Politics Radio & Music

Where's the urge to change the world gone? Where's the idealism? Where's the naîvety?

Over my life I’ve found myself motivated by music more than almost anything else. That push that the right song can give you more often than not is the thing that shoves my mood or sensibility forward. It’s a spiritual kick up the arse. It’s music as mood-enhancer – music as engine for mental change and transformation.

At the moment, I look around and I see a lot of routine. A lot of people doing a lot of things that they’ve done before. A lot of people (myself included) travelling around and around like a needle in a record. The opportunities to jump out of this routine seem only to be skips between tracks, silences before the next song starts. They’re not enough. Does a life change itself by going on holiday? Does a person become a better person by taking a break? Maybe the thing to do instead is to keep forcing yourself back to your work – even the work that we seem to skip over or fall exhausted from. Perhaps especially that work. Maybe the work that we do – that we do for ourselves or for the things that we believe in – is the life-transformative thing. Particularly when you don’t have a partner to get in the way. Particularly when it’s unlikely that you’re going to have a child.

It’s a weird conversation for a Friday night, and it’s inspired by something even weirder. It’s inspired by a kind of semantic implosion and a confluence of pop-culture imagery. It’s inspired by the monotony of yet another year of BBC’s Children In Need Telethon. It’s inspired by the upcoming appearance of the people from Fame Academy on that telethon – people with actual talent and ability whose aspirations and dreams are being turned into marketable products (isn’t that worse in a way – that it’s not their talent that’s for our consumption – that it’s their hopes?). And it’s inspired above all by listening to – for the first time in ten years – a bone fide musical relic of the early 1990s – Tears for Fears’ Sowing the Seeds of Love.

Bear with me, because this is a serious post about a vaguely dumb song. And I think it’s important. This trivial anthem – this vaguely silly, backwards-looking, cod-Beatles anthem – matters to me now in a way it didn’t at the time. It’s a song about action – liberal action – designed to be an way of energising people who want the world to be something to be proud of. It’s a call to examine your morals, your interests, your creativity. And while it’s utterly lacking in muso credibility, it does something that most liberal heart-felt songs don’t do – it points towards the possibilities of a better future rather than wallowing in the problems of the present. It’s trivial because it’s idealistic. But it’s brilliant for that reason to. Or maybe not brilliant – maybe it’s just nice that it exists…

Hear the line: High time we made a stand and shook up the views of the common man. It sounds patronising, but in my heart I have to accept I believe it. If you’re a worried man – then shout about it. Open hearts – feel about it. Open minds – think about it. Everyone – read about it. Everyone – scream about it ! I believe that too. [More lyrics]

The band that wrote the song basically split as a result of writing it. It was too intense, too committed a process to be an easy ride. The man who cared most about making it clean and pure – even if it was saturated in spritzes of pop imagery- had to care too much about the song if it was ever going to be finished to his satisfaction – if it was going to be a something worthwhile. Something not “for sale”. And whether you think the final result was crap or not, it was not routine – it was inspired by genuine feeling, a sense of need, of aspiration and of almost fanatically hard work… I wonder to myself – do we need someone now – whether in the micro-culture of weblogging, or in the greater creative world, or even in centre-left politics, to put that work in? I’m beginning to think so. We need a new ethic of creativity – or a return maybe to an ethic of transformative creative responsibility. And maybe that can start with the creative individualism of webloggia.

I’m going to end this rather epic post about trivial music, responsibility and the ethics of creativity by talking about another song – and pointing towards a kind of approach to our creative endeavours that has the capacity to break us out of our routine and our creative ruts – to help reinvigorate us all politically and productively. It’s called “Emile” by Pressure of Speech. It’s not a pop-song. It wasn’t released as a single. Instead it’s a bit of an odd little piece of music with some reading over the top of it by a man callled Emile de Antonio from a documentary about his life called Mr Hoover & I. It’s got some stunning phrases in it about creativity and responsibility – insights that I think apply to all aspects of our lives, but are perhaps particularly potent when looking at weblogs:

Perhaps the only thing that’s worthwhile is to make something that isn’t really for sale, except on your own terms – which is “I made it. It’s true. If you don’t like it, to hell with you. I want you to like it, or I’d be crazy, but I’d rather be crazy than have you like it because it was false – because it was what you wanted from me instead of what I wanted…”