I used time I didn't really have to make a song that nobody asked for. That's art, innit!
The idea was simple enough. I wanted to write about the multiple billionaires launching themselves into space. The phrase "Billionaires are going to space" could only be a line from Space Oddity. So, I threw myself into full Bowie mode.
In my opinion, I missed and got myself a Lightning Seeds Oasis hybrid. The point is, it's MY hybrid and I'm going to love it as one of my own.
There's quite a lot going on in this song. I tried to capture the retro vibe of the original, working within my own limitations. Originally intending to use the melodica for some of the backing, I thought I'd try using the stylophone, and boy did it work well. The fact that GarageBand comes with a mellotron plugin didn't harm things either. I've got various patches from the mellotron, getting increasingly big and soundscape filling.
I also managed to crank out something akin to a guitar solo here. The guitar lead lines are double tracked from different takes, giving it a wider sound. The mistakes are somewhat hidden by the leslie-speaker patch, that rotates the mistakes out of focus quite nicely.
For the vocal, the double tracking of octave lines gives it a nice Bowie feel, regardless of whether I'm singing in tune! The chorus is double tracked, but from the same take, giving a strange chorusing/fattening effect.
Cringeworthy as it is to level a comment at a whole country, in much the way as Donald Trump's repeated terming of COVID 19 as the China Virus causes my butt to clench, I think it's fair to say that there's a prevalent trap when dealing with Chinese drop shipping companies.
In this case a particular company was advertising a Harry Potter themed book-sized model, that could be added to a book shelf and would provide a lit-up Diagon Alley model in its belly. Quite a delightful present for the Harry Potter fans around the family.
Now, I'm not one for supporting J K Rowling these days. Her ill-thought-out stance on trans rights are just another reminder of her dreadful wordplay and inability to summarise. Her books turn children into frightful bores around a relatively dull set of stories... but I'm in the minority on that opinion in the family, so it's best to go with the flow.
What arrived from the $90 purchase of the above bookshelf inserts was a weird flat-packed instructionless thing that bore no resemblance to the advert on Facebook. Note: adverts on Facebook are largely scams.
Having been thoroughly disappointed with the purchase, we tried to return it. This is where the interesting discussion started.
Their first offer was for $15 to keep the item. I declined it.
Their second offer was for $40 to keep the item. They would only potentially provide a full refund if I shipped the item back to China.
I pointed out to them that they had shipped it to me from the UK (it had a UK address on the original parcel) so I would return it to a UK address of their choice for a full refund. Shipping to China is quite pricey (though it must be cheap to ship from China to here, given the volume of stuff that comes this way).
I escalated the case to PayPal who sided with the Chinese company in terms of shipping to China.
So I shipped the items to China. It can be done. It cost around £20, but it was the principal of the thing more than anything else, and I think I would still be up on the deal.
Eventually, today, I got notification that PayPal would be refunding me. As far as I could tell, there must have been some argy bargy between PayPal and the company over the refund itself, as there were several days of the date of the latest message changing, but no messages to me.
Well, don't buy anything of value from China without a decent refund policy...
When I first met my wife, I was a daily blogger. I wrote many entries over the time we were first dating, some of which obliquely referenced things that involved her.
At some point, as a well-intentioned gift, which she received in the spirit it was intended, I collected a lot of entries from the blog into a single document, footnoted the whole thing with more information about what I wasn't mentioning in the posts, and printed it in the form of a book for her. As she was never normally seen without a book about her person, this was possibly a thoughtful gift.
Or maybe a narcissistic one.
The jury's still out. In fairness, she re-read the book in recent weeks and is still talking to me, so I remain optimistic.
The thing is that this is a place where I can chronicle my own mental decline... because it is that, isn't it? I started writing around 19 years ago as a rather snarky 27 year old. Three years later, single, trying to be a comedian, I was blogging about buying toasters.
Then there was a golden age of writing about gigs and doing young-person things like being out all week...
Now, I'm stuck at home during a pandemic with a house that smells of slow-roasted meat and an increasing number of cats.
