Money

•4 August, 2014 • Leave a Comment

One of the things that’s been killing my motivation to blog is that I don’t seem to be going out and doing anything. Since the band split up, each week has just been a slog of trawling classified ad’s looking for guitarists – only to be ignored, stood up on audition night, or rejected after the fact. No gigs and little money tend to mean no adventure worth writing about on here. So I need a better job. The cinema chain whose name I’m careful not to actually mention on here are not Britain’s Worst Employers by any stretch of the imagination, but minimum wage on a zero-hour contract is a killer in an industry with such wildly fluctuating business levels. When the summer holidays finish, I will be barely scraping a living.

Furthermore, I’ve run up money on credit cards over the last few years, casually assuming that I’ll have a “real job” soon and so pay it all back quickly. But real work is surprisingly hard to come by, especially if a lot of your time is spent zombied from the irregular sleep of shift work. I tried the temping agencies, but had a series of disasters that kept me away from them for over a year. And it’s hard to motivate yourself to spend time on the disheartening job-hunting process when you already feel like life is passing you by. Personally, I want to spend my time doing things that actually give my life some meaning. On that note, today has been kind of good. I overslept, admittedly, but that means I’ve faced the day less tired than I would have done. So I managed to drag myself into actually applying for jobs (and ringing an agency or two just to remind them I’m still here…). Part of today’s work was a costing exercise.

Occasionally I work out my expenses on the back of an envelope, just so I have some idea where I’m up to financially. It mainly serves to tell me that I’m not really allowed to have a social life outside the occasional Sunday afternoon Pathfinder game, but today’s little tot-up gave me a ray of hope. I added up everything I needed to spend money on: credit card bills, the bills of a putative shared house, beer money – the lot. And then I struck off the frivolities and investigated how much it would cost me to stop living with my mum but carry on with my current thrifty lifestyle. For a moment, it looked like bad news. When I’ve done this exercise in previous years, I’ve just whacked 25% on the total as a vague tax and national insurance margin. And that figure told me I’ll be living with my mum for a long time to come. So I decided to look properly at the rates and the income brackets. And what I’ve found is that I only need to start earning £12,500 a year to start moving on with my life…

Download 2014, or, Why I’ve had it with Steel Panther

•31 July, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Bringing us up to date before my weekly musings start again properly, I ought to mention the Download festival. As you may have guessed, it is mostly the setting for a rant as far as this blog’s concerned. Rest assured, I did enjoy a long weekend of camping and great music. And I was even recognised as the lead singer of Harlequin’s Kiss while I was out and about…

However, what I want to talk about is why Steel Panther’s performance that weekend put me off them for life.

Steel Panther, for those unfamiliar, are a parody band. They write funny songs full of exaggerated misogyny and obnoxiousness, taking the lyrical tone of an early 80s Motley Crue to ludicrous extremes. Their look is based on the mid-80s, pretty-boy, spandex kind of rock, very reminiscent of Poison. They borrow riffs from big hits, and their banter with the audience between songs is a Spinal Tap kind of parody of what your rockers were doing in the 80s. The ironic nostalgia, affectionately mocking the excesses of 80s rock, has won the hearts of new young rockers and the old guard alike. Or so I thought. That’s the positive view of what they do, at any rate.

The problem with this kind of parody is that you can’t go far enough that everyone will see it as a joke. Take Ali G, who my classmates in late 90s Doncaster didn’t realise was supposed to be funny because the character is a deluded idiot. They thought his behaviour was normal. Or take Fight for Your Right to Party by The Beastie Boys, which was meant to be a hip-hop trio lampooning their macho-douchebag rock contemporaries. Until those macho douchebags adopted the song as an anthem. But this is a purely academic issue. What really bugged me was the closing 10 minutes of their live show.

I caught the end of the set, sitting on the slope above the arena while I waited for The Pretty Reckless to appear on another stage. Between songs they do a comedy sketch where the guitarist, Satchel, tells us how much he loves Download while the bassist, Lexxi Foxx, keeps saying, “didn’t you say that about Sonisphere?” It’s an old joke, but nobody’s watching this stage for the originality. Then, after another song or two, it’s time for that closing spot they do where they get some girls from the audience on stage.

