A Farewell To (Bending) Arms

Looking back, I failed.  Failure, it must be said, is something of a broad proposition; on the one hand you can just fall short and comfort yourself that you’ll do better next time, or; you can go so spectacularly wide of the mark that your failure is an achievement of itself.  If that all sounds confusing, think of it in ‘Birdman Rally’ terms.  Some entrants in the Birdman Rally soar majestically and when they fall, we’re inevitably disappointed.  We are poisoned by a sense of a potential that’s not been realized.  Other contestants fall off the platform into the river and never stood a chance and we cheer.  I was the latter.

I speak, of course, of alcohol.  If I’m being completely honest, I was never any good at it.  Two years ago, as the pandemic came down with all the subtlety of a lead balloon, I gave it up. There was, at the time, something of an extended social license to get stuck into the liquor to cope with such perverse and unusual circumstances.  Whilst I realize that ‘quarantinis’ were a comfort to some, I went the other way. It may have been my rebellious streak kicking in.

It was, I think, something I could control at a time when everything else seemed out of control.  In the movies, such things only happen when the protagonist not so much hits rock bottom as crashes straight through it, before plunging into the depths of hell and reluctantly deciding to change their ways.  It was different for me.  Instead of reaching rock bottom, I kind of lost interest.  Two years later, I think I’m ready to accept that my days of drinking alcohol are behind me.  As such, I must now come to terms with the fact that there are certain things I’ll never achieve.

I longed to understand spirits.  Whiskey, gin and vodka – you name it; I found them all absolutely intriguing. All those movies where sophisticated urbanites meet for cocktails, witty banter and dancing to jazz – that’s who I wanted to be.  I desperately wanted to be the one in the crowded room holding the glass of some exotic liquor who was, somehow, above whatever else might be happening at that moment.  It just didn’t happen.  I was rubbish with spirits.

I tried my sincere best to like whiskey, but it didn’t work out.  At the risk of sounding like a total neophyte, it felt like trying to suck down a tumbler of petroleum.  Instead of looking like an urbane intellectual giant, each time I took a sip, my face bore the expression of someone who’d just swallowed a lemon and the tree it grew on.  Getting to the end of a glass of whiskey was an act of endurance rather than enjoyment.  I watched on as friends became connoisseurs, even going so far as to discuss their preferred brands and the great whiskey-producing regions of the world.  The way they spoke made the stuff sound like the highly intoxicating nectar of the gods.  But it all tasted like premium unleaded to me.  

Vodka was something I always experienced more by accident than design.  I don’t recall ever electing to buy vodka; rather, it would simply materialize in the cupboard from time to time.  Gin was, without doubt, the sneakiest of them all. I never knew where I stood with gin, right up to the point that I could no longer stand at all.  One minute you’re wondering whether someone substituted the hard stuff for water, the next your tongue has inflated like an airbag and you can no longer speak.  

Red wine was my absolute favourite.  It was how I ended most weeks for a very long time.  Like a starter’s pistol, a glass of red wine was tangible evidence that the weekend had finally arrived.  Often, I’d fall asleep on the couch on a Friday night, a glass of red wine by my side.  I’d thought that maybe I’d been drinking too quickly but I’ve since discovered that, alcohol or not, I’m still likely to nod off in front of the TV on Fridays.  

Special mention must be made of beer.  In many respects, beer is a lot like love in that it too is a many splendoured thing.  At the right moment, beer can be extraordinary; the first sip on a hot day or the way it melts when it’s poured into a cold glass.  Having said that, I don’t especially miss the way it sits like lead in your body when you’re tired or how it makes you supernaturally flatulent.  I have, instead, discovered a host of non-alcoholic beers that are actually pretty great. 

When I first stopped drinking alcohol, it was like a test to see how long I could go without.  I marked the days off the calendar with a texta.  Now, after two years, I’m enjoying not ever having to think about alcohol.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting for a moment that other people shouldn’t drink.  But, for me, I’m glad to be done with it.

Thinking about it now, there were times in my twenties when I deliberately misunderstood the term ‘alcohol free’.  Things have definitely changed.  For the better, I think.  I’ve no idea whether this will be forever but, for the moment at least, it feels like one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If that means I can never be the whiskey-sipping sophisticated urbanite of my dreams, so be it.  Frankly, failure never felt so good.  Cheers.