Not being out there gigging is slowly driving me nuts. My kids think I'm funny, which is great, and I am making up silly songs and doing silly voices, but it's not the same. The problem is that I don't have a place to channel the sort of reactions I get to people being utterly insane, or self-serving, or pointless. Comedy is the outlet for cleansing oneself of the ridiculousness of the world.
If there's a place I shouldn't go when I'm feeling antsy about the people with whom I cohabit this world, it's Facebook... not just Facebook, but the local Faceboook group.
Often, I can keep my reactions under control. Today I didn't...
Faced with this:
... and let's just unpack this - she's got some rubbish and she wants to see if she can solve that with Facebook, rather than a bin...
... I posted the following reply:
It's not exactly vicious... but it's a good way to waste the time of someone who's wasting everyone's time.
The silly thing is, that she did as I asked:
The names of the innocent have not been quoted.
I'm fucking losing it. I really am. Between the pointlessness of the above, the ridiculously vapid posts filling LinkedIn, and the fact that the world has split into people who think we should lock down more and people who think that fatties should just stay indoors so they can have a virus party in the real world, the whole limited universe I experience through my various screens has gone bonkers.
So if I want to look at the underside of someone's garbage on Facebook, then I reckon that's a healthy way forward.
Cancel culture - what a modern classic this is proving to be. The straw man against it goes something like this.
A temporary argument against...
The hyper sensitive online activist types, censure people for minor thought crimes, piling on to try to do damage, while ACTUAL NAZIS get into power in government.
There's a lot about the above which is not true, but there's an element of truth in it.
At its worst, stirring up an outrage for what amounts to passing expressions of opinion by individuals is not particularly constructive, especially when it involves mining their timeline for that particular tweet in which they were a dick. When that outrage is then turned into a public humiliation, or an attack on their livelihood, to which the particular tweet or similar was not directly connected, then it seems like a form of bullying. People are going to have different opinions, and pile-ons are not society at its best.
Earlier in this blog post... like a couple of sentences ago, I spoke up against cancel culture, and now I'll speak in favour of it. I hope I won't be taken out of context.
My own view about cancel culture is something like this.
If you're publicly being a dick, then the public may choose to filter out your dickishness.
Where this applies to someone's job is where this gets tricky. Anyone whose job involved NOT being a dick, may lose their job over actually being a dick, and that's harsh, but probably fair.
A good example of this is the firing of Rebecca Long Bailey over a tweet that seemed to some to be anti-semitic. While it's arguable whether she had anti-semitic feelings, or even biases when she tweeted, the fact that she is a politician in a party under fire for this sort of thing, meant she should have known better and was acting recklessly.
The free speechers...
There are those who argue for free speech, in a situation where it's not freedom of the individual to campaign to make life better, or freedom to criticise the government, but more freedom to be generally harsh or nasty to people. The argument goes something like "I can't be put in prison for what I say". This is true up to the point where your verbal actions are themselves used as assault on an individual or protected group, and you can be punished for that.
The next argument goes, "Don't have a go at me for what I'm saying, if you don't like it, it's your problem - you could not listen".
In fairness, the second half of that is not really being debated. Those who speak up against someone else's freedom of speech being used by them to be a dick, are generally not so much saying that they don't have the freedom to speak so much as saying that they're being a dick. When I use my freedom of speech to criticise what you're saying, then if YOU don't like it, you can not listen to it.
Free speechers hate being cancelled...
I have the right to say what I like. If you don't like it, then don't listen. What do you mean you've blocked me? How dare you react to what I'm saying by deciding not to listen to me...
It all comes down to Rule 1
Wil Wheaton is right yet again. Rule 1 is "don't be a dick".
When I look at the examples I've seen of cancelling, the majority of them come down to someone who's acting in an increasingly unlikeable way being asked to go and do it away from our nice people.
