Sunday, 20 May 2012

Whims, Follies and Fancies

Frequently, when I actually have the time to think about such things, I find myself strangely envious of Bill Drummond. Since disbanding the KLF, deleting their entire catalogue and throwing one million pounds on to a bonfire, the man has had enough money left over to indulge in all manner of ridiculous ideas.

Take MyDeath for instance. This is a website where you can register the way you wish to be buried, and what style you wish the funeral to take ( Not satisfied with setting that business non-starter up, he went on to do other things that were equally dead end - travelling to Norway to put a statue of Elvis in the northernmost lighthouse in the world to bring guidance and world peace, offering to do a tour of random stranger's kitchens so he could cook them soup, and even writing (perfectly good) books about absolutely nothing in particular apart from the ideas he's had.

Some people would argue the above is evidence of under-achievement or failure, and I couldn't disagree more. The fact remains that you have to be really successful in life to earn the time and money to indulge such ideas. Being able to cater for your most ridiculous artistic ideas and your most random night-thoughts is the last reserve of wealthy ex-pop stars (and sometimes, when money isn't an issue, art students who aren't too bothered about their final marks). The rest of us have neither the resouces or the time between our real ambitions, which normally revolve around financial security and (in my case) other more straightforward creative aims and targets that will probably never pay the rent, never mind a mortgage.  There just aren't enough hours left over in the day for pursuing additional pot-boiling projects.

Like Bill, though, I do frequently have absurd ideas which would seem to the rest of the world like follies. They most often occur to me last thing at night before I drop off to sleep, or early in the morning when I'm sat on the Victoria Line getting to work. I act on some of them to a point, perhaps bringing them up in discussion with friends, or hanging the hook to see if anyone bites. Some don't even get as far as that. They remain unacted upon, on the list of things to do if and when I retire in the distant future.

Among them are:

Planning to launch a poetry publishing company called "Network SouthEast" for commuter-belt poets only
I planned this particular idea because at one point in the nineties there was an almost unhealthy obsession with poets from the North of England.  Named after the old British Rail service, NetWork SouthEast was going to be a Home Counties literary beacon producing work about home counties issues - offices, railway lines, industrial estates, bad nightclubs, supermarket car parks, abandoned trollies, ineffective by-passes and mini-roundabout traffic control systems, that kind of thing. If it ever became successful, I was going to use a worker's hut near Tilbury Docks as an office.
Our slogan was to be "If this poetry anthology
 is too crowded with bad ideas, please wait on the platform. Another one will be along shortly". 

I think I got as far as registering an email address for this before dropping it as being a joke that was likely to prove ridiculously expensive. And anyway, all the home counties poets were far too busy pretending to be sophisticated and urban to engage with it - who'd want to ruin their careers by realigning their work to fit in with my ludicrous parody? In the end, I just put out one very slim, cheaply produced pamphlet of my own, and made sure that "NetWork SouthEast Poetry Holdings" was clearly labelled on the cover, with accompanying slogan. That's as far as things went.

* Launching a gloomy, slightly warped and surreal poetry night called "The Rubber Room" in a dark upstairs pub space.
The live poetry circuit in recent years has frequently made a virtue of its status as being a training bra for audiences who might not otherwise come across the form, or might think "poetry" is a dirty word.  Audiences are encouraged to whoop, holler, support artists in competitive slams and generally be made to feel as if they're in a young, vibrant environment.  Overall, this is a good thing - it's a crafty and very effective way of hooking people on to an artform they might otherwise completely ignore, and the likes of "Bang! Said The Gun" (today) and "Walking The Dog" (at the turn of the noughties) have unquestionably been partly responsible for a shift in the image of poetry.  And that's before we even start to talk about "Farrago" and other slam nights.

"Yeah, yeah, we get it David, so why did you want to produce a gloomy, quiet little evening that was the precise opposite of all this?" I hear you cry. Well, it's like this. What do these audiences do once they've been hooked and want to take their interest further?  What happens when they no longer need to be coerced into listening and actually want to dip their toes into more experimental and odd material (in the way Radiohead fans eventually took out a subscription to "The Wire")?  

My plan was simple.  Upon entering the room, audience members would be greeted with a dimly lit space and some backing music of a disquieting ilk - Boards of Canada, sixties exotica, recordings of warped or damaged vinyl, peculiar instrumental B-sides.  Two barely working, black and white portable television sets would flicker either side of the stage area, possibly with cameras attached trained on the mic.  The evening's theme tune would be Porter Wagoner's "The Rubber Room", an echo-ridden country song about one man's breakdown and subsequent incarceration in a padded cell - and all this would be before the poets even started performing.

And who would they be?  Well, anyone unexpected or interesting who was prepared to push the boat out, who did live performances which were well-drilled but not commercial, or wrote material which littered the less mainstream edges of poetry.  I have my own ideas and I'm sure you have yours too - but ultimately, I wanted to get what I thought was a lost flock of people turning up to poetry nights again, the individuals who already knew they liked the form but didn't necessarily always want a rowdy night out, knew that the scene had eccentric and fascinating fringes, and also didn't necessarily wish to sit in an upstairs pub room for a plain, sensible reading with nothing but a mic and a bare wall in front of them.  

Could I have done this?  Well, I got as far as finding a venue I wanted to use, but realised I just didn't have the money, the time or the support to deliver on the plan.  If you want the idea, take it.  It's yours. I can help out on the door if you like.  

Shooting a series of music videos for old sixties songs that didn't have videos
There were three flaws with the above plan. The first is that I didn't have a decent camera or video editing equipment, and no money to buy any with. The second is that Dave Lee Travis had already done exactly the same thing in the eighties and called it "The Golden Oldie Picture Show", and whilst DLT may be many things true and good, he's hardly the benchmark for cutting edge ideas. Thirdly, who would have given a shit anyway? Certainly nobody much cared when the hairy cornflake tried, and I wasn't about to martyr myself in the same way.

Releasing a book about people who place peculiar personal ads
Back when I was going through something of a lady-drought, I was fascinated by personal ads. Although I never actually replied to any, I was amazed that so many people seemed to know exactly what they wanted. I could never be so sure of myself. How could I possibly know that what would work for me would be a person with qualities A, B, C and D? I thought I knew exactly what I was doing with each woman I went off with, but the relationships were always shoddy, so clearly I didn't. I envied the sense of purpose of these people who took out ads, even if I didn't especially want to swap for their love lives.

More fascinating even than these were the "I saw you on the 73 bus, you had blonde hair and were listening to Shakin' Stevens on your Walkman... please call me" adverts. These I found most sinister. These were from people who had seen somebody in a public place, and from looks, posture and listening tastes alone had decided that they'd found somebody who could only be "the one". Whilst I admired such confident thinking, I couldn't see how it would work. More to the point, I wanted to meet the people these adverts were about. Were any of them unattractive or plain? What were people basing their judgements on? Would anyone find happiness using such a weird bait?

To do this book, I'd have had to interview, research, call premium rate phone numbers, follow people around, and probably hire psychologists as well. Without an advance or for as long as I had a day job, it was beyond me. So I never did.

I walked into "Waterstones" some time after having this idea, and right by the front door was a book about Personal Ads. Not following the people behind them, just reprinting them in a "found" context, so we could all go "ahhh" or "ewww". I felt cheated. Somebody was thinking lower than me and winning. And more to the point... it proved that some of my more off-the-cuff ideas might be more valuable than the things I'd spent more time considering after all.

What's the point of this blog entry, I hear you ask?  Well, what's the point of any blog entry? It was just a flaming idea, that's all.  Go back to your web-surfing, all of you.  

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