Putin It To The Man: Why ‘Too Gay For Putin’ Is The Most Fun Way To Oppose Russia’s Prehistoric Anti-LGBT Legislation
“It’s rare that I get particularly vocal about LGBT issues, but the stuff currently going on in Russia has really appalled me.” So writes Zarte Siempre on his ‘Too Gay For Putin’ Facebook campaign, which seeks to undermine Russia’s recent, much-maligned anti-LGBT laws from afar by getting people of all sexualities to do anything that would be ‘too gay for Putin’ during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Examples listed include “watching the entire series of Queer As Folk, selling and baking rainbow coloured cakes, organising a chain of hand-holding through a city centre, [and] singing ‘Glad To Be Gay’”, but attendees are encouraged to come up with their own ideas and spread the word.
Like Stephen Fry’s typically eloquent blog post earlier this week, the campaign is quickly going viral. It’s reached thousands of people on Facebook and has been endorsed on Twitter by comedian Adam Hills, the presenter of Channel 4’s talk/comedy show The Last Leg, and musician Tom Robinson, writer of 1978 hit ‘Glad To Be Gay’ – a testament to how the internet community feels about regressive, repressive measures such as those unanimously approved in the Duma earlier this year.
Russia has come under global scrutiny and criticism in recent years for other draconian laws that hinder its citizens’ right to free speech, most notably following the imprisonment of several members of feminist punk group Pussy Riot. Yet those who view LGBT rights as a mere case of decriminalising homosexuality may fail to understand what the fuss is all about, as technically homosexuality is still legal in Russia. However, by criminalising “gay propaganda” and the right to be open about sexuality, the Russian government has attached an unfavourable stigma to LGBT communities, suggesting that their message is ‘wrong’ and ‘immoral’ – a stigma whose sentiments have been echoed by Russian pole-vaulter and Olympic Village mayor Yelena Isinbayeva, who has come under fire this week for airing her opinion that homosexuality goes against what “normal, standard people” want in the country.
The Russian police are also taking an aggressively active stance toward upholding the laws. Shows of support for the community as innocuous as wearing rainbow-coloured suspenders have resulted in arrests, Dutch tourists have been arrested for asking Russian teenagers their opinions on gay rights and neo-Nazi groups such as ‘Occupy Pedophilia’ are given free reign to attack gay men and put videos of the abuse on YouTube, having lured their victims in with fake adverts on dating websites and other forms of social media [here].
The legal system, meanwhile, is just as bad. Attempts to get a ‘Pride House’ – a place for LGBT athletes and attendees to celebrate their sexuality at the Olympics, with such venues existing at Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics and London 2012 – in Sochi were denied by judge Svetlana Mordovina, who claimed that it “contradict[ed] the basics of public morality” and that “propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation which can undermine the security of the Russian society and the state [and] provoke social-religious hatred, which is the feature of the extremist character of the activity” [here]. The fact that no country that allows LGBT propaganda has had its security undermined or seen social-religious hatred provoked is clearly beside the point.
The Olympics, both Summer and Winter, are meant to be a peaceful celebration of globality, free from the usual international dialogues of politics, war and economy. It is on these grounds that some have rejected calls to boycott, protest against, or relocate the 2014 Winter Olympics. Yet when the host nation’s vague but dangerous laws are to be imposed on the foreign athletes and tourists who will visit the host nation, potentially putting both people and the fundamental principles of the Olympic games in jeopardy, it is impossible for these Games to be held free from politics. Even Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany relaxed its horrific anti-gay law ‘Paragraph 175’ for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, as visitors to the Games were not subject to it.
Although ‘Too Gay For Putin’ encourages its attendees to support a boycott and/or refuse to watch the Games, it is not compulsory. The main aims are to get people of all backgrounds, nationalities and sexualities to challenge prejudice and support the Russian LGBT community, no matter what form or size that support takes. The only boundary Siempre puts on how people choose to be ‘Too Gay For Putin’ is that it should be “peaceful and positive”.
“The immediate reaction has been overwhelming and made me incredibly emotional,” says Siempre. “It gives me hope that this could really become something huge. As far as I’m concerned, the bigger this gets, the more good it can do.” His ultimate aim is for it to receive media coverage, “to show that just because some people might be willing to sit back and let what’s going on in Russia happen without saying a word, that there are people who truly care about what’s going on in the world, and will do whatever they can manage to try and make some sort of difference.”
How will I be ‘Too Gay For Putin’, you may ask? By lip-synching Electric Six’s seminal hit ‘Gay Bar’ while wearing a Putin mask. After all, the song does mention that “I’ve got something to Putin you”…
Hosting the Olympics comes in the midst of a difficult period for the UK. In the last few years we’ve seen journalists, politicians and bankers come under intense scrutiny for compromising public trust. Economists predict that the country is on the verge of dipping back into recession for a third time. Austerity measures and riots have kept the papers busy, fees of £9000 per annum will all but price the less wealthy out of university, and, just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, Cher Lloyd’s indescribably appalling ‘Swagger Jagger’ reached #1 on the UK Singles Chart last summer.