But cancelling doesn't make it better
Tiring though it is, having belligerent arsehole cluttering up our timelines and news feeds, none of them choose to change their ways when cancelled. They essentially double-down, taking their followers with them to new heights of arse-mongery.
That said, I've been heartily blocking people whose output is disgusting, rather than engaging with them.
You can't fix these problems online. As the world becomes more connected via non-human online channels, we're perhaps doomed to become more entrenched in the most stupid of our opinions and least able to rationalise our way to some middle ground.
I've spent some of the last few months gently upgrading things. The only major outlay was a new MacBook, for which half-measures seemed like a false economy. Given I hammered the new machine's CPU and graphics capability, creating a video that took nearly an hour to render, that was probably a good decision.
Point is, I've generally bought a new item on Amazon or eBay and then sold the one we had, thus upgrading, but only at part of the cost. I've also sold off things I wasn't using to fund things I wanted to buy.
I'm sure it cost me more than I raised to do this, but my general costs have gone down, so why not, eh?
In general, it means I've had a little more exposure to eBay than normal, and people seriously need to get a grip there.
Ashley's first rule of eBay (and this applies to other online purchase sites too). If someone asks questions about an item, they're probably not going to be the eventual purchaser.
I don't think I've seen it happen. The time you spend answering the questions from some over cautious tosspot who can't read the description is essentially a waste. Someone else always either beats them to the final bid, or simply bids more boldly knocking the questioner out earlier. I'm not even sure that answering questions from eBay sellers even results in them bidding.
Don't get me wrong. I don't think the question facility is a bad thing. I just think it's largely used by people who haven't the gumption to use eBay. I recently asked a question of a seller and, based on their answer, offered them a price. I now have the item... No idea what I'm going to do with it, but fortune favours the bold.
Don't go early you pillock. I am not a fan of being prepared early for things. I don't turn up early for stuff if I can avoid it. I don't pre-book things. I occasionally miss out, but most often I don't, and I find I haven't wasted my energies and prolonged the whole experience in so doing.
In eBay, though, it's critical that you don't jump the gun. Put stuff on your watch list, but don't bid on the damned thing unless it's within 5 minutes of the item ending. Maybe put on a 1st bid, in the hope that it's the only bid and you'll win by default... but trying to bid halfway through an auction is simply a way to put the price up.
Fucking pay for the items you win you pricks. I bought a new Kindle before the summer holidays. It's had a lot of use, and I was interested in it as I felt my existing one was starting to run a bit more slowly. While I could probably have reset it and gone back to some sort of improved performance, I liked the idea of a more up to date model, with a longer overall life. I reckon a Kindle has about 5 good years in it. I'm now on my third. My wife is on her 4th (possibly 3rd).
I've put the old kindle up for sale. It works. I've reset it. It's in decent condition. I just fancied a nice newer one.
It's sold twice so far.
Then the tosspot who's bid on it and won doesn't bother paying. Then eBay chases them... then cancels the sale... then back to square one.
Someone bid on it tonight. Idiots... they've raised the price by £7, but the item still has the rest of the week to go. What they've done is make it overall more expensive. Worse than that, someone else is going to win it, then not pay for it... then... the circle of bloody life.
Tonight I bought the sheet music for The Wall - I've half an idea that I may already own this... but I was too lazy to double check. I don't think I do. It turns out I've been bending guitar strings incorrectly all this time, and it's much easier when you do it properly. Lots to learn!
In personal blog posts, now largely replaced by social media whingeing, as with columns in newspapers, sometimes the very point of the writing is to write in your own florid voice. You can construct complex sentences, try to broaden the use of vocabulary, talk around the subject, and even introduce your own delightful rhythms into the composition.
This is because personality writing begets readers who don't really care what you're saying, so long as it's you saying it.
Columnists like Charlie Brooker, David Mitchell, Mark Steel, and Stewart Lee, can all publish collections of their columns if they so desire, because it's their tone of voice and mood which readers are there for. How current a Charlie Booker column from 2006 is is immaterial. It's his voice.