Now, I have to break off a minute to make a point about the current social climate. In years gone by, a girl in the audience sitting on a dude’s shoulders and lifting her top would have got her some camera time on the big screen. Now, the directors don’t seem to go actively looking for those girls, and even cut to something else instead. The rock scene is made up of two extremes – the posturing meat-heads that were infamous in the 80s, and the well-read, politically active types who’ve seen the light of feminism and related movements. And I think the meat-heads are a dying breed.

Anyway, the girls get on stage. They pose with the band. They’re drunk. One already has her top off (case in point: only shown on the screens in long shots). One brunette clearly fancies Satchel, and so walks up behind him, drapes her arms over him and jiggles his crotch with both hands.

So Michael Starr, the singer, begins by getting the girls to walk down the protruding catwalk part of the stage (which I’m sure wasn’t there last year – I think Aerosmith wanted it). Just as Tommy Lee might have done, he suggests that the girls all take their tops off. One or two do, but the ones that don’t are offered no further pressure. Then Starr suggests some other mild ludity, and Satchel (as the comedy role for this spot) suggests some ludicrous, self-serving ludity as an alternative and is ignored. Not comedy gold, but clearly a joke. Then Starr says he wants to set a record, because nobody’s ever played a whole song at Download with three girls making out with each other on stage all the way through. Satchel chimes in that nobody’s played a whole song at Download while three girls are sucking off the guitarist. He then has to prevent the brunette from helping him live the dream.

Why was this all a big deal? Well, Steel Panther are a parody. So they’re trying to take the piss out of the bands that did this (and Motley Crue were certainly still doing Tommy Lee’s “tiddy cam” as recently as 2006). The problem is, society hasn’t moved on enough to make the whole thing ironic. So while putting a veneer of irony over the affair, four guys on stage are peer-pressuring a selection of audience members to Get Their Tits Out for the Lads. And in not realising that Satchel’s aside may be taken seriously, the Steel Panther guys clearly don’t realise that a rock audience has evolved with decades of using sexuality as a way of sticking it to authority. At the end of the show, Starr asked the audience to give the girls a cheer. The quiet half-heartedness of the applause was a demonstration of how uncomfortable the display had been for Download’s Sunday evening crowd. I suspect many of those who did cheer felt like I did – an uncomfortable tension between the convention of giving a cheer to audience members who were part of the show (like a magician’s audience dupe) and the fact that we really didn’t want to condone what just happened.

The worst of this is: if Steel Panther are parodying the fact that we used to do this shit last century, then they know what they’re doing. So this whole affair makes them hypocrites for mocking the very flesh show they’re exploiting these women to give. And it is exploitation. These same girls certainly wouldn’t have got their tits out for you, and probably not for me. Give me a platinum album and a rock festival stage and that might change – and that’s my point. Famous guys get female attention and they’re exploiting that amenability to make a sex show on stage that will surely sell tickets. Or if they’re being smarter than that, if this is about us as an audience not getting the joke, about them holding up our lust for bare boobs and these girls’ willingness to expose themselves for a rock band that’s just a joke (honest, guv!), then they’re cynically exploiting the nostalgia of the followers of 80s rock bands. Laughing at us up their sleeves because their joke is on us. Which would make them the kind of intellectual musical snobs that sneer at us for liking such a vapid art form as hair metal. You know the type – they usually like The Smiths. Either way, be they exploitative hypocrites or playing a sneering and meta practical joke, all I can say after this unpleasant end to a show is: fuck Steel Panther.

Rock Band Blues

•21 July, 2014 • 4 Comments

The last real biographical update I wrote was in January, so I ought to try to bring things up to date if I’m about to have a blogging renaissance*. Day-to-day life has not changed much for me since July, when I moved my place of work across the West Midlands without changing day job. However, my musical work has ground to something of a halt.

I knew it was coming. Harlequin’s Kiss’ guitarist, André, was in three bands at the time and we had reached a ‘treading water’ point by January. We weren’t writing anything new and any attempt to learn new covers was simply collapsing, but we were still active and had gigs booked for August. And then, in March, something blew up in André’s personal life and he decided that he had to quit one of his bands. Andy the drummer departed soon afterwards.