It’s a portrait of doom and gloom which even the impending Olympics couldn’t alleviate – in some cases, it just fuelled the fire. The sense in hosting the 30th Olympiad during an economic downturn was questioned vigorously before the Games, and will probably be questioned vigorously after the Games, regardless of their legacy. Detractors heaped scorn upon the Games logo, their mascots and the spiralling cost of the project months in advance, saving their vitriol in the weeks beforehand for the G4S security recruitment debacle, the ticketing process and Olympic Family/corporate privileges such as separate road lanes and plum seats at events. Even following Danny Boyle’s widely acclaimed Opening Ceremony there were digs to be had, as empty seats, a venue food/water shortage and Team GB’s gold medal drought after four days caused public outrage – and let’s not forget the diplomatic crisis incited by a North/South Korean flag mix-up in the women’s football competition just days before the Games officially began.
With such pervasive home-grown press negativity beforehand, the only way to respond was by rebuffing the critics with a well-organised, inclusive Games, a healthy medal total for the home nation, and enough public support to prove that taxpayers wanted the £9.3 billion monster they’d funded. Fortunately, all three boxes seem to have been ticked.
It’s no generalisation or misleading media propaganda that Britain is in the throes of Olympic fever. An estimated 88% of the British population has watched these Olympics at some point, with 27 million watching the Opening Ceremony, while prior to that 10.2 million took to the streets to see the Torch Relay. Twitter has seen almost three times as many ‘#TeamGB’ hashtags in tweets as ‘#TeamUSA’; considering the disparity in population size between the two, and the fact that American viewing figures for this Olympics have surpassed those of any other Games (Atlanta ’96 and Los Angeles ’84 included), this is no little achievement. Their effect has been such that support for Scottish devolution among the public has actually dropped by three percent since July 27th, for which The Independent suggests the ubiquity of Union Flags has been a catalyst. The adage is that the Brits love an underdog; you have to wonder whether the overwhelming public support for London 2012 is at least partly a response to the relentless criticism it received beforehand.
Yet the last week’s national veneration for Team GB is surely a reaction to the negative climate of the past few years. That the country is desperate for an opportunity to party was evident during the Diamond Jubilee weekend, with around 10,000 street parties taking place and 1.5 million people descending on the streets of London to watch the celebrations. The Olympics have built on this air of celebratory patriotism, and offered escapism not only through entertainment, but by making the 541 athletes of Team GB the most important figures in the public sphere for a fortnight. Where Britain’s authority figures have failed us through expenses, phone-hacking and banking scandals, its athletes have succeeded through hard work and determination. That our sportspeople uphold the romantic tenet of ‘hard work = success’, when those with power have consistently shown an appetite for greed and corruption instead, is uplifting to the public.
It’s not just the athletes, either. 70,000 people are volunteering unpaid at the Games; it’s deeply encouraging that these thousands (along with the 170,000 who applied unsuccessfully) were prepared to work for no benefit other than sharing an experience and ensuring the events ran as smoothly as possible. The Games Makers, whose contribution has surely been the most conducive resource for London 2012’s continued success, have not merely carried out their menial tasks; they’ve done them with the best of attitudes, giving the Games a heart and soul. For them to become the defining symbol of this fortnight would befit their altruism and be an inspirational legacy.
What happens when the party’s over, though? While it won’t be over as soon as the Closing Ceremony is, with the Paralympics still to come (half a million tickets for which have been sold since the start of the Games), it will be interesting to see whether the regeneration of east London will be reflected in a rejuvenated public. Whatever the ideological issues with jingoism – primarily, the fostering of a ill-reasoned mindset exemplified by this tweet by Piers Morgan – it gives people a common topic to bond over, creating a sense of community. A sense of community improves public spirit. Could an improved public spirit, then, boost the economy?
It does seem farfetched, but with the Games having had four billion viewers worldwide, there’s certainly potential for a spike in tourism. A palpable national pride is far more likely to endear the world to holidays in the UK than a sullen, apathetic population. As more strangers talk to each other on the Tube about the Olympics, the usual wall of suspicion between the people becomes weaker. In a nation whose paranoia is evident from its surveillance agenda (the UK has 1% of the world’s population, but 20% of its CCTV cameras), it could even be the first step to a shaking off the nation’s ‘emotionally repressed’ stereotype – hardly a bad result.
The London 2012 motto is ‘Inspire a generation’. With what we’ve seen over the past week, hopefully it will be inspiring all generations – not only to get down the gym, but to look to the future with optimism. The success of Team GB’s athletes has proven that background is no hindrance to glory, with many of the most familiar medallists coming from state schools – Bradley Wiggins, Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah to name a few – and can hopefully boost the morale of those the recession has hit hardest. Sport may be escapism, but its consequences can certainly be real – and hopefully the Olympics will mark the point at which Britain regenerates, is reenergized, and resolves the underlying issues that have made the last few years so tumultuous.
