Mourning the death of musical literacy

This week has seen a couple of depressing things happen. Firstly the musician Billie Eilish admitted she had no idea who Van Halen were. Secondly people got cross at her for not knowing who Van Halen were. And thirdly, people got cross at the people who were cross with Billie for not knowing who Van Halen were because Van Halen aren’t culturally relevant today.

In short: a lot of people are cross for a lot of different reasons, some to do with Billie Eilish, some to do with Van Halen and some just because they enjoy being cross.

Of course the comments condemning and mocking Eilish for not having an indepth knowledge of Van Halen are wrong. When Gareth Bale recently admitted he didn’t know who the British Prime Minister was but could name the 10 ten ranked golfers in the world, we rolled our eyes and wrote him off as another disconnected thick footballer. The fact Eilish is a woman undoubtedly saw her receive much more grief for her confession that a bloke would have but that’s not what I’m really interested in to be honest.

I’m not expecting every person who either likes listening to music or works in the music industry to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of 70 years of popular music but much like movie making is informed by what has gone before it, so too is music. An appreciation for other genres and time periods can only ever be a boon surely?

I’ve watched Billie in concert on the BBC’s Glasto coverage and although she’s not my cup of tea, I can see that she gave an extraordinary performance that should be applauded. There are plenty of forms of music I don’t like, I’m not a fan of grime, R&B, Nu metal, an a lot of modern pop but that doesn’t mean I know nothing about them. Considering I’m an old school rock fan (think Zep, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath the Who, Pink Floyd, old Fleetwood Mac, branching out into 80s metal), I still love a bit of 60s psychedelia, 50s rock and roll, the new folk revival and some good old fashioned country. In the 90s I got into ambient and dance, good music is good music, pass me another Chemical Brothers album. Oh, and the best gig I’ve seen in the last couple of years was Grandmaster Flash- he was phenomenal.

So I’m sad.

I’m sad that Billie hasn’t heard of the original drummer turned guitarist (waaaay before Dave Grohl made it popular), and popularised the two handed tapping technique in the 1978 song Eruption (Guitarist magazine readers voted it the second best guitar solo of all time once). I’m sad that people think they can lay into her for it but I’m equally sad that others think the best way to stick up for her is to say Van Halen have no relevance today.

In a world where Spotify and Apple Music make it easy to skip songs on an album by an artist you love, the chances of people listening to stuff they don’t know or have any real interest in seems staggeringly remote. That also makes me sad.

I tend to find new music (or rather, music that’s new to me) from a huge variety of sources. Some of it is down to Spotify suggestions, but mostly it’s long involved tangential investigations into more or less entirely unrelated subjects on Wikipedia or Google that lead me down some very esoteric paths.

For example last month I listened to the KLF’s Chill Out album a few times and eventually thought, I wonder what actual throat singing sounds like outside of the sampled world of the KLF, so I did some digging and ended up listening to Achai by the Alash Ensemble, a traditional Tuvan Throat singing group. I’ve been mesmerised and it’s probably my most listened to album of the last few months.

I’ve also recently discovered the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and they’re great. There are a couple of tracks that you’ll probably have heard at some point on the telly in an advert or somewhere- Jollity Farm, the Urban Spaceman and Canyons of Your Mind are pretty well known. It can be something as simple as wondering where an ad on the TV sourced it’s music from.

I tend to drive the kids up the wall with the sort of music that gets put on in the car but they do get exposure to a very wide variety of music as a result. I’ve never felt prouder than the moment when we were in the car driving to Cambridge and Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus came on the radio, the kids all sang along word for word. They hadn’t even heard the Depeche Mode original, rather they’d heard Johnny Cash’s cover version on the only CD in the car on endless repeat whenever we went out of decent radio reception.

Unpicking the dementia tax argument and several red herrings

From the Telegraph:

Pensioners with care needs must stop regarding their homes as “an asset to give to their offspring”, the social care minister has said, as she revived the row over the Conservatives’ so-called “dementia tax”.

