There were two other things I enjoyed reading in the edition of The Independent‘s “Review” that I mention below: Andy Gill’s record reviews, of course—he has this anachronistic tendency to write about the music itself and listen to black artists (without making excuses for them)—and a review of yet another book by a middle-class mother recounting the horrors of giving birth and looking after a new-born baby. The bit that stuck with me was this quote from the memoir:
“Children are actually a form of brainwashing. They are a cult, a perfectly legal cult”
The quote also started me thinking about various “British” cults.
A friend of mine is currently writing, amongst other things, about why Britain doesn’t and hasn’t had as much trouble with anti-Semitism as the rest of Europe. I think one reason is that we just don’t feel comfortable with people who take things too seriously. Never mind taking the hatred of Jews seriously (and/or constructing crazy conspiracy theories around them), even taking war, or love, or football seriously is considered suspect. The British distrust intellectuals, dislike pretension and the putting on of airs, and they don’t do fundamentalism. “Passionate Briton” is not a phrase you read very often. Perhaps this is why certain other phrases fall into an English conversation like false teeth into a punch bowl.
For example: you are discussing some misfortune in yours or someone else’s life. The person you are discussing it with chimes in empathetically, “I remember I was distraught when my mother died. I lost my way.”
The second sentence makes you wince inwardly, guessing but wishing against what is going to follow.
“Then, I found Jesus…”
No, no. Please no. I’m stuck on a train to Edinburgh with a God-botherer.
But there are worse things than finding out you will be spending a long journey sitting opposite a born-again Christian.
You are walking through a Tube station tunnel and mutter some flip remark about the song a busker is playing. Your companion, doesn’t hear you properly. All he hears is “Dylan”. That’s all he needs.
“Of course, Like A Rolling Stone is nothing like his best composition. I think the finest collection of his songs as poetry as well as his best songwriting per se is on a 1976 bootleg that I picked up at a convention in Hamburg…”
No, no. Please, no. I’m going to be stuck in a London pub all evening with a Dylan-obsessive.
(I know just enough about music to be embarrassing, so an extra layer of torment for me is that Bob Dylan is the perfect musical enthusiasm for people who know absolutely nothing about music. I’ve been lucky enough to hang around with and perform with a number of truly superb musicians [suckers!] and not one of them has expressed any enthusiasm for the bloke’s work. He’s a kind of shibboleth in the trade, a bit like Oasis—who are inexplicably popular and admired by consumers, but universally considered a waste of good recording tape by musos. This is not in itself a reliable measure of the quality of a writer or performer, but interesting all the same.)
Here’s my provisional list of Brit-bores: Monty Python fans, Tolkienists, photographers who are more interested in photographic equipment than photographs, vinyl record collectors, keen gardeners, anyone who enjoys going to IKEA, and people who compile lists. Readers are welcome to add to it.