Thursday, 2 April 2015

The Greatest Show On Earth

P T Barnum: showman, conman, problematic dude
With 10 billion things to do before I graduate, one would think I would prioritise better, especially when I have a dissertation to write. But I can't help myself. When I get really interested in something, my mind just runs away with it. Right now I'm interested in a number of different but connected things:
Showmanship and entertainers, particularly larger than life people like P T Barnum, Willy Wonka and Michael Jackson. Why do great entertainers feel compelled entertain?
Fanaticism: Why do female adolescents idolise male celebrities? What causes hysteria? Why did people faint and scream for Elvis, for Michael Jackson, for the Beatles, for Liszt? 

You know who this is! 
I've been interested in showmanship from a very young age. I filled the father-shaped hole in my life with larger-than-life heroes who tended to be musicians: David Bowie, Marc Bolan, and most significantly Michael Jackson. So they were one of my first impressions of what an 'interesting' adult was supposed to be. I was not a shy or quiet child. Nor was I anxiety-riddled girl-woman I am now. I danced, wrote plays and performed musicals not because I had any real desire to entertain for a living but because I thought that's what life was all about: putting on a show. To me, the glitter and sparkle weren't costumes, they weren't show clothes, I thought that was what you wore if you were truly awesome. So that was my first aspiration, before prima ballerina: To live everyday of my life as a great show. To be Bowie 24/7. For moments to play out like scenes in a movie. But even Bowie isn't Bowie 24/7, right? Robert Plant doesn't walk around all day with a permanent erection, shaking his blonde mane and screaming 'oooooh baby!'. It took longer than it should have to realise that. But when the monotony of life revealed itself, as it inevitably did, I would grow frustrated because I wasn't living up to my own ideal.


There's a film I've talked a little bit about before, it's called The Brother's Bloom. I don't want to give too much away but basically it's about these con artist brothers played by Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody, and Mark Ruffalo basically constructs these extremely elaborate cons 'like Russian novels' which Adrien Brody has to act out. They've been doing this for so long, that Brody feels like he hasn't had a life, he's just been living out his brother's scripts. He asks for an 'unwritten life'. Despite the message of the film I was defiant that I could script and direct my own life. I would literally write out and map out how I wanted each day to go before I went to bed. Of course it didn't work. Everyday can't be like a Wes Anderson film. People don't know your script, they don't know their lines, they don't know they're supposed to invite me on a picnic and talk like Sebastian from Brideshead Revisited and rent a 1930s Rolls Royce! Why not, dammit!

Around my room and other places at home are the markers of the show: a top hat, a Harold Lloyd-esque straw boater, tap shoes, ballet shoes, waistcoats: show clothes as ordinary clothes. I'm not lying: I used to walk around town dressed as Harold Lloyd. Why did I do this? Pure fantasy. Then I didn't have to be me. I could be Harold Lloyd this week and someone else the next. Yes, it's telling that these figures tended to be male but I already had a female hero; my mum. I could dress up and imagine myself as these people and hope that life would mould itself around me to fit that.

Harold Lloyd (Silent movie actor)

I'm also surprised at the aggression with which I seem to be writing my last few posts. Not directed at you of course, you guys have been nothing but kind and encouraging but I think it's the slow release of frustration that has built up during the last few very introspective months.  I found this in a diary entry I wrote in early February:

'To speak is to fight [...] This does not necessarily mean that one plays in order to win. A move can be made for the sheer pleasure of its invention.'  - Jean Francis Lyotard

I can't explain it exactly but I do feel there is a sense of desperation and hmm maybe even slight aggression in my speech acts and writing. Not aggressive to anything on the outside, but towards the thing within that keeps me quiet when I want to speak or jumbles up my words. And when I speak and when I write I definitely am playing to win'. To win, for me, is to have successfully communicated, to have been understood. I feel like I cannot afford to play for pleasure'.

As much fun as the idea of The Show has been at times, it also causes immense pressure. Every social interaction feels like opening night; I'm supposed to blow people away, with wit, with knowledge, with something. As I write this I'm trying to figure out if this is why I can't deal with small talk. The Show is so ingrained, I rehearse the slightest social interaction.

Okay: Say Hi, how are you? Then pause. Say: I'm good thanks. Then Pause. If no response ask what they are up to.

And here comes the cheesy bit: All the world's a stage
Which is why there are days I don't leave my room let alone my house. Convincing myself that I'm 'rehearsing'. If I get it 'right' in here, in my room, in my head, then I can get it right out there, on stage. And if I mess it up, if I accidentally say 'How are you?' twice, or miss a social cue, I feel like I 'bombed at Apollo'.

