The 60s Spirit Lives: Bob Dylan 2015

I went to see Bob Dylan in Granada on July 8th. I took some notes that night, with the TV’s news blaring in the background, and I’ve finally got around to shoving them up here.

I write this sitting in a room of the Hotel Ibis in Granada. A smoking room, at that – quite the luxury. It’s been a long long day. After an hour and a half bus ride through the Hemingway country of southern Spain, I arrived in the jewel of Al-Andalus. Stepping out into the street was like climbing into an oven. It was 39C, and felt every bit of it.

After a burger, it was time to head on my pilgrimage. Fifteen minutes later, I arrived at the arena where I’d find Dylan. The man of the hour, once again. You could feel the passion in the air: young, oid, British, Spanish, we were all here to see him. We queued in the baking heat, once we were in, the opening band provided us with deafening atomsphere. Choking, close, like a humid day in Florida.

Then, 30 minutes later, when I was grabbing a drink, I heard a roar, then another. It was time.

Dylan’s still incredible – let’s start with that. The man can still really play, and he moves with a grace you would never expect. He stood on the stage proudly, a shadow of the 60s that refused to die quietly. His voice, gravelly these days, is just as imposing. It growls through the arena like a freight train coming into a station.

Note: Oh Jesus, Donald Trump just came on TV. “Everybody loved me,” go fuck yourself, Trump.

After singing a string of tunes, Tangled Up in Blue pushed us into the interval. Myself, and around 1000 others filed out into the courtyard next to the arena. A weird, tan place between the arena (which normally fields Granada’s basketball team,) and another huge building next door. A bored cop looked on while almost everyone there lit up joints – I didn’t have any weed on me, so just smoked some cigarettes; as it turns out, that wouldn’t be a problem. The smoke morphed into one, a huge, ethereal, gray consciousness hovering above us.

Turns out, I got stoned anyway, and suddenly it was time for us to head back in for set two. Note: think Trump may be the most slimy, foppish weasel bastard around. The set started with Simple Twist of Fate, progressing up to the triumphant encore: Blowin’ in the Wind. Bookends of an era. An era that was reborn briefly tonight.

Looking back from this hotel room, I still can’t quite believe it. I was here when an era had life breathed back into its aching lungs. Today, Granada was 1960s California, whether it liked it or not.

It was a night I won’t forget. Thanks, Dylan. You’ve still got it, and sometimes, we do too.

[Photo by Michelle Tribe, CC BY 2.0]


The Mediterranean is Becoming a Killing Field

I’d like to take you on a journey. Up in the mountains behind Malaga lies the small town of Alameda. It’s only a little place, around 5500 residents, but it was my home for 5 years. Many of you may also have spent time in similar-sized towns, regardless of where you’re from on this world. Now imagine that over the course of one year, over half of its population died. You never knew where they’d gone, but you knew they were dead. Then imagine that in the first four months of this year, nearly all of those remaining died.

All those people, with their own individuality, hopes, dreams, desires, loves, talents, skills, irreversibly removed from this world. The devastation you would feel would be intolerable, and yet death of this scale is happening as we speak, as so chillingly put by Dan Hodges in his blog for The Telegraph.

Since January last year, 3750 people are thought to have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Europe. Some are fleeing a wrecked state that the US and EU have barely helped since the Civil War ended. Others are fleeing Somalia, or Eritrea, or other countries in desperate situations. In the latest incidents, 1300 people have died in a single week. You’d think that such “civilized” nations would be trying their hardest to stem the flow of blood that is seeping into the Mediterranean from the bloated corpses of those who had the temerity to wish for a better life, but no.

Instead, Britain and the EU have cut search and rescue. Through some perverted reasoning, it is believed that instead of saving people, search and rescue actually causes more people to die. That they’re enticed across as the refugee believes they’re more likely to survive the crossing. In the perfected Machiavellian logic of conservatives, it must make sense – “this way we can pretend to care and cut costs at the same time!” Either the conservatives, who have likely never experienced such a crisis don’t understand the desperation of those fleeing a conflict zone, or simply see it as a way to seem hard on immigration, appeasing xenophobes.

The rise of the anti-immigrant UKIP political party in the UK, and the racist vitriol found in the right-wing press went some way to creating this policy too. It is possible that by the end of the year, 5000 or more people will have died making the crossing. Killed by this policy. The “immigrants taking our jobs and benefits” idea is riding high going into the UK General Election next month. Will any change come, regardless of who takes power? Looking at the parties, it seems unlikely. Even the ostensibly left-wing Labour Party are promising to be tough on immigration. This toughness has already killed thousands.

David Cameron, Nigel Farage, the Daily Mail, right-wing peddlers of hate of all European nations – thousands of people, with their own individuality and dreams of a better life, are now dead by your hands. How do you plead?

JECC – Nerja, Spain – 22/04/2015

Why a typewriter?

