Tuesday 1 October 2013

‘It’s impossible to be unhappy in a poncho’

I never have been a dedicated follower of fashion. Even when I tried to be, when I was much younger, I was always two steps behind. Or I found that whatever the fashion was, it didn’t suit me, so I couldn’t carry it off. I mean fashion as a concept across the board here, rather than just clothes. So to be more specific, by ‘fashion’ or ‘fashionable’ I mean whatever is popular or current. I long ago learnt that the only comedy I could watch was that which made me laugh out loud, the only music I could listen to was that which spoke to me, the only clothes I could wear were those that suited my figure and my style, even if all of the above were decades behind the trend.

That is not to say that sometimes I don’t happen to like what is popular, I do, exposure counts for a lot, and we are constantly influenced by the environment around us. But I have learnt to take the bits I like from the now and combine them with the bits I like from all of the other nows that came before. Sometimes I find that things get old as well, I lose interest in them, but that is more about where I’m at as a person rather than resulting from a fear of not fitting in.

It’s hard not to follow the tide, simply because in not doing so you constantly risk being behind, risk being an object of ridicule. It feels safer to hide behind the popular because you are only ever asking people to reinforce what they perceive to be cool, rather than asking them to take a chance on something before they can know how it will play with a wider audience. So, let’s look at this in the context of trying to produce something creative. If you follow a formula that you know to be popular, a real vote winner, then you could end up hitting the zeitgeist like a mo-fooing winner and you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank. I’m not saying that this is always what happens, sometimes people just tell their story and they are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and they hit it all the same. But your odds are definitely increased if there is a bit of cynicism at play, and I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing, but I know it to be a bad thing for me.

When I look at this in the context of artists and performers that I admire, or have admired previously, I genuinely see a difference between those who are marching to the beat of their own drummer, and those that are trying to second-guess their audiences. The Mighty Boosh is a sad, recent example of this. I used to love the Boosh, LOVE them. They were so weird, and different and odd and true. They were original and whether people liked or loathed their comedy, they were unapologetic in their expression of self. I happened to like it, and then grew to love it. You could tell, during the radio series and the two TV series that followed, that those guys were only trying to amuse themselves. That’s why it was so great. Noel Fielding’s character was mocking populist culture, and in doing so became awesome in his own right. Then the inevitable happened, they became popular.

And I mean really popular, really big. Which was not necessarily in itself a bad thing, that a large number of people decided to buy into the Boosh was evidence of just how awesome it had always been, right? Well yes, to an extent, except for the consequences. The Boosh became a parody of itself. Instead of continuing to follow their own path, their writing became self-conscious, it felt as though they were trying to bolster their image by taking shots at what they felt their audience would like. Or at least that’s how I perceived Series 3. Subtle, offbeat idiosyncrasies were replaced by obvious, heavy handed drug references and overplayed surrealist images. Gone were the clunky, broom closet style special effects, replaced with overly stylised animation set pieces. And Noel Fielding, don’t get me started on him. Honestly, he became the poster boy for all that he was mocking. Falling out of clubs with Courtney Love, his presence on screen became horribly self assured and swaggering, rather than the underplayed, subtle version of the quietly-confident-in-the-awesomeness-of-his-hair Vince that had been a pleasure to watch previously. Frankly, Julian Barratt looked embarrassed the whole way through that final series, and so he should, the dude is better than that, and I’m sure he knew it.

And so came the fall of the Boosh, and the magic little nugget of wonderful that we held in loving regard, that we loved to quote and reference, became a niggling disappointment. So what went wrong? Surely their writing was still better than average, they were the same people after all? I honestly think it comes down to the same thing, they used to make their own path, and didn’t worry about whether people would get it or not, they demanded that people did or jog on. As soon as they started to pander to their audience, it lost the independence and strength of spirit that it had before. Trying to follow the trend will always leave you falling behind, because the world moves so fast, and people are so fickle. They love today what they will hate tomorrow, and if you set yourself up to be a child of the time, after those fifteen minutes are up, you need to know that you’re proud of what you’ve produced. You need the confidence in your work to know that it stands on its own, outside of time, perhaps never popular but always the best that you can do.