Conversely, a lot of content on the internet is intended to convey information. I work as an editor on a technology website where the aim is to efficiently deliver the ideas for an international audience. That's not to say that such sites don't have a voice. They generally adopt an attitude to the subject and the reader. However, such sites actually require the writer NOT to write.
Writing is a spectrum. It runs from one end - putting data into structured grammar - through to the aforementioned other end, where you let your personality and voice play out on the page.
In this world of scrolling, the most generous writers will use the simplest language to convey the message with a minimum of their own wibbling on. However, ungenerous writers will either:
Waste your time with wibble
Provoke you with illogical invective
Try to hook you into virtually empty pages of non-content with a provocative title
Talking of which, I must go and read a list of 100 well-time photographs which may or may not include a boob-slip.
When I set out to construct a virtual choir with the local children, I made a few incorrect assumptions. I incorrectly estimated the extent to which young children might have a singing range, but in some ways that was the least of my mistakes.
I got a few things right. I produced an arrangement for Mr Blue Sky (and It Must Be Love) that had both harmonies and enough tune to be singable, even if singing a harmony part. I was wary of big non-melodic jumps in the parts, and tried to make each part a singable tune. I'm pretty happy with the results. I could have done more, I could have made some bits easier, but on the whole, the balance between scale and difficulty is about right.
I incorrectly assumed that notebashing videos would help, but we pulled those before they saw the light of day. I spent many hours demonstrating how to take the lines apart and sing them in bits, and only I ever saw those videos. For young people, learning by rote as a whole is perhaps easier than having it taken apart and shown to you a bit at a time, while you can't quite follow because even if you have the sheet music, you can't read along.
Who knows, maybe the notebashing would have helped some people, but less is more. People don't follow instructions at the best of times, so reducing the amount they can fail to follow is probably the right thing to do.
The biggest thing I failed to grasp, though, was how intimate a request it was, and how insecure it would make people feel when we asked them to record themselves singing and send it in. There's no hiding from the glare of the camera lens, and people have a very intimate relationship with their singing.
People need to be able to sing as it frees them and allows them to express themselves
Many are afraid of how others will judge their singing, so don't want to sing
They want to believe their singing is amazing
They fear their singing is not
It's quite a big deal. You can deny someone the confidence of their own voice by giving them the wrong sort of feedback on their musicality at a young age. It's such an important part of who we are, the ability to sing, and yet it's so fragile.
Asking the children to give me their singing voice - in fact even asking the adults to do so - was a much larger request than I figured it would be, and I quickly realised the extent to which I needed to treat what they sent me with the utmost respect. While it's easy to criticise singing we might not like or might consider technically flawed, such criticism should only be reserved for those who are presenting themselves as professionals in their craft.
For everyone else, singing is a special thing that everyone should get to do, regardless.
Around about a month ago, I wished that I could replace the missing end-of-year school show at my children's primary school with a virtual choir... so I worked out how to make that happen, asked for the right help and involvement, and here we are with not one, but two virtual choir recordings complete and a whole lot of exhaustion to boot.
I think it was worth it. I think we made something special that the people involved love and that captured a defiant spirit of a community.
I think we drove ourselves nuts making it, and put in more work than we expected to, having overcommitted to an over ambitious project.
But I like a challenge.
I learned a lot about how vulnerable singing can make people feel. Oddly, singing is something that nearly everyone loves to do. It's something you can hurt people by criticising, and it's something that makes people feel good and free... but so insecure. People are both frightened of singing up, and need to do so.
Seeing all the performances we wove together, along with the moments before where people were worriedly psyching themselves up to do it, was a hugely humbling experience. It was a privilege to be allowed access to everyone's voices, and I treated these recordings with a huge amount of respect. I had some recordings that I simply could not fix for technical reasons, and one or two acts of utter disrespect to the efforts of the project came through from participants I shall not name.
We tried to provide all the instructions, but instructions + common sense does not always add up to the right results... luckily there were a lot of ways to undo mistakes in post-production, and I tried to restore people's efforts to the level they would have been had there been more time to learn, record, and respond to the sound coming from everyone else.