Typewriter, check Smokes, check Sound of the waves, check

Typewriter, check
Smokes, check
Sound of the waves, check

Well then, here we are – 1980. Sid Vicious has been dead for a year, Iran is held by a new regime, and perhaps most pertinently to me at this very moment, Olivetti released the Lettera 40, which I’m typing on right now. The decision to try writing on a typewriter has been incubating in my mind for a while now, and I finally took the plunge. Let me try to explain why I’ve gone back to the technology of the last century.

Well, firstly, there’s something immensely satisfying about the physical feedback you get from typing on this thing. Seeing the heavy metal typeset fly up, and seeing your words recreated on the paper in front of you gives you a real physical connection to your craft. As Hemingway once said, when you write, you bleed, and that’s never more apparent than when you’re using a typewriter. You feel the words flow from you like some bodily humour. You feel more like a true writer than you ever do on something as soulless as a computer.

Second, and probably most importantly to me, is a lack of distractions. There’s no web browsers, no games, no gifs, and no videos. All you have is the page and your mind, your soul. It may seem strange, but the main effect of this isn’t you speeding up, it’s you slowing down. You stop and think more, keenly aware that everything you type is being committed to physical record. You want to make every passage the very best you can, since going back and correcting anything is a right pain in the ass. You end up trying your hardest at every moment.

The third factor is the hardest to define. There’s a sense of connection with history. I’m experiencing the same feelings, physical and otherwise, as most of my favourite authors did throughout their careers. Their understanding of the essence of typing is something I can feel and understand now. It’s a kind of spiritual experience, a little bit of a reverie.

I doubt that I’ll be using this machine for work – the turnaround time of most freelance writing these days makes typing something up on here and then transferring it to a computer impractical. For blogging or writing fiction though? This little machine is perfect. I get to sit out on my terrace, with a drink and a smoke, listening to the roar of the waves and just create. There’s not much more I could ask for. Whenever I feel the need to escape from the constant barrage of information that is modern life, I get to come out here, type on this little machine that once belonged to a Spanish teacher, and just be at one with myself and my work.

I’m not suggesting that this would work for everyone, but if you feel the need to just work, create, free-form, without distraction? I’d definitely recommend it. It sure does work for me.

JECC – Nerja, Spain – 20/04/2015

The Need for a Counterculture

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to find an actual reasoned discussion in the comments on Youtube. I was looking at the clip of the High Water Mark speech from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, since it’s what got me into this mixed-up business in the first place. Someone was making the argument that we should make this decade our 1960s, a shout against the world. In response, someone else was arguing that the energy that fueled the 60s can never come around again, that cultures are so diverse that one single counterculture can never exist.

I couldn’t help but wonder, just where would we be if we held this negative idea as a species? Adopting such a massive negative as your thought will only bring about negative results. The counterculture of the 60s wasn’t just some being that sprang fully formed from the primordial swamp of our minds. The counterculture came from the beat generation, a full decade earlier, and grew and grew. We can make it, or at least something very similar, happen again, if we wanted to. The internet and the modern world are not something that builds barriers, but breaks them down, unifies people from around the world, like nothing else has before. There still is a worldwide feeling of rebellion against the old order, cast your minds back just three years, to the peak of the Occupy movement. There we saw people uniting, from across the spectrum of humanity, all united in wanting change, all using the internet to become stronger.

The need for such a reaction is stronger now than ever before, and grows stronger every day. Every day we see the rise of bigoted politicians around us, the militarization of police, the rich laughing as the poor try and survive. The need to shock, and expand the minds of all straight ‘law-abiding’ people has almost never been stronger. We need to shock our opponents, give our love freely, and not be afraid to express ourselves fully, never gagging our essential natures like the world wants us to. Being a defeatist, and saying that it can never happen, only gives our enemies the strongest weapon they could hope for – apathy.

Take Allen Ginsberg. Here’s a man, a gay Jewish man, who society could scarcely have looked down upon more. He responded to this subjugation by writing his own works, expressing his desires and thoughts completely. He helped create the hippie movement of the 60s. If he’d been apathetic and refused to express his own thoughts, a whole generation might have been deprived that same hope. We need more people like him right now, not people who wonder ‘what’s the point?’

The 60s were a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but the key is in that phrase. Once-in-a-lifetime is not the same as ‘once in history’. The world can have its counterculture again, we can make our voices heard again. The high water mark is not something that stands for eternity, never to be equaled. Its something that is our peak so far, but we can do better. We must.

Airport Dispatch #5 – A final scream to the Moon

There’s a special layer of hell for airlines that force a man of over 6 foot into a cramped window seat. The plane ride back was uneventful, apparently we had a good wind behind us – or Ryanair had invested in supersonic engines while I wasn’t looking – either way, I was back in Spain before Midnight, after just 2 and a half hours of wondering whether my shoulder was going to be dislocated by the old woman next to me being suddenly shocked by her game of solitaire.

Going through passport control, the guy examining my passport gave me a look that made me think a strip search was on the horizon – but I made it through to the homeland unviolated. Now it’s time to drink and smoke with impunity, listen to An American Prayer on repeat and prepare for the old grind to begin in two days. Hasta Luego, England, hello Espana – let’s get drunk.