Drummers are hard to come by. The equipment is expensive and finding a place to practice is difficult. So my first act was to buy a simple drum machine to keep us going while we found a new drummer. In the meantime, we set a guitarist search in motion and had bites on our ad’s within a few days. The first guy to set foot through the rehearsal studio door turned out to be the right one. Laid back, played rock ‘n’ roll, very good guitarist. All boxes ticked nicely. We auditioned him twice just to make sure, but we did end up taking him on. So we set to getting the songs back together and hunting for a live drummer.

The day we auditioned the new guitarist, we were supposed to see a drummer, too. He didn’t show up. A week or two after we took on the new guitarist, this drummer got back in touch saying the guitarist had flagged us up to him. After spouting enthusiasm and promising he wouldn’t no-show us again, I reluctantly agreed to let him try out. He no-showed again. A couple of weeks later, we auditioned a retired pro who agreed to work with us on a part-time basis while we found someone younger and more willing to develop with an essentially new band. It looked like we could relaunch on the gig that was still open to us in August.

And then the guitarist’s old band got back together. And the drummer’s wife fell seriously ill. So we were back to square one and had to drop out of our August gigs.

As things stand, we’re still looking. We have an interested drummer, but he’s looking elsewhere and we’ll lose him if we don’t get a guitarist soon. The musicians advertising online seem to come in waves and it’s all bassists and singers at the moment. I’m in touch with one guitarist, but I’m not sure if she’s feeling out the material or has changed her mind about auditioning with us. Harlequin’s Kiss will be back, but we’re not sure when.

*N.B. This is not a promise.

Absentia

•9 July, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Seven months? Seven fucking months?! My life’s in a worse state than I thought. If I’m writing, if I have the motivation to send out these weekly cries in the dark, then it’s usually a sign that my life’s where it should be. And you’ll notice Nevermore hasn’t had any real sense of regularity for several years.

Quite frankly, I should probably never have attempted that Master’s Degree. It disrupted my career, left me in a financial mire and caused me a breakdown that I never had the time to recover from properly. Nearly four years after starting it, I still work a minimum-wage, zero-hour job, and I’m too fragile to spin all the plates I need to to dig myself out of my current mire. A few things have improved for me on the social-life front (and I’m truly blessed to have the friends I do – you guys know who you are) but, by-and-large, I’m in a rut and I’m not sure how to drag myself out of it without ending up in a deeper rut.

I’m not reading. I’m not writing. I’m mostly wasting time doing nothing on the internet because the nothingness of it means I’m not doing something that means I’m feeling guilty about not doing something else. Every time I feel determined to get something done I get paralysed by the feeling of conflicting priorities, overwhelmed by all the things that need doing, and then guilty about some of the things I’m neglecting. And now here I am apparently trying to justify myself to you because I was stupid enough to give you a window into my life in the first place.

Do I tell you about this stuff in real life conversations? No?

Did you think, at any point in all of that diatribe up there, any of the following: Can’t you just organise/prioritise? Can’t you just stop wasting time and at least get a job done? Can’t you at least focus on your mental health as a starter?

No. No. And also, no. I’m sure it sounds so fucking easy from where you’re sitting. Yes, in the first two instances, it’s my mental health holding me back. If I didn’t have to deal with the disorientation caused by an anxiety disorder, I probably wouldn’t have failed my Master’s Degree and probably would have got myself a decent job by now. Unfortunately, a stable job will do a lot more for my sense of well-being than trapping myself for God-knows-how-many more months in my shit wages and long commute while I “get better”.

I’m a mess. I appreciate that. And all I can do for now is devote the little energy I can muster into whatever seems most important at the time. There is no “grit your teeth and get on with it” here. It just doesn’t work like that. Maybe next week I’ll explain a little more deeply.

If I find the time and energy.

2014

•22 January, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I realised something this afternoon that shocked me a little. This year is the tenth anniversary of Nevermore. This means I’ve spent ten years of my life, on and off, spreading my thoughts across this quiet corner of the internet. I’ve looked back from time to time at old posts, and it really is incredible how much I’ve changed over the years, with certain parts of my core remaining the same.