‘My Humps’ by The Black Eyed Peas – A Reappraisal

There are moments that define us all.  Events that are so momentous, they change the course of human history.  These things act as signposts in our lives and, once they occur, we can never go back.  They are proof that, as a species, we are continuing to evolve, even when ‘Married At First Sight’ provides such persuasive evidence to the contrary.  The moon landing. The day Nelson Mandela walked free from Victor Verster Prison.  Every movie ever made featuring The Muppets.  

We often choose to interpret historic events personally.  It’s just the way human beings process things that are otherwise beyond comprehension.  Often, it’s by what we were doing when we learned a certain thing has happened.  ‘Where were you when?’ is a small step towards understanding the unfathomable.  It applies equally to the traumatic as it does to the beautiful.  It even applies to songs.  And now that enough time has passed and we have, collectively, gathered our senses, I believe it’s time to ask: what were you doing when The Black Eyed Peas released ‘My Humps’?

For those unfamiliar with ‘My Humps’, I think I can speak for everyone who has when I say: I envy you. However it is that you managed to avoid being exposed to this most ubiquitous of ear worms, keep doing it; even if it means never leaving the house or turning on a television again. Stay golden.  Because once heard, it cannot be unheard.  It is a song that can never be forgotten; which is both part of its charm and its unique evil genius. 

‘My Humps’ is a song. It goes for about four minutes but, if I’m being honest, it feels like much longer.  In fact, it feels like it took less time to get through High School than it does to listen to ‘My Humps’ from start to finish.  It’s an ordeal.  Like running a marathon or walking across a desert or watching ‘The Real Housewives of Anywhere’, it’s something you’ll come to regret. Quickly.

Its starts with what can only be described as a ‘sassy, hip hop beat’.  As rhythms go, this one is intoxicating.  As a rapper myself, there’s nothing I appreciate more than a great beat.  Then comes the question: ‘What you gonna do with all that junk, all that junk inside your trunk?’ For those of you envisaging old newspapers in the back of a Ford Focus, think again.  The trunk in question is a reference to what might be politely described as someone’s ‘trouser hams’ and ‘junk’ is a reference to the dimensions of said hams.  

Every question deserves an answer and in this case, the answer is ‘I’m gonna get you drunk, get you love drunk off my hump.’  To drive the point home, the term ‘my hump’ is then repeated eight times in a row without so much as a commercial break to avoid monotony.  For those of you who are perplexed by so strange a mantra, the ‘hump’ in question does not belong to a camel (although it would make for an awesome video if it did) but the singer.  It is, in fact, a reference to the physical human form and its intoxicating effect on others.  

The verse begins.  It is, in many respects, an expansion on the previous answer.  The singer describes her treatment by male suitors and their willingness to spend money in a bid to secure her attention. Suddenly, it becomes clear that this arrangement is not as spontaneous as it first appears but a condition precedent.  The point is made with absolute precision when the singer croons that they can ‘keep on dating’ if her suitor keeps on ‘demonstrating’.  Now I love economics as much as the next person, and it’s great to the principles of supply and demand included in a pop song, but I’m not sure what John Maynard Keynes would make of it.  As it turns out, the currency for affection is ‘my humps’ which, if I’m being honest, is probably a more reliable than crypto-currency. 

The rapper who posed the original question is probably regretting having opened his mouth at this point.  He laments the amount of money he’s spending, effectively complaining that he is subject to a form of economic duress.  The singer proves unsympathetic, making it clear that any action that goes beyond the scope of their unspoken agreement will result in ‘drama’.  She then adds ‘you don’t want no drama’. No, I certainly don’t.

The whole thing wraps up with about another thousand references to ‘my humps’, after which the listener will need to detoxify their ears if they ever wish to see another day during which the words ‘my humps’ doesn’t leap into their mind.  

In some respects, ‘My Humps’ is a song of empowerment and sound financial management.  In every other respect, however, it’s an earworm that can only be removed with the help of an exorcist.  Some twenty years later, I think of it often.  It’s partly a testament to the enduring power of the song and partly because I hear it regularly after Monaco adopted it as their National Anthem in 2012.  In retrospect, ‘My Humps’ perfectly described a particular mindset at a point in time.  It did so perfectly. And as much as I respect its genius, I’d very much like to never hear it again.  You best avoid playing it.  Because, after all, you don’t want no drama.