We finally decided to watch the old episodes of the Boosh again recently. It took this long for the memory of what it became to have faded to the point where we could put it to one side and concentrate on what it was before. Watching it made me feel sad that many of those references and stupidly funny quotes had faded to the back of my mind. But this is what happens if you destroy the legacy of those characters, like a relationship that ends badly, it’s hard to forget the recent past and remember the good times. I also feel that the best episodes were never made, because they were only going from strength to strength, and I would have loved to see a Series 3 that was the natural progression from Series 2. But those episodes never came to fruition. Because the idiots jumped on the bandwagon (yes, Julian Barratt, the voice of the idiots, your words from the most excellent Nathan Barley, not mine!) and the Boosh tried to follow them.

The thing is, however you look at it, to be cool and on trend does afford people a certain amount of protection from criticism. How lovely it must be to be in that bubble. But the bubble always bursts, always, and you could constantly re-invent yourself, look at Madonna, she always sort of manages it doesn’t she? But she doesn’t half look tired though, eh? Plus, who the fuck is Madonna ultimately? I couldn’t tell you word one about who that woman might be, what she might like, or find funny, or dream about. Despite regularly producing albums that have always proved popular, she’s not present in any of her work. She feels like a carefully considered construction of what the spin doctors think she should be like, dependant on the context.  

The only way not to lose the popularity game is not to play it. The only way to stay ahead of the trend is to produce things that you appreciate, that you find funny, sing the songs that move you and tell the stories that mean something to you. The hope is that if it touches and moves you then it may strike a chord in other people too. Because we’re not so different, us humans, we all love and fail and hurt and fight and laugh and work and live. So our experiences can’t be that far removed from each other can they? At least you are then always producing something you are proud of and that you can stand by. Sometimes it won’t be right, sometimes it’ll be flawed and sometimes the criticism will be harsh, but whatever happens it will still be you. The work you produce will say something about you. And like I said in a recent post, we buy into voices, we buy into people, and if the voice isn’t there, what exactly are people buying into?

You could view this as a wordy excuse for not making more of an effort to reflect the voice of the now. If you do, that’s good, because partly that’s what it is. I’m not trying to be the voice of the now, of any now, I’m only the voice of me. I’m not trying to speak for anyone but myself. I’m only ever going to march to that beat of my very own drummer, even if it’s jarring and in the opposite direction to every bugger else. At least I’ll always be happy and comfortable in my universe. As I’m the only one who has to live there, I’d rather feel happy in it than constantly compare it to everyone else’s, which will always seem inevitably cooler and more fulfilling from the external perspective.

I’ve thought a LOT about my first story. Now that the structure and plot and characters are all in place and coming to life I’ve also thought a lot about whether I should pull it apart and try to make it more complex, more intelligent, scarier, darker, lighter, funnier, and everything in between. There are other stories I could tell, other ideas I have, but ultimately I know that those stories are just going to have to wait. They are bigger than I am right now and I’d rather try to develop to a point where I can do them justice than jump in at the deep end and do them and myself an utter disservice. The story I’m writing now is a very personal one, it’s become the first proper story I was always going to tell. It experiments with a genre that I would love to write in, horror, and the main characters are both a big part of me. So in that sense they’re helpless losers. But their story is the one I have to tell, because it’s the one that’s alive in my imagination right now. By the time I’ve finished it, it will probably have lost any relevance to popular culture that it once had. Although maybe not, as my pop culture references are already dated, just as anybody’s who is approaching 30, rather than 21, are likely to be. That’s the joy of it though, it’s a story that only I could write, and it may be an epic fail or a joyous success, but it’ll still be mine. That’s what it’s all about though isn’t it? It will fly or fall on its own merits but at least I’m happy with where it’s going, and that makes the whole enterprise worthwhile for me.

1 comment:

  1. As soon as I saw the title of this blog, I thought: I know that reference. The Boosh, wow, that takes me back to when me and my best friend had the biggest crush on Noel Fielding and used to watch the episodes back to back on Sunday afternoons. Gone are those days but it's nice to reminisce... I think this blog is very bold but that's why I like it. Some people seem to be on trend naturally whilst others, like myself, just aren't. But I'm happy in my outdated charity shop clothes, hanging around with my off the wall friends who get me and who I can be myself with. Thanks for writing a blog that tells me this is okay :)