If you genuinely like music, chances are you probably hate the Brits. Despite occasional moments of brilliance (KLF in 1992, Suede in 1993, Jarvis Cocker invading Michael Jackson’s set in 1996), minor altercations (any time Liam Gallagher has been there) and deserved awards (Blur’s unsurpassed four gongs in 1995), it’s usually a lacklustre affair that prompts as much joy from the non-deaf as castration without an anaesthetic. Last year’s ceremony saw an upset as Laura Marling beat walking wardrobe Cheryl Cole to Best British Female, which in itself was enough to save it from disgrace, but could this year better it? With Blur winning the Outstanding Contribution to Music award and warranting a 3-song set at the end, things were looking promising… that is, until the show started.
A lot of hype from alternative music sectors had surrounded this year’s competition, with the likes of Bon Iver, PJ Harvey, Anna Calvi, Laura Marling (again) and Florence + The Machine up for prizes, but needless to say, the sea of Heart FM-playlist-filling dirge washed them away awardless. Adele and Ed Sheeran dominated proceedings, winning two each (Best British Female and Album of the Year/Best British Male and British Breakthrough Act respectively), while those old favourites of mine* Bruno Mars and Coldplay also had a delightfully* tacky statuette to take home (*sarcasm). It’s difficult to argue with these on a sales volume level, if not an originality or musical quality level – although, having said that, Adele’s performance of ‘Rolling In The Deep’ was musically spot on and arguably better than her critically-fapped-over Grammys set – but the lack of surprises meant that even the meatball korma meal that accompanied my Brits viewing had more flavour than the show did. The closest there was to a shock victory was for One Direction’s ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ winning Song of the Year over Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’ – that I think the right song won this category gives you an indication of quite how appalling its contenders were**. The only other shocks were the fact that someone didn’t tell Jessie J her dress was disgusting before she went out in it and that the event organisers managed to resist the temptation to turn Rihanna’s microphone off mid-performance. Her vocals were the sort that make you long for miming. (**…This song definitely isn’t a guilty pleasure for me. Definitely.)
Naturally the Righteously Indignant Police, otherwise known as the bulk of social networking sites’ users, found cause for scandal when Adele’s Best Album acceptance speech was cut short in favour of Blur’s Outstanding Contribution set. Quelle dommage! It’s not like she’d already thanked half the universe in her first acceptance speech. It’s also not like she’s been overexposed in the last year to the point where her screechy Cockney accent doesn’t induce homicide in anyone with a pair of ears. Who the hell are Blur, screeched the Righteously Indignant Police, (average age 13, average IQ negligible). Why are we letting a bunch of granddads run around shouting when we could have Adele squawking like the lovechild of Phil Daniels and a female parrot? Having said that, Blur weren’t exactly brilliant; Damon sounded incredibly hoarse and I’d have liked their performance of ‘This Is A Low’ to have made the ITV1 show instead of being relegated to ITV2. But their energy and enthusiasm defibrillated the show, even if it was too little, too late. Ah well lads, there’s always the Olympics Closing Ceremony.
So there we are. 1992’s Brits was notable for machine gun blanks being fired into the crowd and a dead sheep being left at the aftershow party, 1993’s was memorable for Brett Anderson misappropriating the microphone as a spanking device, 2000’s for an impending fracas between Liam Gallagher and Robbie Williams. 2012’s Brits will be remembered for very little, except Adele’s-Winning-Speech-Being-Cut-Shortgate™, Jessie J’s quite hideous bloodstained lace tablecloth dress and Blur having a fluorescent kebab spit in their set design. But I’m sure I’ll be back in front of this insipid snoozefest again in a year’s time, moaning to my heart’s content and wondering why I wasn’t born 20 years earlier.
How to create a pop sensation in 2011: take one millionaire’s daughter. Change her name, give her some ludicrous soundbites about being a “gangster Nancy Sinatra”, perhaps make her over with plastic surgery. Get her debut major-label single to be accompanied by a video made with webcam clips of herself, mingled with clips of Hollywood actress Paz de la Huerta falling over, skateboarders falling over and couples kissing (but not falling over), all directed and edited by the artist. Wait for Pitchfork to laud the song, for it to go viral as a result and for people to discover her original name and album released under that name. Sit back and watch the rumour mill buzz about whether or not she’s had plastic surgery while YouTube users ferociously debate whether she’s a fake and whether or not she’s ‘indie’. Most importantly, ensure she’s vocally and aesthetically captivating – and, hey presto!, you have a star in the making.