I don’t know exactly when the anniversary date is, if I’m honest. Or even when I should count it from even if I knew. This blog didn’t explode into existence, you see. It faded in. And it began with an email account.

When I was in sixth form, and just getting online in free periods at school (it was 2001 and I lived in a tiny rural village – home internet was not a thing for me back then) most of my friends used an email service whose name I can’t even recall anymore. The only real selling point was that it allowed you to create multiple email addresses using a plethora of domain names that they’d registered. Unlike Yahoo! or Hotmail, they weren’t backed up by other business interests, so they started charging around 2005, prompting me to move to Yahoo! However, before they began charging for their service, they tried splashing adverts on the logout confirmation screen. And those ad’s were for a website called 20six, offering free “weblogs”. In 2004, I’d never even heard of weblogs. It would be another year before “blogging” became a feature of virtually every internet service offered and “Web 2.0” would be discussed endlessly in magazines. So, having some time to idle in Cambridge Central Library’s computer room, I typed 20six.co.uk into my address bar to see what I could see.

What I found was a community, mostly based in London, who communicated with each other over 20six like an open version of a social network. They chatted via comment threads on each other’s posts, they exchanged “sweeties” (sort of a cross between a currency and a “like” system that encouraged people to read around) and most of what they posted wasn’t the kind of vanity journalism blogs are made of today – the posts were often a more verbose version of the triviality of twitter.

There was one user that got me into blogging. His username was Oberon and he was telling the tale, blow by blow, of a difficult divorce. His posts were literate and moving; his blog was like a mini soap opera and the tale unfolded beautifully. (Too beautifully. Months later it would turn out that Oberon was a pseudonym for another user using parts of divorce anecdotes he’d heard to inspire this first-person story that he was writing essentially as a literary exercise. He cut it off because he got rumbled and didn’t want people close to him to think he was writing about them per se.) Seeing what a blog could be, I decided to sign up to 20six and have a go at this online diary thing myself.

Is the day I signed up to 20six my anniversary? Even if I knew what date it was, I’m not sure it counts. My first post was just a quick “under construction” note; I wouldn’t actually get round to writing anything for a few weeks after that. Even then, I was tied up with a particular group of bloggers and posted mostly snippets and in-jokes like everyone else. It was only after I moved to Birmingham to begin university that I started to treat blogging like Nevermore was a weekly column and impose a word limit and deadline day on myself. Back when I started, in fact, Nevermore wasn’t even called Nevermore. My original blog was called The Lost Child. Also the title of a rock song (W.A.S.P. if you don’t know it), it reflected how I felt about my life at the time. The problem was, 20six had a stats page, much like WordPress uses now, that told you what search terms had been used to find your pages. Inevitably, some of those search terms will be odd. But when I found somebody had turned up my page with the phrase “Giving a little child a birthday spanking” I decided enough was enough. I put my blog’s name up to a public vote from a short list of titles, and “Nevermore” won.

However, even that wasn’t the birth of this blog in its current form. 20six would eventually dismantle itself by making sweeping changes to its platform after a consultation with only its German users. All the things that made it a blogging community went out of the window. The stats page, vital for the egos of us vanity publishers, vanished. And the new platform was just plain ugly and hadn’t been fully translated into English. Many of us voted with our feet, and I ended up hopping over to WordPress with the encouragement of fellow ex-20sixers Mikeachim and Boso. On moving, I actually transferred my posts manually rather than using the migration tool, so I would only keep the posts that I thought were any good. A lot of meaningless fluff has been lost, and the dates I posted them vanished into the ether, too. (Incidentally, I think it says it all that 20six.co.uk only returns a 404 page now.)

So where does that leave me? Well my first quality post (still under The Lost Child) was in July 2004, but I’m pretty certain I’ve been doing this since April. I suppose I could delay my anniversary angst until ten years after going to WordPress, but in my heart, I’ll still know I’ve been doing this for three years longer. So all I can do is call this my anniversary year, and stuff the exact date. By August, I’ll have lasted longer then Bigger Than Cheeses, even if I’m not so widely read…

Digging My Heels In

•30 November, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Here we go again with another one of those “statement of intent” blogs (that I’m probably not going to deliver on if all its predecessors are anything to go by). My month of silence has stemmed from the fact that I’m in a bit of a squeezed situation at the moment. I have a four-hour round trip to my “day” job that means I have far less spare time than I’d like, especially when I need to be working on finding a job to replace it. The constant wrestle I always have with depression isn’t helping matters, of course. I find I’m not motivated to do a lot of little things, especially when I’m tired, so I’m finding myself spend a lot of time on facebook and twitter refreshing pages and waiting for someone to pay me some attention. So it’s time to get a grip.

