Archive for January 2003
Tonight is Burns Night, the main annual cultural celebration in Scotland. Though I am Scots, and enjoyed most of the Burns that I read, I am not convinced he would have been so prolific had he foreseen the long-term effects of his work. His style, language, and thinking have dominated Scottish culture since his time, shaping everyone’s perceptions of Scotland. Echoes of Burns, and reactions against his work, can be found everywhere today, from Iain Banks, to Billy Connolly, to Trainspotting.
Edinburgh is the popular seat of Scottish culture today, the first stop for American tourists searching for their Scottish roots. It’s no accident that the film Trainspotting starts with an American tourist, visiting Edinburgh, getting mugged by a local junkie – it symbolizes Irvine Welsh’s reaction to the Yankee invasion. I took a day trip there last year, but spent only two hours looking around before jumping on the train back to Glasgow.
Edinburgh is also the world capital of Hogmanay, with several hundred thousand people converging on the place last month to get drunk and stupid, and sing Auld Lang Syne without understanding the words. The Encyclopaedia Britannica has “Scottish Cuisine” in its index, but with only one related entry: haggis.
On the topic of Scotland and my culture, the following words are more meaningful to me. I don’t think I’m exaggerating to describe Stuart Adamson as another great Scots poet and songwriter, worthy of a place up there alongside MacDiarmid and Burns. These words came from his liner notes to the reissue of The Seer, the 1986 album by Big Country:
I came to one day in 1985 and found I had been around the world several times in a chaos of bagpipe guitars and cold small beer. I had been translated and subtitled from the sack to the mill and came home to a place that didn’t look like the press kit.
I was aware that I was carrying more than just some cheap luggage around with me, especially when I spoke in an accent deemed everything from cute to impenetrable, depending on who was doing the listening. It seemed that all I did was defined by my being Scots, and all of it someone else’s definition.
So I opened my eyes, I looked, I listened, I read, and made tangible for myself what had been instinctive. Somewhere between Alex Harvey and Hugh McDiarmid, Glencoe and Hampden Park was a culture, and it was mine. It too had been packaged and marketed, but it was there, tucked away in a corner below the whisky and shortbread crates.
So I took it out and dusted it off, and there it was. It wanted to be outward looking and forward thinking, freed of the misty sentimentality of nationalism, but aware of its continuity. Where have we been, where are we going, what can we give, what can we learn?
Me? I just brought it to the party.
© 1996 Stuart Adamson
Stuart died just over a year ago, a victim of both his failures and his successes. Tonight I will raise a glass of something “dry” to the memories of Adamson and Burns. Cheers.
Currently, these are my all-time favourite rock & pop albums, in order by artist:
- Big Country – Peace In Our Time (1988)
- Faith No More – Angel Dust (1992)
- King Crimson – Discipline (1981)
- Marillion – Afraid Of Sunlight (1995)
- Metallica – … And Justice For All (1988)
- Muse – Origin Of Symmetry (2001)
- OMD – Architecture & Morality (1981)
- Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)
- Rush – Signals (1982)
- David Sylvian – Gone To Earth (1986)
- Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing (1986)
- Talk Talk – The Colour Of Spring (1985)
- U2 – Achtung Baby (1991)
- Yes – Yessongs (1973)
A few of those will be swapped out by this time next week; even though all but one of those albums are more than five years old, the list is not static. The last year has seen a couple of new contenders to the list, such as the Doves. Jazz and classical are another matter entirely, I think I need to hear a lot more of both before I can start making lists, and those would be of composers and artists, not albums.
Some great bands produce inconsistent albums, and a prime example from my collection is Dream Theater. I found that about half of each of their albums is great, the other half mediocre. Rush have the same problem to a lesser extent, though they were hitting the spot around 1980-ish. Then there’s Genesis, which is a topic for another day, with all the spin that surrounds them, pro and con.