Conan O'Brien, I can't remember where, either in an interview or a podcast, said that when he feels like he's had a bad show, he remembers that he can do another one tomorrow. Internalise this. One Freudian slip, one nervous smile, one twitch that gives away that I am anxious as hell and I pull the curtain down on myself. 'That's it! You're out of here! You'll never work in this town again, kid!' But that's not how it works.

Conan O'Brien
On stage, you fuck up? You have the chance to redeem yourself. Buck up, learn from it and as another great entertainer and hero of mine Freddie Mercury said: The Show Must Go On.
If all the world's a stage and everyone is a 'player', why do I imagine myself a one-man show with everyone else ready to pan me? (yes, this is a reeeallly extended metaphor! But bear with me, I'm getting to the end.)
It's starting to look to me like it's all improv. Improv can be scary. We have our go-tos: social routines, etiquette, whatever, to make it somewhat easier. The rest? I guess it's about listening to the people around you, and watching, instead of thinking of what to say and what to do, and how you should say and do those things and you'll get the cues. And if you don't?. You get back up and have another go.

As for wanting everyday to be picture perfect, well that's too impossible a task for myself and the people around me and I need to get better at accepting that. If I'm lucky there'll be plently of, as Tavi calls them, 'moments of strange magic'.


image credits:
PT Barnum: national fairground archive
MJ aka ultimate bae: delwareonline (not actual source)
David Bowie: tumblr
Conan O'Brien: tumblr

Monday, 16 March 2015

Suspicious Circumstances

I seem to jump from one all consuming obsession to another. On one hand it really annoys and frustrates me because I start to doubt I 'know who I am' and what I want to 'do' with my life. On the other hand, I get to learn about so many amazing things that I might miss if I stay preoccupied with only one thing. What's interesting about it as is that, since I've started seriously journalling I can look back, as far as three years and track all these supposed new obsessions and see that those seeds of intrigue were actually sown a long while ago.
This is the case with the things taking up my attention most recently: showmanship, hoaxes, P T Barnum, creative genius, eccentricity, the surreal, the freak show.


As I think I mentioned in my last post, I had a nervous breakdown which, among other things, manifested itself in some obsessive trains of thought. I became re-obsessed with Michael Jackson. I was very aware though that this made perfect 'sense'. I've always been a big admirer of his and at the time that I was feeling the most worthless, uninspired, unproductive, and fatigued of course I turned to one of the most hard-working, productive, capable people to ever perform, in an attempt to escape that reality and I guess, live vicariously through him. It was during this preoccupation (which has not really abated) that I remembered why Leave Me Alone (by Jim Blashfield) is one of my favourite videos ever. It contains everything that really appeals to me visually and I am a collage and cut out fanatic. 

Ever since I had nightmares as a child that looked like Terry Gilliam animations, I've been interested in the surreal and in collage. I like to be freaked out a little bit. I love artists such as Dali, Gilliam, Richard Hamilton, Joe Webb, As well as movements like Dadaism which I would have to say was probably the first art movement I ever properly looked into, even secretly incorporating elements into my GCSE art projects despite my teacher's comments that I could not do collage for my final piece. (I was obsessed with Franz Ferdinand's Take Me Out.)

Terry Gilliam's The Miracle of Flight

Franz Ferdinand's Take Me Out directed by Jonas Odell

What is it about these videos that simultaneously fascinates and scares me? Maybe it's the jerky movements. When I was little I used to be afraid of Ray Harryhausen films not because they had gigantic mythical monsters but because of the way the stop motion made those creatures move. It was disconcerting. Fluid and stilted at the same time. I don't think I'll ever forget Medusa in Clash of the Titans

Ahh I guess I got sidetracked. I'm supposed to be talking about cut out animation and Jim Blashfield. Well, I think I like the slightly dated look of the images Blashfield uses. The use of vintage paraphernalia in collage has always interested me. Blashfield uses lots of everyday objects, pop culture objects but in his hands, under lots of photocopying and hours painstakingly cutting these out, they kind of become like Freudian symbols, the sort of images that could give you bad dreams. The two videos below are my favourite. The first is Suspicious Circumstances which is confusing and sinister. The second is Michael Jackson's Leave Me Alone which is "whimsical" but actually quite sad especially now that he's gone. The circus-y, 'cabinet of curiositiees' aesthetic is one I love. I don't know why, perhaps it's to do with the idea of 'The Show', and spectacle which I'm going to write about in later posts. If you aren't busy I'd really recommend watching these! Just to see something different! He also did videos for Talking Heads and Paul Simon.

