- You've been in a coma for the past three years.
- You're deaf, you can't read and you don't understand sign language
- You belong to one of those really cool undiscovered tribes in the Amazon.

You will know that Barack Obama became President of the USA on January 21st of this year. With him came a new hope for the future, though after eight years of that idiotic monkey, he doesn't exactly have a hard act to follow. Anyway, Obama's election made waves with the fact that he was black. I know I'm stating the obvious here, but let me get to it. But I still felt uneasy about it.

When I decided that I supported Obama, it wasn't because he was black. I tried as best I could to be colour-blind. I judged them on the merits of their policies and their track records and their principles. I don't believe anyone should be judged on anything except what they do, not who they are. I celebrated his election because he was a President with values I agreed with, not because he was black.

But saying that, I recognise the fact that forty, or even twenty years ago, a black man becoming a world leader would simply not have happened. And I respect the victory for equality that his election represents. But we by no means have an equal society. I mean, if a Muslim stood for office in this country, his or her chances of getting in would be laughable. But I was reading through the BBC's News column when I came across this article:

Johanna Sigurdardottir, named as Iceland's prime minister on Sunday, is
the first openly lesbian head of government in Europe, if not the world - at
least in modern times. The 66-year-old's appointment as an interim leader, until
elections in May, is seen by many as a milestone for the gay and lesbian

And the reaction of the Icelandic news agencies?

"I don't think her sexual orientation matters. Our voters are pretty liberal,
they don't care about any of that," said one news source.

Ok. People judging people on political merit rather than personal quality? I don't know about you, but to me Iceland is growing on me. More than anything, I hate discrimination. I hate hate. I don't want to sound self-righteous, but I try never to form an opinion of someone or something based on prejudice or stereotype. And it's difficult. Only this afternoon I found myself having to take back stuff I'd said cause I realised I'd been judgemental. It's not easy. But it's not impossible.

Imagine that. A society where there are no labels. I'm surprised that the first gay world leader hasn't had that much media attention. I think that equality on the basis of sexual orientation is improving, although I can see why the African-Americans' struggle for liberty is more powerful. Straight people have done some pretty horrific things, granted, but we didn't rip gay people from their homes and enslave them for four hundred years.

Still. Equality is equality. I have a new respect for the people of Iceland. Their music is pretty good as well (check out Sigur Ros and their song Saeglopur - turns out it's a beautiful language as well). What I'm trying to say is, this proves that equality is possible. That we can have a society where where you come from, who you love, what you believe, doesn't matter. It's no longer a dream. It's our responsibility to make it a reality. It's in our hands.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Watermelon Man

There's a concert on Wednesday at my school. In it I'm playing a piece called Watermelon Man. This is all just so the title makes sense. Anyway, I love it. It's a jazz tune, so I improvise for a few minutes after playing the main theme through. In order to do this better, I found myself on Youtube searching for every performance I could find, by every artist, so I could see their take on it, and maybe get some inspiration.

What I found made me reconsider how I looked at music in general. I think everyone needs a way to express themselves, and mine is when I pick up my sax and play, usually very badly, but I play it nonetheless. And that's why I like the jazz side of things - I can pretty much be as expressive as I want. If I'm in a bad mood, expect straight quavers, punched-out scales and me being as out-of-key and melancholy as I feel. On the other hand, if I'm feeling upbeat, I'll throw out those ridiculous high notes which usually fail but sound ecstatic if they work. That sort of freedom can't be found in many other genres, not belittling them in any way.

Anyway, the video I found was an original recording by the guy who wrote Watermelon Man, Herbie Hancock, talking a little about where he got his inspiration for the piece. It was about a street vendor who, for some of the kids in Harlem, was the happiest thing they'd see all day, and who'd give them discount watermelons. It was about finding joy even through adversity. These were the days, of course, when racism was unthinkably commonplace - black people lived in ghettos attached to American cities. The most exciting thing for a kid maybe my little brother's age back then would have been a free watermelon.

I felt guilty. Incredibly guilty. I'd been thinking that when I was playing I was truly expressing myself, that the music coming out the end of my sax was mine and mine alone, and that I was conveying just a little bit of what I love and how I feel to whoever happened to be listening. But it turned out that all I was was a rich white kid playing music written about adversity and hardship the likes of which, due to dumb luck, I could never even imagine. I felt like I was bastardising his music, imitating him, pretending that I had experienced things that he had. I felt like I had stolen a part of him, that I was expressing something which I had no right to.

Then I figured that I had to do my best to convey what he'd been thinking about when he wrote that tune, and in some way make him proud that his music was reaching other people. I still feel bad that I'm in some way trying to be someone I'm not, which goes against everything I believe - and defeats the point of me playing in the first place. Holden Caulfield would call it "phony". (Just an aside - I recently read that book for the second time and for God's sake if you haven't read The Catcher in the Rye yet go do it. They sell it in Tesco for about £6)

Whenever I turn on the radio I usually get angry. Whenever I hear that processed shit, written by someone whose name you'll never know, and performed by someone who can only sing because they're digitally remastered to do so. The Rihannas and Chris Browns of this world. That's isn't music! That's the equivalent of squeezy cheese. There's no expression, no feeling, no emotion in there. Like everything else beautiful in this world, it's been sold out in the name of the relentless pursuit of money, fame and fortune.

So anyway, I'm now stuck. I'm gonna play my heart out anyway, but still it won't take away that uneasy feeling that I'm stealing someone else's glory. I know it's irrational, and I know that if anything, he's probably glad that his music is being opened up and heard by another person, but I just hope I do it justice. And there's a lot of me in that piece as well. I sat down at the piano and wrote one tune the other day. It's alright. You listen to it and you can tell how stressed I was. Fuck me, it's manic.

Problem is, I doubt I'll ever be good enough that anyone will really listen to the stuff I write. So here's yet another catch-22 to fall into. I guess what I'm trying to say is that everyone needs an outlet for what's in them, some way of communicating that to the outside world. Whether it's bad poetry, bad music or bad art, at least it's better than that shit the radio keeps throwing out. At the end of the day, Herbie wouldn't mind. I hope.