The Flying Folk Club Spandex Spectacular

The moment has arrived.  After three decades of retirement, I am returning to the stage.  I’m not sure I’m ready.  And I’m certain the gig-going public are equally unprepared for the musical maelstrom that’s about to be unleashed.  Doubtless, there will yelling, screaming and thrashing about – that’s certainly the way audiences used to react to my efforts. Luckily, I have lots of experience. 

Musicians are often lured out of retirement with the promise of obscene riches.  Not me.  My glorious return has been secured on the vague promise of a complimentary counter meal.  I’m pretty sure The Eagles insisted on more than a chicken parma before agreeing to play ‘Hotel California’ for the three millionth time.  In actual fact, I’ll be paying to play.  Whilst shelling out your own hard-earned cash is not very rock roll, even the most hardcore musician must accept that there are reasonable administrative fees associated with these kinds of events.  Rock on!

I agreed to perform at a folk club theme night.  I have never before performed at a folk club theme night.  But I’m going to assume that a gig is a gig and it’ll be much the same as the gigs I played in the eighties.  Which is when I last performed.  Suffice to say, I’m quietly confident that I won’t be the only performer on the night wearing spandex.  Or who brings home made pyrotechnics.  I plan to arrive early so I can attach a cable to the roof, which I’ll connect to harness so as to recreate ‘The Flying Jon’ from the ‘Living In A Prayer’ video by Bon Jovi.  You can learn a lot from that music video.  Or, if not a lot, then how to fly out over an audience.

The theme for the night was ‘metals’.  Given my experience out the front of a hard rock combo in the metal era, this was clearly playing to my strengths. Unfortunately, the rules required that the song reference a metal of some kind rather than the band itself, completely ruining my plan to do an entire set of Nickelback songs on ukulele and washboard.  We asked to do ‘Brass in Pocket’ but someone else had already claimed it. We were left with no choice – we would need to write our own song.

As themes go, ‘metals’ is interesting.  There are lots of songs about gold and silver. There’s at least one about titanium.  Maybe copper, too. But there are plenty of metals that never get a look in.  It was time to set the second straight.  

We decided to write verses that referenced other musicians and their metal songs.  It resulted in lines such as ‘Bing Crosby’s Silver Bells, is a journey into hell’ and ‘If you want to keep it classy, then sing some Shirley Bassey’.  That kind of thing. For the chorus, we listed less popular metals like Zinc, Praseodymium and Gadolinium, noting that incorporating them into a song could see you become ‘Tungsten tied’.  We were all set to perform.

The great thing about spandex is that it stretches. In practical terms, it means I can use the same spandex bodysuit I used in the nineteen eighties for my gig. Granted, the leopard skin pattern was being forced into some pretty unusual shapes and, frankly, it looked as though it belonged to a really big leopard, but I figured if I wore it to work the day before, it should be alright on the night.

When the day arrived, we got to the folk club early. I attached my ‘Flying Jon’ harness to the roof.  Ideally, the roof would be eight metres high.  Unfortunately, the roof was two and a half metres tall, practically guaranteeing that when I leapt, I’d take out tables four through seven. Everyone has to make sacrifices; in this case tables four through seven.  That’s showbiz.

As other performers arrived, a certain theme emerged.  Namely, flannel. I began to feel self conscious. No-one wants to be the spandex cork bobbing in a sea of lumberjacks.   Ironically, a leopard’s spots are to help him camouflage himself.  Leopard skin print on a body suit, however, was having much the opposite effect.  I sat patiently at our table and ordered my complimentary chicken parma from the bar.

Finally, it was our turn to hit the stage.  The crowd fell into a stunned silence as we entered.  It is, I later learned, unusual for acts at a folk club to emerge through a curtain of dry ice. As we started to strum our guitars, I decided it was time to leap into the audience.  Luckily, the cable to the roof remained firmly in place. The same, however, could not be said for my leopard skin jump suit.  The additional strain of the harness and cable was too much.  With its physical integrity fatally compromised; table four was confronted by the sight of a middle age man bursting out of a leopard whilst strumming a ‘G’ chord.  They didn’t cheer so much as scream.

To say that I hit the wrong note would be something of an understatement.  I immediately announced my retirement.  It suits me.  The leopard skin spandex jump suit has been buried in the back yard.  It’s for the best.  Indeed, it may be another thirty years before I perform in public again.  But when I do, watch out!  Especially if you’re seated at tables four through seven.