I have been trying and trying to write this essay about the dumbing down of Britain’s middle- and high-brow cultural spaces and establishments.
It’s not a long piece – a couple thousand words – and it’s theoretically quite important to me (beyond a simple desire to get across a message) because it was originally a piece of work that my literary agent requested, in order to top-out a book proposal. The proposal was otherwise done, which was quite a lot of unpaid effort, so theoretically the sketch was this: if I could just nail a striking, powerful 2,400 words ranting about this particular aspect of current UK arts, I’d maybe get a sexy, lucrative book deal, sell a load of words oversees, make my name as a prose writer, get on the Waterstones three-for-two tables as one of next year’s sought-after ‘thought’ books and ultimately escape the penurious life of a not-very-famous, ageing beyond viability pop singer. Slick plan.
And you’re thinking: that’s totes up your alley Chris, a rant about shitty culture, right? You’ll kill it in an hour or two. Well, dear friend, I’ve worked at it for A YEAR and it’s not done. It’s not begun.
A year. By which I mean, I’ve written more than 55,000 words, half an entire book, with none of them of any value whatsoever. I find myself deadlocked in a seemingly infinite loop of never improving write-and-delete, write-and-delete, write-and-delete. It’s familiar (boring) territory for anyone who types while claiming it as ‘writing’. It’s like that Next Gen episode where the Enterprise got trapped in a time glitch and they replayed the same card game over and over until Data injected some kind of weird fix into the ship’s computer… er, I was going to mention Groundhog Day but each time Bill Murray relives his day, he knows a little more about his surroundings and circumstances, until he owns it. In my case, each time I go round and round again, I know less. I’m möebius stripped.
For example. One day I bashed into the bruised laptop a furious scree attacking the reader directly in second-person, ‘you’, if you happened to fall into certain categories; specifically an assault on (‘you’) middle-class and smart people who regard ‘your’ selves as creative, of ‘good taste’, yet watch (and live-tweet and talk about) shows like X Factor and The Voice and Celebrity Bake Off each week. If you state a preference for Stewart Lee over Michael Macintyre but switch on Jeremy Kyle when you’re home on a weekday morning (and especially if you tell me about it online). The piece was inspired by wonderful (once Mercury-nommed) singer Tom McRae tweeting about The Voice, which made me weep for McRae’s own songwriting – so vastly more important, so necessarily at the heart of our mainstream cultural establishment, yet not: rather out on a periphery snarking on social media. Not even snarking at the infrastructure of talent show reality TV but (like everyone else) about which contestants or judges are doing well that week, which I’d say was “from within the mythology”. I hope he’s not drowning in it. Anyway, McRae’s tweets inspired this insane diatribe Fuck You, A Creative Establishment Props Up The Cowellian Distopia and the reason I mention it is, it ran to 14,000 shitted words before I realised its pointlessness.
The Cowellian Distopia is a phrase I love and over-use. An apocalypse we’re already deep into, it’s no ‘coming collapse’ with me and my aloof snob friends as noble Cassandras speaking future truths unheard. No, this motherfucker is right here and we bury our heads in liquid shit to avoid facing it down. I believe, if people survive to climb out of the hole, alongside everything else our generation will get smeared with, history will view the first 20 years of this millennium as a unique time of human cultural cowardice – guilty as charged.
If whatever culture we consume is relegated to the position of backdrop for online conversational self-expression and community-building (and in such a broadstrokes non-judgemental context that it simply doesn’t matter whether that cultural backdrop is ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘fucking horrendous’) then we are completely, irreversibly screwed. Nobody anymore says: “you’re listening to that !?” Anything could be a hate-watch, or irony, or a guilty pleasure, or a knowing blogged recap, which of course is perfectly fine. Gasp for air that doesn’t stink.
I don’t know about others but I always write my best first drafts at night-time, in a haze of anger after a day spent procrastinating and being a nobhead in my actual life. Then, I always sub-edit and proof-read best in the cold light of day. If you’ve ever read something of mine and gone “oh, that’s jolly good,” it was written late at night in a blur of fury, then tidied up and snipped into shape the next morning (or two mornings later) in a damped-down sober coffee-fuelled fug of shame and pragmatism. But now I write at night, delete in the day. Worse, this self-muzzling starts to filter into the rest of my creativity: I tape a demo in the afternoon and instead of saving it for the band to decide if it’s good, or whether I’ll like it more later, it’s wiped off the hard-drive before dinner. Earlier than that even; I get a verse of lyrics down onto a notepad, briefly think they’re brilliant but, before giving them any space to sit amongst other half-songs in case they jigsaw into something worthwhile, they’re crumbled up and in the pedal bin…
And as you’ve now read, I’ve gotten so desperate I’ve ended up finishing off a piece about not being able to finish a piece, which is the fattest, empty-headed-est cliché in every wannabe typist’s cannon that I thought I’d avoided.
So it goes, that’s my fate. Mind you, it’s not as bad as yours if you let the Cowellian Distopia drickle and drench through your soulfood til it infects all you taste and starts to control you; a zombie version of what you ought to have been enveloped in.
Then you’re more fucked than me.