Jackie Doyle-Price said it was “unfair” for younger taxpayers to “prop up people to keep their property” when it could be sold to help pay for their own care needs.

I don’t read the Telegraph. I used to as a student but it’s not the newspaper it once was, and the rather hilarious adulation of Boris just makes it look silly. However someone commented on the above article on Facebook and brought it to my attention.

The comments were full of what I suspect are magenta hued baby boomers (closer to the 1946 vintage than the 1964 vintage mind), who were lambasting the government for penalising the hard working and frugality of their generation while  allowing those spendthrifts in council homes to get away scot free. Their comments on the youth of today were equally scathing too. Here is a montage of invective, with surnames blanked out as I am nice like that:

Click for larger

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When you hurt the cause you champion

Oh for a rounded world view.

The problem with ideology is that it becomes a means to an end. In the Large Hadron Collider of Life, when ideology and social interaction are hurled together at a high percentage of the speed of light, it is often the case that individual ideologues involved get so caught up in their narrative that common sense has to take a back seat.

Whether this is manifest as the devout Christian spreading what he thinks is God’s word by shambling up and down the high street with a sinners repent sandwich board and a portable megaphone, the Gamer Gate “ethics in journalism” lot automatically assuming that any woman involved in video games is there because of sexual favours offered to men, or the feminist who’s default position is any man is a woman beater, the thing they all have in common is the damage they do to their cause by their actions and behaviour. View Full Post

The £70K question

Yesterday was full of hot takes on whether earning £70K makes you rich. The man with exciting eyebrows, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, was responsible for this, saying Labour would tax the rich more, with “the rich” being defined as those earning more than £70K.

I’ll say now I don’t earn £70K, so I’m not defending myself here. Plenty of my friends earn more than £70K, in some instances it’s multiples of that, and some of those can plead poverty in public without any sense of irony.

£70K is without a doubt a lot of money.

It’s four and a half times the salary I started on as a trainee accountant twenty years ago.

As a gross salary, it’s over two and a half times the national average of £27k (in terms of take home pay though, it’s only just over twice as much due to tax thresholds and allowances).

However in plenty of family situations, with a single wage earner and a stay at home parent, it’s only marginally better than both parents working for the national average. Two basic rate tax payers earning the average UK wage each between them will take home 91% of the amount one individual earning £70K will. And that’s before anything like working family tax credits or other benefits that are available to basic rate tax payers.

The unasked question is how many families chose to make the sacrifice in terms of one parent’s career to ensure the other parent maximises their earnings? 

There are of course other issues, such as the cost of childcare- for us to have all three in child care before and after school was, until recently high enough that a £50K salary would have been roughly the break even point to cover child care. This was a combination of where we live and the cost of child care for three children. Once they were all in full time education the cost would have dropped to a little over £8,500 from taxed income for breakfast and after school club during term time and many thousands more to cover the 14 weeks of school holidays. That’s a lot. View Full Post

What is and what isn’t bullying is important

I’m stepping outside of my family to talk about the wider blogging community in this post, hold on to your hats, it’s a scary bumpy ride! This post has been prompted by endless Facebook posts about (cyber) bullying over the last year or so. The opinions here are my own, based on my views, and are not targeted at individuals because lets face it, I interact with so few of the blogging community now, whenever I meet new people, they assume I’m a newbie. As a parent who suffered physical bullying myself, I know what bullying is and what it can do to a child and I want to clear a few things up.

As long as I’ve been involved in the parent blogging community (that would be around 2007 vicariously and 2009 directly) people have argued the toss about everything, from bottle feeding to PSD, and more recently over who is a freebie grabbing corporate whore and who isn’t.