I’ve been overloading myself with personal demands – things I’ve been doing to increase my skills and improve my physical fitness and mental agility. Unfortunately, I have to accept that the thing I should be paying most attention to is my mental health. So I’m reading on my journeys and my plan to do crosswords be damned. My attempted exercise regime was taking too much time away from my evenings, so I’m scaling it back to a more manageable time commitment. I still want to be able to play the piano by the end of the year, and I find it therapeutic, so I’ll phase practising the ivories back in. And I am going to write more.

Why? Well, at the end of the day, being a writer isn’t something you choose to do. It’s a pathological need. A compulsion. A productive sort of mental illness. And the fact that I’ve just not been doing as much of it as I was five years ago is doubtlessly contributing to my feelings of listlessness. So I’m setting a little task for myself. I’ve been reading Black Library Publishing’s “Horus Heresy” series when time permits for the last few months, and I’ve kind of had an inkling to start writing reviews. I’m only five books in, and I’m reading them slowly, so reviewing them won’t be an onerous task. And besides which, I want to. So I’m giving myself mental permission to have this as a hobby. Furthermore, politics are getting interesting again, and I’ve always found it therapeutic to rant against Left and Right alike over their idiot reactions to party politics. So maybe more of my political ire should be splashed across these pages. I mean, I don’t think I’ve said a lot about the state of the British political landscape since the last general election…

So with two reasons to write, maybe I should let the fire in my heart do its thing. I can only feel better for it, surely?

Adventures in Leicester – Part 3

•20 October, 2013 • Leave a Comment

The sound-check passed without incident. As it happens, our own equipment is pretty loud so we ended up not putting a microphone on the guitar amp and just letting the engineer balance the rest of the band through the PA system against the guitar’s volume. The monitors were feeding back through the mic’s more than I’d have liked, meaning I was having to listen to myself more from the main speakers (i.e. getting a muted sound because I was standing behind them) but I’ve sung under worse conditions. Afterwards, the band split up a bit. Andy the drummer went to visit a brother who lives locally, and André the guitarist and his wife went across the road to get something to eat. I went back to the car park to retrieve my stage gear and get dressed.

I caught André and Monique up in the local Wetherspoons and grabbed myself a quick bite along with another couple of pints. You’ll remember from the previous instalment that I’d bought some trainers earlier in the day and had a bit of a rigmarole in Sports Direct. Well, as André went off to the toilets to change into his shirt and waistcoat, I started getting my new trainers out of the box to lace them up and wear them for the show. It was only as I was lacing them up that the penny dropped. These weren’t the Puma tennis shoes that had been put behind the counter for me. This was another, very similar pair with laces instead of velcro straps. In fact, this was the pair I wanted but had been told were out of stock. I felt a small pang of guilt that whoever else had wanted these trainers was now without, but Leicester’s Sports Direct really didn’t have their shit together that afternoon, and all I could now do an hour after closing time was reap the benefit and be cheered by my good luck. And they are very nice trainers.

By the time we’d crossed the road back to the venue, the opening act had finished and we were due on stage almost immediately. Knowing that this was a weekend event we were playing for, I’d already planned a few weeks ago to try to get a chant going from the audience for RvB (the convention in question) while the band started the introduction to the opening song behind the chant. Any doubts I had about that coming off were quickly dissipated, and people from the main part of the bar upstairs were soon coming down to see what was going on. Frankly, we rocked. And the level of response we got from the audience that evening was a vindication of what our stage show had been about for the preceding twelve months. We got the same nodding heads, tapping feet, dancing, and applause from a crowd of strangers that we were getting in Birmingham from the friends and family that were the bulk of our audience there.

 
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