…At least, that’s how the marketing of Lana Del Rey, ‘the artist formerly known as Lizzy Grant’, has gone. While painfully bitchy website Hipster Runoff has made insulting her its manifesto, and people still can’t work out if her face has been surgically enhanced (the nose is pointier, the mouth is poutier…), there’s no denying that her star is firmly in the ascendancy. Her debut single ‘Video Games’ was a top 10 hit in six countries, topping the chart in Germany, and has had 16 million hits on YouTube (adding the original video’s views with the Vevo ones); it was also The Guardian’s critics’ song of the year for 2011. Her first London show sold out in minutes after her live performance of the song on Later… with Jools Holland – the show that is, let’s be honest, the closest thing that mainstream 21st century Britain has to John Peel’s Peel Sessions as far as breaking new artists is concerned. She’s in the top 10 of NME’s 2011 ‘Cool List’ and is currently the cover star of Q magazine. Born To Die, her major-label debut album, is released at the end of January (on the 30th in the UK), released a week after the album’s second single, ‘Born To Die’. And, if you were doubting how successful she’s becoming, compare the budgets of her singles’ videos to date. Where her ‘Video Games’ video was all but budgetless, the video for ‘Born To Die’ is partly shot in the Palace of Fontainebleau, with Del Rey accompanied in the palace by tigers… yeah, it’s pretty safe to assume that Interscope are convinced that 2012 is her year.
Her New York upbringing and stage name, not to mention her gender, have raised comparisons between her and Lady Gaga in articles. (Adele hit the nail on the head about journalistic laziness on the latter front when she said that “We’re a gender, not a genre”.) But there’s little to compare apart from the points already mentioned – Del Rey’s brand of relatively minimalist ‘Hollywood sadcore’ sounds nothing like Gaga’s brash, gimmicky pop/R&B, and Gaga’s voice is nothing remarkable whereas Del Rey’s sultry vocals, alternating between girlish breathiness and an assuredly deep tone, are used to stunning effect in her atmospheric songs. Whether Lana Del Rey will ever generate the tabloid column inches that Gaga does is questionable, despite the former’s superior talent – but she’s already generating them by the tonne on the likes of Pitchfork. Admittedly facets of her image are throwbacks; the teaser clip for ‘Born To Die’s video featured her, topless, in the arms of a similarly bare-chested male. Insert debate about whether she’s taking the feminist movement back 50 years here. When you add the is-it-or-isn’t-it surgery into the equation, that debate becomes even more heated; she’s signed a modelling deal with Next Model Management this week – is this part of her management’s masterplan? After all, the name change definitely was. Her sensuality and sexualisation certainly make up a large proportion of her bankability, like Gaga’s LGBT following and themes were part of hers.
Is she just a submissive sex symbol, slaving and selling her soul for ‘the man’ at Interscope/Polydor? Who knows. If she is, she’s doing a bloody good job of it. According to Polydor’s president, the excellently-named Ferdy Unger-Hamilton, “she likes to control every aspect of her career”. But he would say that, wouldn’t he? Essentially, though, what it boils down to is the music; on the radio, everything else is superfluous. And that’s why, whatever the BBC’s polls say, Lana Del Rey is going to be the real sound of 2012.
In the wake of this week’s British riots, there have been far too many clichéd phrases – London’s burning, London calling, anarchy in the UK – floating around as tabloid headlines. Well, I’m about to the list of clichés by referring to the rioters as ‘a few bad apples’. Now, there may be more than just a few of these mindless morons destroying cities across the UK and looting carpets from Carpetright, but the number of teenagers who condemn them is significantly more. But guess who will not only pick up the bill, but the blame as well?
Of course, it’s not just my generation who are supposedly to blame for the violence and arson currently raging across all corners of London – the police and governments past and present are also the current favourite scapegoats of various commentators in the news. The coalition’s cuts are allegedly a primary factor in the riots; apparently, because those on a lower income are so poor after the wicked government has had its way with their wallets, and rendered them unemployed after axing their jobs, their only choice was to go out and cause trouble so they could loot shops. Alternatively, they couldn’t afford their license fee, so they thought they’d make their own soap opera, with a few more explosions thrown in for good measure. Now, I’m not denying that the government cuts are having a massive, negative effect on huge swathes on the population – particularly those on a lower income – but to suggest that the chain of thought above caused the riots is, quite frankly, insulting and patronising to the millions of people who are quietly struggling on through the recession, despite their own personal difficulties. Hardly any of these people will ever have had the faintest inclination towards joining the brainless, gormless idiots smashing shop windows in with chairs. I’m always up for a bit of Tory-bashing [Ed: This never claimed to be a political bias-free blog…], and I’m more than happy to say that their over-eager cuts are partially to blame for the potential double-dip recession on the horizon. But blaming the coalition for the actions of a minority of thugs who failed to make the upgrade from animal to civilised human being is ludicrous. Blaming the cuts is a last-ditch resort to justify the actions of people who saw the opportunity to steal a free perfume or two.
What particularly aggravates me is when tuition fees are raised as a potential factor in the riots’ occurrence. Yes, the protests last winter may have been marred by minor scenes of anarchy, but the reason that the violence and vandalism were contained is because there were few enough of these anarchists to be controlled by the riot police. The anarchists were far outnumbered by those who went along to support a worthy cause that they believed in, enough to be kettled for nine hours in the middle of a freezing cold London for aggression that, for most of them, wasn’t their fault. With the incidents in the last few days, though, the police have been proven unable to cope with the onslaught of petrol bombs and other missiles; they’ve been overrun by groups of people who are looking for nothing more than a glorified brawl. It may have begun when a peaceful protest in support of a cause was hijacked by militants, but these nihilists aren’t supporting any cause – they’re just taking advantage of the fact that most of Whitehall is on holiday, the UK boasts a nanny state police force that must investigate any instance of a policeman raising his baton, and the issue of chronic overcrowding in prisons. The student protests in no way came close to resembling the lawlessness seen in the last few days.