The Big Country album I’ve chosen is not considered their best by most fans, because of the polished production. I actually like that aspect, and the songs are all excellent in their own right. Marillion too – many fans turned their backs after 1988, when Fish left, but they are still going strong and planning their next moves at the moment.
I’m listening to a Muse live bootleg at the moment, and I can hear Matthew Bellamy playing bits of Plug-In Baby wrong – or is he? They’re his guitar parts, after all. Great stuff, regardless, it’s part of a positive trend in music over the last few years, kick-started by Radiohead – the return of bombast, and over-ambition in music, that got me interested again. Roots are fine, they tell me where you’ve been; but where are you going?
I’m grateful that most communication here in Ireland is carried out in English, compared to what I saw in France last month. There they dubbed everything into French, but I didn’t mention that I also saw a bit of a French remake of “Absolutely Fabulous”, with local actors and a feature film format. Back here, though, we have “The Muppet Show” with all the characters speaking Gaelic, but not the guest stars. At the moment we have Kermit The Frog talking (in Gaelic) to Charles Aznavour, who replies in English, describing how he can say anything to Miss Piggy in French and make her swoon. He goes on to prove it by reciting the phone number of the Paris garbage dump: “neuf trois deux un…”.
That’s it – TV’s going off, and it’s back to my book. I’m re-reading Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy and Larry Bond. It came out in 1986 and I last read it over ten years ago. From what I remember, it’s been quite prophetic about some things, and thankfully wrong about others. Middle East Oil plays a huge part, almost foreshadowing the Gulf War, and it was clear even then, three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, that the Communist Bloc economies could simply not continue as they were without something drastic happening. Clancy gets a lot of criticism in the USA for his slightly right-wing views, and has even tackled such questions as tax reform, once his long-standing character Jack Ryan became President. He knows his field, though, and it’s not wise to simply dismiss his work as fiction.
More ominously, Clancy later foresaw the use of an airliner in an attack on a public building. Or, what if terrorists read Tom Clancy novels too? In Debt Of Honor the main target was the Capitol building in Washington DC, and that may have been the target of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.
Tributes are pouring in for Maurice Gibb, the second of the Bee Gees to die. I know it’s in poor taste to criticise someone who has just died, and I won’t go quite as far as Denis Leary did in No Cure For Cancer after Andy Gibb died: “One down, three to go!” Now it’s “two down, two to go”, but it would have been enough for the band to break up, as long as the “music” stopped. “Here’s ten bucks, bring me the head of Barry Manilow. I want to drink beer out of his empty skull… you write the songs, we’ll drink the beer out of your empty head!”
Half-watching Indiana Jones: the Last Crusade, featuring some of the most bizarre action sequences. Spielberg seemed to be working hard to avoid many of the usual clichés here; when Indy jumps in to a speedboat in Venice, you expect that he’ll soon be speeding through the canals, but no, he heads straight out to sea. Great dialogue between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery too. “You call this Archaeology?!”
Friday evening was spent first at the pub, then at someone’s house playing table tennis in a cold, wet and draughty garage, fortified by a pretty good curry and cans of Budvar. Not a bad evening, but it definitely led to my coming down with a cold, waking up both yesterday and today at 5am with everything hurting. I’m debating whether I should go to work; an hour ago it was definitely off, but a couple of ibuprofen tablets have kicked in and I’m feeling almost human. I’ll probably go in and see what happens, perhaps leaving early. I have another conference call with Istanbul this morning.
A quiet couple of days. I didn’t do any partying over New Year’s Eve, since the transport here situation is impossible. After midnight, only taxis are available, and though I could walk from Dublin centre (an hour), the weather was going to be atrocious. The local pubs don’t hold that much interest for me either.
So, that’s the holiday season over, and it’s back to the grindstone. This morning I was on a conference call with HP Turkey, over problems at a local ISP over Christmas. They had serious server problems, with all the Christmas email traffic, which may have been exacerbated by a new email virus that came out about then… impossible to say from 3200 km (2000 miles) away.