People disagree, people argue. People can disagree pleasantly, in a rational and dispassionate manner and people can disagree with a vituperative spleen venting tirade of invective. At the end of the day it boils down to the same thing, two people disagreeing over something. View Full Post

The death of empathy and kindness


We were on our way back from a blogging event yesterday when an elderly chap pushed past (I was holding the hand of our four year old at the time) with his wheelie suitcase and then stopped abruptly right in front of us to collapse the handle and labour slowly up the stairs. It was sort of a perambulatory version of those morons who see you coming and pull out of the supermarket car park at speed but only accelerate to 20 miles an hour. I got cross but my wife’s response was interesting and made me think. She basically said a few months ago she made peace with the fact that pretty much everybody has no thought for others, no empathy or compassion and she wasn’t going to get cross or react to it because she was expecting people to behave badly.  View Full Post

Your Christmas advert is just that, an advert

Another year has passed and we’re again deluged with that peculiar invention of some bright spark at a PR agency, the Christmas Advert Event. John Lewis get a lot of the credit for it, but Coca Cola with their perennial “Holidays are coming” advert they roll out every Christmas are just to blame. View Full Post

The Grammar School Question

I hadn’t anticipated listening to the claptrap about grammar school reintroduction today but I heard an interview with Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, on Radio 4 this morning ostensibly about NATO peace keepers that veered into education towards the end and now I’m cross. I’ve generally given up on Radio 4 in the mornings since Nick Robinson joined the team but the courtesy car I’ve got has a dodgy aerial and can’t hold onto a music station very well.

Something Fallon (privately educated) said really stood out, for all the wrong reasons, which is really no surprise when it comes to education:

“That’s the kind of choice I want to see in every part of the country,[Everywhere] should have a choice, a proper choice of good schools. Not a choice that’s passing the 11-plus and then failing it and having to go off to a sink school of the kind that has let our children down so badly.”

Apparently we currently have a system that doesn’t have a good choice of schools, and basically sees the majority end up at sink schools. I’ve taken the quote from a newspaper article but did hear it spoken, and it confuses the hell out of me. Half the ills in schools at the moment come from an obsession with testing, bench marking and administration, the other half comes from chronic under-funding. Personally I’ve seen my nine year old son’s love of writing crushed under a need to make sure his paragraphs have fronted adverbials or other such nonsense included that when googled only seem to appear on school curriculum websites. I’m not alone in detesting this, Michael Rosen isn’t a fan either. View Full Post

The Haves and Have Nots

I don’t know if accused is exactly the right word but I’m going to use it. Last week I was accused of being rich. We live in a city that has a lot of wealth; a good number of my friends are on 6 figure salaries and earn two or three times what I do. I don’t feel rich, and neither does my wife. We have three kids, and once the monthly payments (mortgage, household bills and so on) have gone out, we have hundreds of pounds (not thousands) left to save up for our annual holiday, feed and clothe the kids and to try and put some away for a rainy day.

The funny thing is, the fact we’re house owners with a fairly large mortgage (although low interest rates mean we’re only paying a few quid more than we did on a mortgage half the size 15 years ago), appeared to count against me in the rich stakes. To be a homeowner in the south east makes you rich. Again I suppose it’s a perception thing- renting our house would almost certainly cost us two to three times what we pay in mortgage repayments because it’s a desirable place to live. We’d certainly be poorer if we weren’t homeowners and almost certainly wouldn’t be able to live where our kids have/are growing up but I don’t know if per se that makes us rich. View Full Post

Vox horribilis

As a blogger I would be some sort of super hypocrite if I wasn’t a proponent of free speech and open constructive discourse. A blogger is bound to have an opinion on everything. And as such I am a proponent of free speech and open constructive discourse. Hurrah! But I think we’re currently suffering a malaise of what I like to refer to as Vox Horribilis for several reasons.

A blog and by extension social media are the idea place to make your voice heard… within reason. I can use many words to describe my thoughts on this but I think Randall Munroe sums it up nicely with this comic:

free speech vs toxic opinion from xkcd

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