Talking Heads - And She Was

Suspicious Circumstances - Jim Blashfield

Leave Me Alone - Michael Jackson

Image credits;
Jim Blashfield gifs from tumblr
Harryhausen gifs from tumblr

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

I Accepted The Invitation To The Voyage


My head has been a little frazzled recently. Actually, that's an understatement and I'll explain in the next few posts what happened but it's the reason there's no cake. (see last post) Thanks for your really kind and understanding comments! I'm graduating (hopefully) in 4 months and have a dissertation to write on before that and all I want to do is curl up in bed and listen to music and eat chocolate covered rice cakes. 
My brain is tired and I can't sleep. There is just an incessant internal monologue going on in there and it's distressing to say the least.
I've been finding solace in my bass guitar and just learning simple bass lines like Hanging on the Telephone. I don't know, there's something really hypnotic and soothing about running your fingers over the same two strings over and over again, I get to switch off for a bit. Well, at least until I accidentally miss a string and am brought back to the present by the discordant noise.
I have quite a few posts lined up and some new obsessions to show you. 
They involve: the circus, hero worship, "freakery", creative genius.
Thanks for sticking around despite my sporadic blogging. I promise, I'm back and ready to see what you're all up to.

So! What have you been up to?

Thursday, 12 February 2015

I rolled and I tumbled

So I'm ill! Hooray! (Wow. When was the last time anybody said hooray? Evens sarcastically? #bringbackhooray) I thought it was a cold but nope it must be flu because whenever I'm really ill I can't stop singing. I'm been wailing and sniffling through Bob Dylan's 'Rollin and Tumblin', which is perfect considering that's what I've been doing the last few nights in bed. 

So what do you do when you're sick? You get up at ridiculous o'clock even though you kept waking up during the night, you shower and then you open your webcam and moan about being ill and how you have no bone structure on blogger: I'm ill and I have no bone structure. :( 

I'll walk you through my "outfit". I'm wearing a vest under a long sleeve yellow top from H&M basics under a jumper from H&M under a hoodie from H& -  oh, it's from Primark. A kente cloth is on my lap, on top of that is a pink fluffy water bottle. Underneath these are jeans I haven't washed in forever, underneath those are tights and socks and socks and unshaved legs which where supposed to keep me warm (damn you! *shakes fist*)  and my creepers because they're loose enough for me to put on without untying! And now you see how being ill makes me sarcastic and more narcissistic than usual! I'm semi-delirious as I'm writing this and contemplating whether or not to order a pizza. What a world we live in. I want a pizza, somebody cooks it and then brings it right to my door, and places it in my hands and then I put it in my face. What a fucking world!

Ah I sound like a douche, kinda. I'm ill! Also: I love how there seems to be a consensus that if you act a little bit dickey, as long as you admit it, it's kind of more socially okay? I mean you all are probably having a lovely day and then I come in all grumpy and complaining on the internet. But then I remember some people make their living off of that, (*cough* Marc Maron)**  so if any money people are reading, I can do grumpier. Money people. Wow. I told you I'm ill.

I might regret posting this when I am well again but right now let's just say, I'm showing another side of me. A side that has ran out of pills. Please forgive me. See you all on the flipside of this illness! There'll be cake, or something. I don't know but it will be sweet. 


**he's hot? Yes. To me. He is an attractive man to me, Delirious ramblings. Marc Maron... kinda hot. Also saying 'hot' in my accent is just wrong. Some words do not sound good in this "British" accent. Like 'Chandler' and 'ass'. Oops okay bye!

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Baby Love

Listening to Petite Meller's Baby Love over and over again. 

The video is stunning and was directed by A.T. Mann and Napoleon Habeica. It's filmed in Kenya and normally when I see videos for European artists filmed in Africa this weird feeling rises within me, a mix of suspicion and annoyance. That's how I felt when I first started watching it. But I was also really curious because yes, I am African, my mother and my (deceased) father are Ghanaian immigrants, and I have only been to Ghana once when I was too young to appreciate it's beauty and just wanted air conditioning. So I get really curious to see portrayals of Africa that aren't just dust and poverty but at the same time aren't ignoring that to show how Africa is 'catching up with the West'. 

You're never going to find that full representation in ONE video or documentary or film, but I really liked the video to Baby Love. There was an aesthetic that I don't know how to describe in a full sentence but perhaps can try in a jumble of words: art, clarity, joy, attitude, beauty, style, colour