In any case, I find the suggestion that students would be so unequivocally stupid incredibly offensive. The vast majority of students I know were horrified when violence broke out at the tuition fees protests, knowing that such actions undermined an incredibly important issue; a police van being burned and Millbank being briefly besieged is not on the same level as a load of buildings being burned, hundreds of jobs being lost through arson and looting and people’s livelihoods being destroyed on this scale. That’s not even touching on the horribly counterproductive logic that would be implied through a supposed student-led riot – we’re distressingly in debt because of student loans, so let’s smash up the capital and increase our debt through increased taxes to pay for the damage? Fantastic train of thought there. Reportedly, the only shop in Clapham that avoided being looted was a branch of Waterstones – not exactly the mark of the book-smart. I don’t like indulging in class stereotypes on what tries to be a rational and inclusive blog, but when the shops frequently being looted are the likes of McDonalds, Primark and JD Sports, it just adds to the patronising ‘chav’ stereotype – not something that needs to be reinforced.
Usually, deeper analysis on occurrences like this is to be encouraged. Perhaps there are underlying issues here that can be addressed and learned from – in my opinion, it’s absolutely time to hand more power to the police to prevent this kind of idiotic anarchy in the future. But let’s not try and pretend that these animalistic cretins are rioting for any other reason than an excuse to have a punch-up and get some freebies while they’re at it. If the blame game is going to be played, let’s hold those actually committing the crimes responsible rather than those who are mere spectators to these awful riots. That way, we may be able to rehabilitate them rather than forever letting them off the hook because a few things in the bigger picture could have been slightly better thought through.
07/05/11. 3pm. 2nd vs 4th. Step 3. 7 goals. 2,411 spectators. 1 promotion. 1,589 days (4 years, 4 months and 7 days) have passed since my first game, but I’ve finally seen my beloved football team promoted in their most successful season ever. And it’s probably the greatest feeling in the world. In a week when Osama Bin Laden’s time was finally up, the country was still recovering from a Bank Holidaytastic Easter break and a Royal Wedding, and Chelsea finally got their arses back in gear through dubious refereeing decisions to challenge for the Premiership title, this was the biggest event of the lot for me. This isn’t going to be one of my usual let’s-have-an-argument articles; rather, it’s just a little piece on the joy of promotion, what it means to a dedicated fan, and how I ended up loving Angels instead.
It all began on a very rainy Saturday afternoon. Saturday, December 30th 2006, to be precise. My father and brother were paying a trip to watch their newly-adopted local team, Tonbridge Angels, and I was going along to the Longmead Stadium to see what all the fuss was about. The fuss appeared to be about a team that were losing 2-0 to Ramsgate and reduced to 10 men before the game was called off after 70 minutes, had a swimming-pool of a pitch (admittedly, owing to the diabolical weather conditions), and fans that sang and swore a lot. But, despite swearing being neither big nor clever, a certain very immature 14-year-old found it hilarious, and contrary to parental expectations, I adored the experience. Four and a half years later, I’m still adoring the non-league experience.
They didn’t convert me to liking football – I’d supported Chelsea since early childhood, during the Zola/Poyet/Wise years, when we won the FA Cup twice but were mid-table fodder. Gradually we crept up into the UEFA and Champions League spots, and then Mr Abramovich came in with wallet nicely overflowing, and we all know the story hereafter. Despite still having never attended a match, I’ve watched many, many games on TV, bought each new home shirt since I was about 6, and locked myself in a toilet to sob for fifteen minutes after we lost the 2008 Champions’ League final. But supporting Chelsea vociferously from afar is not the same as planning your weekends and Tuesday nights around the home matches of a team whose ups and downs you live and breathe, who you finance with your student ticket and cheese-and-bacon burger every match, and who you stand in the freezing cold to watch in a Kent Senior Cup replay against a team two leagues below you – and your club has put out a team of reserves and youth players. It becomes a lot more than ‘just a game’ when you turn up every week to watch a Jekyll-and-Hyde side whose favourite pastime seems to be yo-yoing around the league table, and when you chant yourself hoarse for ninety minutes in the hope that it will inspire a glorious victory from the players. You become totally attached to the club, its fans, the players and management, and perhaps even fall in love with the whole package. It’s also my weekly bonding time with my dad and brother, and makes up a lot of the conversations I have with both. So the promotion is something of a big deal to me, especially given that I hopped on the train from Penryn, a mere 300 miles and £63 away, to see the final. But at least it was all worth it.
