Welcome to Starting Monday on patkane.global - my musing over the last week of busyness, and what leads it gives me for the next seven.
Keen-eyed readers (you lucky few) will have noted quite a few non-starters, these last few Mondays. I am certainly at an age and stage when the creative life, as editorialised here, cannot be fuelled in every instance. If the energy simply runs out, something’s gotta give. But when it takes up again, it’s interesting to dwell on why I can’t bring myself to the weekend keyboard.
I have a very good, contingent excuse: I have been a proper and professional musician these last three weekends, with my brother, as Hue and Cry. We’ve been co-headlining a few 1000-capacity gigs with our fellow 80s sophistipop practitioners, The Christians (so-called because of their parental surname, not their profession of faith).
They’re out working as a full-band, we’re just piano/guitar and vocal, in this instance - and acoustic gigs, in quite big halls, are pretty hard work. The sonic impact of our usual H&C line-up - an 8-piece classic soul-revue - has to be compensated for, somehow, between just us two. And what it takes is a full-personality commitment to the gig: added to the words and melody, you have to be story-teller, confessor, comedian, conduit. But you are hollowed out, by the end of the process.
It also demands a levels of technical excellence (for me, a relaxed, ringing vocal quality) which requires me to handle myself with great care running up to, and after, each of the Friday-Saturday-Sunday gigs. Nothing desiccating can get near the throat (caffeine, alcohol, spiced foods). And there can be no extraneous small-talk, never mind raucous tour bus banter. In a way, this daytime monasticism really serves the nighttime performance. I explode emotionally all over the stage, at last allowed to be a fully communicating human.
And then the gig itself - 12 songs, which you always imagine will be refreshed from the wider pool of hundreds of songs that we’ve written, but rarely is. That's partly because you want to be economical and efficient with your voice. An established set set-list becomes a familiar landscape each night, helping you to peak and trough, coast and intensify, such that you have enough for tomorrow's stage.
But it’s also that the songs, once in place, start to talk to each other. They've been written at various stages over the last 30 years of your life - and you begin to listen in to their interrelationship, their prophecies and opacities, even as you’re singing them. The one you wrote last year, you realise, echoes your fears and longings of 30 years - and vice versa.
So the evening becomes, for you and the audience, like a memory exercise, a mutual map of private triumph and loss. And if you, the musician, can still land these songs, then maybe everybody in the room still has the agency they need, to land something. Whether a new, transforming action. Or just consolidating what you have.
My brother and I go out to our merchandise stall after our gig, ostensibly to sell stuff. But it’s actually, really, for the human encounter. We’ve all just been wide open to each other for an hour. It might be useful information - life information, soul information, body information - to see each other up close. And it almost always is.
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Apart from that, and in my non-music weekdays, I've been doing the steady piecing-together of the final stages of FutureFest, the “Glastonbury of the Future” event I have been lead-curating since 2013, for the innovation foundation Nesta.
It has been a much more organisationally-sourced exercise than previous years - Nesta is full of London’s (indeed, Europe’s) best and brightest, and they have brought their heroes from all corners of the landscape of radical technologies and practices.
Having been around a bit, I have concentrated on securing major names, which often require the reanimation of contacts made over the last 20 or 30 years. One extraordinary long loop has been closed with Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, appearing at the event.
I have known her since she was a troublesome young SNP student in the 80s, who applied her evident political skills to getting me elected by the students of Glasgow University as their Rector (1990-93, beating Tony Benn in the process).
She speaks on the 6th of July, in London’s Tobacco Docks, on Scotland (and small Northern European nations in general) as beacons of innovation and progress. Again, a little like the music business already mentioned, I am both delighted and alarmed at how the more things change, the more they persist and consist.
Another big name - at least for our tech-conscious audience - is Douglas Rushkoff, the American prophet of cyberspace, inventor of the media virus, and someone whose books I have been reviewing since the mid-90s. I first met him in New York in 1993, when he was (literally) wired to the moon and in his first media pomp, promoting a book called Cyberia.
Cyberia described the overlap between the sputtering-to-life network-culture of the time, and its parallels with the psychedelia of (then) 25 years previous. Again, much of my cultural experience over these last few weeks has felt oh-so-cyclical. My young friends who come from the experimental communities we're in tough with through The Alternative UK, seem to be - like their grandparents! - still experimenting with chemical substances and repairing to foreign lands to recuperate and mediate…
While, at the same time, they are near-cyborgs, flicking and flittering around an ideas-dominated London, portable devices held before them. As the historian Fred Turner might have said, from counterculture to cyberculture - and back again.
On a curatorial Skype call to his home in Brooklyn, Douglas provided me with my most delightful image of the last three weeks. I was toiling to frame his discussion within the general context of this year’s FutureFest (a wide-ranging meditation on “alternatives” of all kind, with the working title of “Occupy the Future”).
Douglas actually fits perfectly with the zeitgeist which has emerged through scores of speakers - a desire to re-define what is uniquely human, as AI and automation consumes more and more of the human routine. Doug says - with the brand-awareness that keeps him at the front of the pack - that he’s defending “Team Human”. The blog and the book are both underway.
But in this particular conversation I was stressing him and myself out. My references were lost somewhere between Deleuze’s Postscript on the Societies of Control, and Boston Dynamics’ robots. “Look, Pat”, Douglas interrupted, with his habitual good humour. “We can simplify this. Think of me as a simple country doctor. I come to heal people. I give them straight advice about a ridiculously complex future. Will that do?"
A simple country doctor. Jimmy Stewart versus the Singularity. That will, indeed, do.
From all this, here's my question for the next week: How can I let my experience be my strategic guide much more? How can I trust to my embodied memories, my years of trying stuff out, much more than I usually do?
Because look what happens when you rely on that? The column gets written.
What’s your answers to these? Let me know directly, or use "Comments" below.