In the next post, I'll offer some thoughts on how this project succeeded.
Lockdown for Covid-19 started late March 2020. We entered lockdown earlier, around 12th March... since that time I've not performed at any gigs, bar three online ones which were not quite the same as in person ones.
When I don't gig, I go a bit crazy.
Here's a brief diary of the results of insanity, as I've tried to create a new creative world for myself, outside of my normal way of doing things.
(approx) 11th April - did an online gig, decided to write a new song for it - released that song on YouTube
12th April - having decided to "get into Garageband" I bought some video editing software and created and released "Only One Song" a musical parody of La La Land
around this point, I also recorded some music with the children, which I didn't release publicly
18th April - having had the "basic necessities" idea lodged in my head, I released "Covid 19 Lockdown Shopping Song" - a musical parody of The Bare Necessities
2nd May - two weeks after my second parody song, a third emerged - my grand opus - "Lockdown" a Downtown parody
around this point I decided to buy more recording gear - a new microphone especially
26th May - released "Working from Home" a daft original song about remote working
26th May - also launched a new Funny's Funny website - a site about comedy by comedians
2nd June - "Every Day It's Getting Closer" based on me suddenly hearing how the lyric could be subverted while in the car - a music editing video, more than anything else
3rd June - after a LOT of editing, I managed to recapture the Skype/Cher experience in a daft video
3rd June - started writing a book on how to prepare for a cancelled Edinburgh Fringe...
14th June - I tried out my new microphone in a three person video shoot - the idea being to get ready to record a montage video with the children - it turned out I needed a new Mac to do that!
16th June - sent out a training video to 10 children to create "It must be love" video virtual choir
17th June - launched the book
21st June - released the "It must be love" video and then immediately suggested a much larger virtual choir video with the school - a 4 week project, still ongoing!
So, a bunch of videos, a website, a book, two virtual choir projects... a new computer, two kittens (somewhere along the way) lost a stone or so...
When I take the video material I get for the virtual choir, I tweak it so it looks a little better than it did in the room on the day - mainly to fit it in with the project. This is what lockdown is. Reality, but not quite... more so... and yet less so.
I'm quite tired. I enjoyed the brief period in May when I just ate a lot of toast!
We're still slightly guessing their genders. They came from a socially distanced trip to a corner of Birmingham where they were born to a mummy cat that really needs spaying. Her offspring will be looked after by our family and slightly spat at by our other cat.
My New Microphone Arrived
After a lot of tightening of the budgets at the start of lockdown, the arrival of an Amazon voucher led to the purchase of some audio kit. Especially useful given the amount of music stuff I've been doing. The new microphone was a great price, but a long time coming.
It's very nice.
I Created A Trio With Myself
To road test the microphone and to try out some new video editing software I wanted to use, I made Fugue for Tin Horns from Guys and Dolls:
The video software crashed, so I used my old software.
I Decided to Start A Virtual Choir With Children
Not content with a choir of mini-me's, I decided to create a virtual choir with the local school children. More on that when it happens. But it really needs better video editing software and my 2012 Mac just isn't up to the job.
I Decided to Buy a New Laptop
So much for tightening the belt during lockdown. After a lot of searching for laptop and computer options, my brain became numb to the worrying price of a new MacBook Pro... so I found a "bargain" one... and I'm now a proud MacBook daddy.
So My Office Got a Spruce Up
I didn't want the most expensive computer I've ever owned to be offended by a dirty desk, so I did a bit of a clear up - it smells fresh in here now. Good times. It's still too full, but the desk was always the biggest issue.
I Arrange Music, Apparently
I've learned how to use MuseScore and produced sheet music. I'm working on some musical arrangements... In fairness, I've been writing a few musical arrangements during lockdown, though they never amounted to much. The virtual choir project requires me to masquerade as musical director, film director and editor... and I'm going to do a lot of autotuning!
I imagine being able to sleep again sometime in August!