I’d always daydreamed about the rush of a pitch invasion as the final whistle blew, but due to the PA box’s insistence on people keeping behind the barriers, it was rather belated by the time it came around. By the time I finally strolled onto the pitch I was there with at least a thousand people, most of whom were fair-weather fans, and it became apparent that the busy season had worn the ground out to sandpit status. I finally had the chance to sing the chant that every non-Premiership side aspires to – the one with the deeply profound lyrics “We – are – going up, said we are going up!”. It was incredibly emotional, and something that you just can’t understand unless you’ve had an almost unhealthy love for a team of some description. It was worth all the awkward conversations with friends when something had been planned that I couldn’t attend due to Angels commitments, all the times I felt crushed after a resounding defeat (c.f. Tonbridge Angels 0 – 4 Cray Wanderers, the last game before I went to university), all the times I felt crushed after a rousing victory that I couldn’t attend (c.f. Tonbridge Angels 7 – 1 AFC Hornchurch, the first Saturday after I’d gone to university), the heartbreak of losing in the play-off semi-final to Carshalton in 2009 and the stress of the game itself, having twice chucked away a two-goal lead. But we came through eventually.
Our joy will probably be short-lived; I foresee a relegation battle next season due to a fairly small playing budget. And while I’m rather smug about the prospect of playing Truro City away next year due to conveniently being eight miles from their ground during university months, I’m sure the fixture list will decree this game be played when I’m back in Kent for the holidays. But a football team is for life, not just for promotion – so I’ll keep loving Angels instead.
I wrote this about 2 months ago, but hadn’t quite got round to finishing it.
We all know the stereotypical life of a university student. It’s been promised to us since we got sick of our barely-teenage lives; infuriated by the school uniform rules and parental oppression that comes with being fourteen, the sober realities of waking up at half-six every morning to commute to school and the Greek tragedy that is living in a dead-end rural town, where half the shops are boarded up and the other half are charity shops or estate agents, whilst your friends have the luxury of being a ten-minute walk from the nearest record store (or, at the very least, a branch of WHSmiths). As sixth formers, the myth of university life is even more tantalising: the prospect of spending a minimum of three years partying, rotting one’s liver with alcohol and doing whatever you want, whenever you want – so, basically, the permanent state of living a typical sixth former’s weekend (albeit without the obligatory underage-run-to-the-toilets in Wetherspoons). Naturally, we’re vaguely aware that we’ll have to pull the occasional all-nighter for an essay due in the next day, but it’s little more than a potted plant in the background of the University Daydream. And – if you believe Facebook, at least – this does seem to be the reality for the majority of new students. Fantastic!
…That is, unless you’re not particularly given to excessive (or even moderate) drinking. Whether it’s for religious, financial, gustatory or medical reasons – or even just not wanting to make a knob of yourself by flattening people in clubs or having to clean up the next morning when you “chunder EVERYWHERE” – you’re doomed to lead a less-exciting lifestyle than your units-be-damned, spirits-chugging peers and housemates. Indeed, I spent Fresher’s Fortnight panicking more about the fact that I hadn’t had my five-a-day than participating in the sort of debauchery that Nero* would be proud of. [*The Roman Emperor, not the British coffee shop chain.] So, here are some of the things I’ve learnt about university life that the ‘university myth’ fails to fill in for you.
- You have not experienced pain and suffering until you have walked back from Asda with four of the world’s heaviest shopping bags.
Oedipus killing his father and sleeping with his mother? Being burnt at the stake? Listening to Be Here Now in all its wretched, ridiculous entirety? None of these things is as horrific as carrying two weeks’ food shopping back from Asda in the dark, by yourself, on a route you don’t know which includes walking through a near-deserted industrial estate and especially when people occasionally walk past and not offering to help, despite you making feral noises of pain as your fingers begin to swell and your hands are decorated with welts. You begin to question your very existence. You contemplate jumping in front of one of the scarce cars because your hands just cannot cope. It takes five times longer than it should do to return to your flat. Imagine this scenario, then imagine – halfway through your epic struggle – your parents ringing to tell you that your gerbil died in the night. Soul-destroying is not the phrase. But come now, put away your tear-drenched handkerchief – it’s character-building, finger-strengthening, and convinces you to finally get round to putting a taxi firm’s number on speed-dial. Everyone wins.
2. Television becomes, by turns, the highlight and bane of your day.
The relationship between students and television is well-documented; Countdown’s Wikipedia page even references the fact that students make up a large demographic of its audience (indeed, a [not-half-bad-looking] maths student at Cambridge won the last series, getting the word ‘orgasmed’ in the final). The Jeremy Kyle Show is as much of the fabric of student life as Pot Noodle and paralytic drinking. But it’s not until you find yourself swearing manically at the screen during University Challenge when an overly-smug team captain (yes, York Clemo, I’m swearing at you) or becoming genuinely disheartened by failing to get any more than a five-letter word during Countdown (or, inversely, shrieking with delight as you manage to do better than Rachel Riley during a numbers round even though you scraped a B in GCSE Maths whereas she’s got a 2:1 in Maths from Oxford) that you realise just how central television is to your life. If you don’t have a television, don’t worry; you’re probably a) far more efficient a student than one who finds themselves captivated by lunchtime showings of Badass Cops; Chasing Crims ‘Til They Flip Into A Ditch And We Nick ‘Em*, and don’t stir until they’ve got the Countdown conundrum five hours later, and b) far happier owing to the fact that you won’t have been exposed to the mind-numbing, eardrum-offending dross that is The X Factor**. [*As you may be able to ascertain, I invented this title; the existence of such shows, however, is far less imaginary. **If you, too, thought that people had recently become strangely irate with a 19th century German opera composer, collect £200 when you pass go.]
