Clever Basterds: another reason to be cheerful

Ian Dury’s birthday.
Early 80s, there were two albums of Ian Dury and the Blockheads  which got thrashed to death and beyond, at least in the circles in which I was, somewhat unstealdy, inclined to move. 

One was New Boots and Panties, the debut album which came out – from memory – sometime in 1978. 

The other was Juke Box Dury, a compilation album of singles, both A and B sides. This was one of those B-sides.  

Dury and the Blockheads were one of the last bands to regularly produce singles which did not appear on albums. This was something done by British bands, going back to the sixties, but most dropped the practice in the ’70s, especially if they had ambitions to conquer the US market. This did not mean singles were not taken from albums, it is just that a number of singles woudl be released in between albums. 

By the early ’80s only a few bands were doing this on any regular basis- the Jam, Dury, and….um. The Beat, I think, did a couple of non-album singles (the fantastic ‘Too Nice To Talk To’ was one). The Pretenders intially did ‘Talk of the Town’ as an inter-album single but it later appeared on their second album. DExys Midnight Runners initially did ‘Plan B’ as an inter-album, one off single, though they did re-record it (with a very different lineup) for their second album ‘Too Rye Aye’.

NOTE: These are all fantastic numbers.

I think Madness also did some inter-album singles but I can’t recall what they were right now.

Anyway, Dury. Brilliant lyricist, by all accounts a pain in the arse to deal with. The Blockheads were an amazing band – their rhygthm section was one of the bestand tightest   around and when they were first heard in the US people could not beleive they were (mostly) white. 

Dury had a hard life – handcapped from youth due to polio, he used to lean on the mic stand for support (Johnny Rotton/Lydon, of the Sex Pistols, saw him doing this and copied the stance even though Lydon’s sole handicap, appart from his attitude, was his teeth).

He was put in a home at one point, and abused ( he sang about it in ‘Dance of the Crackpots’, which starts as a joke and then turns into something much more painful and harrowing).

And he couldn’t keep his trousers on. He seems to have been sexual catnip, to the point of self destruction: there’s a tale in a biogrpahy of him where the bnad was taken to dinner by the head of their record company’s entire European division. They were poised to make it big on the conttinent, but Dury copped off witht he wife of the head of the record company during the dinner. And that was the end of their chances in Europe.

Dury also wrote plays, appeared in films, and was an all-round brilliant bloke. His lyrics are often hilarious and rarely not clever. But he tended, like a lot of birtlalin bods, to self-sabotage. 

Tweet Surrender

I’ve tended to steer clear of full blown arguments on the Twitter.

Initially skeptical about the whole medium- the name is silly, and 140 characters? what can you possibly say in that? – there’s an addictive aspect to it which I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on.

I treat it like a mix of – for professional reasons – a kind of informal wire service, notifying me of what is going on, especially economically and politically, as well as being a casual passing conversation.

It is, now I write it down like that, an odd mix.

NZ comedian Michelle A’Court recently described it as like being at a party: you can dip into or out of conversations as you like, move on when you find them boring or offensive or you spot something more interesting.

Oh, and there’s often someone starting a fight somewhere.

I’ve tended to steer clear of those. Firstly, my own rule for online arguments (which I know I haven’t always stuck to) is take whatever you would say to someone face to face, and try to tone it down by around 15% or so.

Face to face, a smile, a lift of the eyebrow, or just the tone of voice, can soften words which, on the screen, look stark and harsh.

Also, some people are just arseholes behind a keyboard.

The other reason is sheer time management. A ruthless application of the LTS Rule is necessary when dealing with social media.

There is this addictive, compelling quality to online arguments. It isn’t just Twitter – it happens on Facebook, it used to happen on usenet. The bullshit is still bullshit, it just goes by different names.

Not all participants get sucked into it, but those who do tend to make Robert Maxwell look like a piker when it comes to going overboard.

To adapt a Douglas Adams concept, Twitter becomes a kind of Total Lack Of Perspective Vortex and otherwise intelligent and charming people completely lose it.

There’s been a recent meltdown on the NZ Twitterzone: if you don’t know about it, don’t worry – the details are very boring and in any case there will probably be another one along shortly.

The dignified, as Paul Weller once warbled, don’t even enter into the game.

If you want to know, though, feel free to search “twitterarti”.

Go ahead. Block yourself out.

This particular meltdown was a bit more meta: it was triggered by a story by a journalist who wrote a piece a month or so back about the ‘Twitterarti’ – a piece which caused some deep resentments amongst folk who spend a lot of time on the medium. Somehow  – I have no idea how, I haven’t analysed it closely and I have no intention of doing so – it mutated into a row over gender politics and it all went horribly wrong.

The only observation I’d make is that if you’re taking any criticism of Twitter interactions as a personal attack, then perhaps you’re wrapping up way too much of your identity and self-worth in the medium.

As for arguments online generally: they work fine on less emotional topics. I’ve had some great, and often quite fiery, discussions over monetary policy and the like in various forums*.

Get into something with more emotional hot-buttons  – and anything relating to gender issues is guaranteed to have plenty of those – and it is Meltdown Ahoy. Any discussion is just not going to end well.

It is bad enough discussing such issues in real life. On the line?  Hoo Boy.

It does get like the piece quoted above about arguments online: the T-Rex-With-An-Erection mix of surreal fury.

There’s another aspect of online discussions which makes these things worse.

To return to Michelle A’Court’s analogy of a party, someone having a casual discussion at a social gathering can make a verbal statement, be challenged: the matter can be discussed and people are perhaps more inclined to modify their initial position.

Online, any initial position is written down. there’s something less movable about a written statement than a verbal one.

This is particularly so because there is always someone going “but you said […..fill in slightly loose or flippant or ill-thought comment here].”

Avoid, mostly. As written here a week or so back about the Rugby World Cup over-kill: perspective is all.

Anyway, here’s the Jam, for those who have picked up on the allusions to their final single during this post.

  • No, you get a life.