Airport Dispatch #4 – A Watering Hole with No Soul

I returned to Wetherspoon’s again – the drink I’d gotten before had left a film over my throat and I needed to wash it away. Just water this time, serious drinking can wait until I return to Spain. It’s a point much pondered, but the monetization of water is one of the strangest features of modern society.

This is a substance which literally keeps me alive, not something to give a rush or even to drink for pleasure, particularly. It’s especially striking to think, here I am, in this canker in the bosom of the western world, buying a glass full of water for £2.20, while huge amounts of people have no access to clean water. There’s a certain vanity to paying for bottled water – but what, other than vanities, can be expected from Wetherspoon’s, a plastic glorified hole in the wall? I’d rant more, but alas, not long until my flight is called, and I need to traverse the ragged Concourse again. Viva Espana!


Airport Dispatch #3 – Event Horizon without the company of Lawrence Fishburne

“Save yourself…from hell”

Every goddam interaction in this place (bar one, guy in Wetherspoon’s, you know who you are) makes you want to gouge your eyes out. Even buying a copy of The New Statesman (50% informative, 50% terrible – I want either a job or a price cut), required me to scan my boarding pass. I was previously unaware that I was flying WH Smith Air – a brave new venture for Michael O’Leary?

My ears pricked up when there was an announcement saying some luckless fool’s luggage will be blown up by bomb disposal if they don’t collect it. What a situation – wishing for a short and vicious firework display. “Ooooh, Aaaah!”


Airport dispatch #2

I was under the misapprehension that a toilet in an airport would be easy to get to, but instead, you’ve got to walk down a half-built concourse, behind painfully slow tourists. All I wanted was a fucking slash. I received a brisk walk instead. #Changeforgoddamlife

I went into Wetherspoon’s, and got a soft drink – this place, a synthetic pub chain, has more soul than the rest of the airport. Stansted feels like it sucks the soul out of you, possibly rectally. A special kind of freak vibration after London. Or perhaps that’s just Essex.


Airport Dispatch #1

I stood outside the sleek glass building of Stansted Airport, a bizzarre edifice that rises out of grim Essex countryside. Snow was coming down like Britannia’s dandruff, showering down to say goodbye. After having a smoke and huddling outside with other smokers, including one woman looking askance at me smoking, despite she herself holding a glowing tobacco stick in hand, I left. We’d been puffing underneath a “No Smoking” sign, but neither blue-jacketed airport staff, nor FAMAS-armed filth seemed to care.

A fat, red-faced man told me to proceed through security, so I bought a copy of Esquire and went for a final smoke. Proceeding through security, I presented all my items of value to be examined by undertrained, tired staff. I recovered my things and headed through to Departures. I ate a disappointing wrap and wished for enough booze to make my 4-hour wait time pass quicker, but apparently this request is absurd, since a pint cost nearly as much as a pint of crude, so instead I emailed a South African writer friend of mine and pondered the grim steel tent in which I was encamped.

Now it’s time to go see what other delights are on offer in this love letter to capitalism. Death to the dollar, Mickey Mouse, Stansted Airport, and David Cameron.


A Burning Double Standard to Set the World Ablaze – Surveillance, Censorship, and Privacy

So following Chelsea Manning’s leaks a few years ago, came Edward Snowden’s. For those who have been living under a rock or in an NSA internment cell for the past year or so, Snowden’s leaks exposed a huge global surveillance network systematically invading people’s personal lives on a daily basis in the name of national security. Although most of the documents that were released concerned the US, other countries’ secret documents have also been leaked, including some from Britain and Australia. GCHQ, a British Intelligence Agency didn’t take too kindly to having details of their activities released to the public, and issued a DA-Notice, advising editors at “the BBC and other media groups” not to release any more documents for vague reasons of national security. GCHQ agents later arrived at the guardian and supervised the destruction of the hard drives containing the documents.

Silencing – or at the very least, effectively silencing – the press shows an interesting double-standard on the part of those who carry out surveillance and surveillance apologists – why, if they should be able to see us, are we not allowed to see just what of ours is being looked at? Why must we stand in the corner facing the wall while our possessions are ransacked for anything deemed unwholesome? Why does the famous apology for invasions of privacy everywhere – “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” – not apply in this case? What do our governments fear so much that we can’t see them doing it?

Government is often a delicate balancing act between keeping things from the people, burdening the people down, and releasing necessary information to the people. If any of these things are much larger in magnitude than either of the other two, people are going to be pissed off, the third purely because it reveals the deception inherent in the other two. While it may be understandable under some circumstances not to reveal all the details, completely destroying files that are, for all intents and purposes, now in the public domain shows a different kind of fear, and that is one of losing grip on that greasy pole known as power.

There is nothing a political party wants less than to be out of power, and perhaps in their frenzied scurrying for the angle-grinders and drills, they showed a deeper secret than they ever intended. That what was on those drives was worth seeing, and would have posed a danger to them and their power, not national security. I wonder if Snowden has a backup copy…