3. The more of a social recluse you are, the better your knowledge of critically-acclaimed albums becomes.
Ah, Spotify! When I was lousy with Fresher’s Flu and barricaded myself in my room, a quarantine for my germs, you were my best friend. When all my housemates go out without telling me, you’re my shoulder to cry on. When I need something to soundtrack my Tetris addiction, you’re there for me. But do I abuse you by listening to the latest musical turds that the sewer of the mainstream coughs up? Of course not. I honour your eargasmic bounty with direction from Blue Calx [shameless plug – it’s a fantastic music blog. Read it!] and critics in general. Just a few of the artists I’ve “discovered” since being at university thanks to Spotify; Neutral Milk Hotel, The Dandy Warhols (their music other than the ubiquitous/perfect ‘Bohemian Like You’), The Magnetic Fields (whose EP, House of Tomorrow, became my first ever Amazon purchase approximately an hour after I first listened to it; it’s that good) and Echo and The Bunnymen. Ventures out of my room usually involve some sort of musical ulterior motive as well – the campus library is a veritable treasure trove, proven by the fact that it holds a copy of Elastica’s debut album, and I’m well-acquainted with the charity/CD shops of Truro and Falmouth as well (tally so far: 13 CDs, 4 singles, about £60 spent – having said this, if one seeks immediate profligacy of one’s student loan in such a manner, then it helps to have a similarly-inclined friend to encourage reckless CD-buying). To conclude, then; less time spent socialising equals more time spent being educated musically. I know what I prefer.
4. Your procrastination skills become more finely honed than ever.
You have an essay due in a week. Which of the following things do you do? A) Do intensive research on the essay, write it, proof-read it and write it again. B) Play on online Pokémon emulators for three hours, play Tetris until you’re at world champion-level for another three hours, read half a page but become so exhausted from such taxing physical exertion that you take a nap, paint your nails three times and then decide you can’t read with wet nails, so end up on the computer again, leaving your essay until the last day and writing something that a playschool child would be ashamed of. I don’t think I need to tell you which one your typical student would do; and yes, procrastination is so entirely necessary that you do end up playing on Pokémon emulators – anything is better than post-structuralism, after all.
5. The innocent picture of Cornwall that was painted for you as a child is wrecked by a 3am punch-up in the Falmouth branch of Subway.
A rare evening spent out on the lash! What a treat! And indeed, it’s fun to get dressed up and bond with your flatmates; that is, until a trip to Subway in the wee hours turns violent as two inebriated males begin a verbal war of words in the queue about sandwiches. From here, it progresses to squaring up to each other; then, to punches and a headlock in a corner by the tables that have been placed out of the way. Even your deadly dull West Kentish hometown, ridden with a plague of chavs (with particular infestations near the public toilets, kebab shop and War Memorial), never sinks this low. But then they scarper, and the police only show up five minutes later. And you can’t even have a hot sub to make you feel better.
And there you have it. If you’re a loser, the university life is less about vodka and vomit, promiscuity and pizzas or squalor and slacking than Subway scraps and Scrabble, Pokémon and procrastination or ASDA and albums. But, in its own little way, it’s quite fun anyway.
Having ranted about something I dislike, I feel it’s time to return some cheer that is obligatory in the festive season, and therefore it’s entirely necessary to write about Britpop. Again. Because I love it so very, very much.
Ever feel like you were born in the wrong era, musically? Born in the week that ‘The Drowners’ by Suede, the first Britpop single to get noticed by the music world, was released, I was born in exactly the right era; the trouble is, babies can’t really appreciate music properly, and therefore I’ll still hand-wring that I was a case of wrong-era-conception. Thankfully, the spate of band reunions is fantastic for those of us who face this problem and spend half their lives wishing they had access to a time machine, and given the contemporary reunion-bandwagon, it’s no great surprise that Jarvis Cocker’s critically-adored outfit Pulp were the latest in a long, long line of artists who have reconciled over the course of the Noughties (along with my beloved Suede and Blur). Their defining legacy in popular consciousness is that of their fantastically camp, charismatic leading man Jarvis Cocker, his actions at the 1996 Brit awards (invading Michael Jackson’s Messiah-channelling performance of Earth Song, which he disagreed with on a moral level) and their biggest hit, ‘Common People’, especially its resonance in an age when having working class roots was the key to credibility, and an attribute which the record companies then sought to exploit. In any case, Pulp were genuine misfits; a bunch of (then) over-30s from Sheffield who had fallen out of windows whilst trying to impress girls (and people wonder why I love Jarvis Cocker…), had drum-kits fashioned from calculators, and had stuttered through the 80s making albums that were ignored or dismissed out of hand, in between sessions on John Peel. But then they got good. In fact, they got better than good… they released ‘Babies’.
‘Babies’ is the encapsulation of everything that is good about Pulp’s reunion – not that there’s anything bad about it. It narrates the story of a boy whose female best friend, who he’s always secretly fancied a bit, has a sister who has sex with boys in the room next door while they listen in; he then becomes obsessed with doing this and hides in the sister’s wardrobe and listens from there, before the sister one day opens the door, sees him in there, and has sex with him. EPIC SONG CLIMAX: the best friend hears them having sex! And why does he succumb to the slutty sister? In his own words, “I only went with her, ‘cause she looked like you!” Because he loves her, and not the sister! [weeps.] Convoluted? Extremely. But it makes for a song which has a geeky, gawky heart and soul. It’s not about brushing one’s teeth with a bottle of Jack or something equally dispensable and soulless. I can articulate less well the emotion which Cocker conveys in his impassioned cries of “Yeah! Yeah yeah yeah yeah, yeah yeah.” Therein lies the point: Pulp are both explicit and implicit. They say everything even when they’re saying nothing, but most of the time they are saying something – they’re speaking for reality and rejection, for awkward fumbles and predatory teenage boys. They’re real. They’re articulate. They’re storytelling maestros. I’ve probably moaned about lyrics in modern music before (seeing as I have bemoaned everything else about it), but even contemporarily they’re sharp. Even during their 80s nay-day they came up with gems such as “There’s a hole in your heart and one between your legs/You’ve never had to wonder which one he’s going to fill.” If he wrote novels, they would contain the sort of wittily insightful, poignantly perceptive pearls of wisdom that fill his songs. And, of course, they’d be full of affairs, sordid sex and scandal. Even the most straight-laced soul can’t deny that they obtain a sort of gossip-laden joy from reading The Sun’s more risqué elements, so why would anyone fail to enjoy the more smutty aspects of Pulp’s songs? Everyone loves a voyeur.
Lyrics aside – after all, they can only carry you so far – there’s the breathy, seductive vocals, which are full of a kind of lovable sleaze often heard in pubs and clubs that so fits the lyrical content. Image-wise, they’re riffing on a 70s-esque love for charity shop chiq and man-made fibres; they’re quirky! Joy! Back to the music, there’s the riffs and the synths and the occasional violin in the background which all work to a swooningly perfect effect – the latter in particular sounding absolutely beautiful in their Glastonbury ’95 version of ‘Underwear’. Candida Doyle’s synths help make them both indie-disco material and personal listening music; particularly with regard to ‘Disco 2000’ and ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’. But they can also do a self-loathing reminiscent of modern emo music, but without the parody; penultimate album This Is Hardcore’s opening track ‘The Fear’ is effectively music to slit wrists to. But it rises above such lowly stature by infusing a dark wit (“You can’t get anyone to come in the sack”, “So now you know the words to our song/Pretty soon, you’ll all be singing along…”) with its doom-filled rock. And then one need only look on songmeanings.com to see the other benefit to Pulp’s music: whilst not something which I myself have utilised it for, it’s apparently great music to have sex to (‘This Is Hardcore’’s title track being an apparent favourite; considering it’s a song about Cocker making his own porn movie, this hardly comes – ho, ho – as a surprise). So it has various uses, and they’ve got range.
And then there comes their apogee. Glastonbury 1995 was the moment when Pulp ‘made it’, filling in for The Stone Roses at the last moment. They had only just hit the heights of the chart with ‘Common People’, but this cemented the fact that they were, now, one of the biggest bands in Britain. I was lucky enough to see the footage on television the other evening; this marked the point when I went from wanting to see Pulp at next year’s Wireless festival to needing to see them. Jarvis Cocker’s random dance movements/gestures are quirkily endearing and strangely natural, whilst the songs sound great live (especially the aforementioned ‘Underwear’, the BBC footage at the end of which showing a sweetly wistful Cocker looking somewhat beautiful as his eyes are fixed skyward, presumably apologising to the Almighty for having unclean thoughts). The crowd’s enthusiasm is never dampened by the Roses’ no-show – they’re loving it. We were loving it at home. If Pulp can pull out similarly spirited, legendary shows at Wireless and Primavera in Spain, then there’s no worry about the audience not getting value for their money, because it truly was an astonishing performance.
So, what are we loving most of all about this reunion? We’re loving the songs, we’re loving the charisma, we’re loving the soul and the fact that Pulp are a voice for the talents of non-conformists all around the country. As they self-consciously put in the ‘Different Class’ sleeve: “Please understand. We don’t want no trouble. We just want the right to be different. That’s all.” Is there anything I don’t love about Pulp? No. So in my opinion, this reunion is a very good thing indeed. Jarvis Cocker shares the same initials with Jesus Christ for a reason.