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The Power Of Silly

London-terror-attack-pint-man-958087

I’m a passionate anti-smoking advocate and I spent a decade working on anti-smoking campaigns. At one point, I felt like I’d seen and worked on every kind of stop-people-smoking idea there could be. We created campaigns based on the adverse health effects of smoking, the passive smoking factor, the effects on your looks, the disgusting smell, the loved ones left behind if you die early, the incomprehensible financial cost and many more. But when I looked back at the body of work, I realised that although we’d worked on different strategies, it all had a similar tone. Serious, sobering and sometimes shocking. Perhaps the seriousness had become expected and, therefore, easy to ignore. Which got me thinking about a potential new way in. What if we were to try a different tone? An unexpected, perhaps incongruous tone. Maybe a very serious anti-smoking message could be delivered through humour, flippancy or even…silliness. This ad is as far as we got, but I still believe there’s more juice in this way of thinking.

The other day I was reading about the growing legend of ‘Pintman’ in the wake of the heinous London terror attack and it got me thinking again about the power of silly to unlock serious issues. As the fallout from this sickening episode continues, we’re living through the full spectrum of shock, confusion, fear, anger, hypocrisy, kneejerk racism, and political manoeuvring. But while that noisy debate goes on and we search for tangible answers and solutions, there’s a place for cathartic gestures of defiance. Manchester had this awesome poem, the bumblebee tattoo and the glorious One Love concert. London has Pintman.

Pintman is the geezer above, who was photographed fleeing from the terror attacks on Saturday night…pint in hand. In many ways, his behaviour is the ultimate ‘fuck you’ to the terrorists. Perhaps more potent than all the protests, marches, hashtags and benefit concerts that are (rightly) sure to come. Because he’s doing the thing that somehow seems to wind these evil morons up more than anything: enjoying life.

The picture of Pintman says – you can try to intimidate us but my pint is far more important than your idiotic, deluded ‘philosophy’. The sad, pathetic men you’ve been brainwashed by wish they could frighten us back into some weird, shit, segregated Dark Ages but, sod them, this is London and a couple of beers with our mates – old, new, black, white, brown, yellow, gay, straight, who cares? – is what we do. We’re human beings hard-wired to love not, like you, automatons programmed to hate.

If only the Bud Light ‘Real Men Of Genius’ campaign was still going – I’d love to see a ‘Mr Running Away From Terrorists Holding A Pint of Lager’ execution. Or perhaps, there can be a film based on the life of Pintman, directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Peter Kay as the man himself. In the meantime, I like to fondly imagine Pintman jogging down Southwalk Street slightly slower than everyone else, desperately trying not to spill any of his five quid pint. Perhaps he paused for a few moments on the corner of Great Guidford Street to catch his breath and have a sip, then casually stopped outside the Novotel on Southwalk Bridge Road to finish his drink. Was he worried about a bunch of sick fucks with barely a braincell between them? Was he fuck! And why should he be when he’s out with his mates, he’s just got a pint in and it’s Saturday night in the greatest city in the world?

Choose Love

This is such a perfect, powerful example of creativity being used as a force for good. The forces of ignorance and darkness want us to be scared, humbled and full of hate. But with his words and passion, Tony Walsh has harnessed the pride and defiance of Manchester to inspire people throughout the city (and the world) to choose love. Essential viewing if you haven’t seen it already.

Change your life in 21 minutes

 

If you haven’t seen Rick & Morty season 1 episode 6, ‘Rick Potion #9’, I massively recommend it. You can watch it either on Netflix or on the link above. I believe it’s one of the greatest artistic achievements in the history of humankind. I’m serious!

This episode has thrills, LOLs and shedloads of pathos. It’s the ultimate blend of classic Rick & Morty schoolboy humour, mind-bending science and heartbreaking existential conundrums. As the story plays out you’ll alternate between pissing yourself laughing, dabbing tears away from your eye and making solemn promises to yourself be a better person. The creativity and craft that goes into Rick & Morty is very special but the emotional punch delivered by a cartoon about – on the surface of it – a crazy scientist and his nephew is unbelievable. Because, thinly disguised beneath the gags in this episode, is a poignant lesson about valuing what you have vs chasing shiny trinkets and superficial glory.

By the time (very vague spoiler alert) Rick & Morty are burying their own dead bodies while the beautiful, classic Mazzy Star track, Look On Down From The Bridge plays out, I was utterly slayed. Enjoy.

Revolution cancelled due to inconvenient weather

I read the other day that British songwriter/musician Ed Sheeran has 16 songs in the top 20 and 2 albums in the top 5. Now, while I’m not a fan of Ed’s music, I have absolutely nothing against him as a person. In fact, he seems like a thoroughly decent, down to earth and talented bloke. However, this is exactly where my issue/rant begins. While nice guy Ed’s clogging up the charts with his boring songs about how some girl wouldn’t return his calls, heinous buffoons like Katy Hopkins, Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson are busy spreading their Hatethink across mainstream media, Marine Le Pen is within spitting distance of the French premiership and Donald Trump’s grabbed the steering wheel of the handcart, gleefully setting the controls for Hell. Shouldn’t our most talented and popular musicians to be fighting back against all of this shit? Casting aspersions on it? Or at least commenting on it? I may be waiting some time for this because Ed Sheeran, a bloke who once dedicated a song to David Cameron, doesn’t look like he going to be kick-starting the revolution any time soon.

Lots of mates tell me that, as such a nice guy who seems so unaffected by his fame and success, Ed’s a great role model for kids. To which I wonder when the bar for being a role model dropped so low. As Bill Hicks famously said, “When did mediocrity and banality become a good image for your children? I want my children to listen to people who fucking rocked. I don’t care if they died in puddles of their own vomit. I WANT SOMEONE WHO PLAYS FROM HIS FUCKING HEART…I want my rock stars dead! I want them to play with one hand and put a gun in their other hand and say I hope you enjoyed the show…boom! PLAY FROM YOUR FUCKING HEART!”

Bill was exaggerating for effect but he was deadly serious. At the risk of sounding like a super-cliché grumpy old codger, where’s the passion, the ambition, the anger at the injustice blazing all around us? It’s like an entire generation of musicians looked around at the flaming chaos that’s engulfed our planet and went – yeah, but I’m feeling a bit down because my girlfriend’s left me.

I’m not saying there’s no place for love songs. Everyone from Amy Winehouse and Adele to The Libertines, Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd (to name a tiny handful) have turned the craziness and confusion of human relationships into transcendent art. But the level of popular music right now seems to be something anodyne enough for a talkback radio DJ to waffle over and bland enough to lend some cheap emotion to a mobile phone ad.

As a teenager, I was simultaneously thrilled and inspired by everyone from The Smiths and Spacemen 3 to The Stone Roses and Public Enemy. Energised by the Manic Street Preachers’ anti-love song rant Motown Junk, I looked on the back cover of the record and found a quote from William Burroughs:

“Rock and roll adolescents storm into the streets of all nations. They rush into the Louvre and throw acid in the Mona Lisa’s face. They open zoos, insane asylums, prisons, burst water mains with air hammers, chop the floor out of passenger plane lavatories, shoot out lighthouses, turn sewers into the water supply, administer injections with bicycle pumps, they shit on the floor of the United Nations and wipe their ass with treaties, pacts, alliances.”

Today, every time I turn on the radio, all I get is Ed Sheeran or Chris Martin or George Ezra or Nigel Cameron-Osborne (OK, I made that last one up) or some other nice-but-wet bloke pumping out music to mow the lawn to. I see brief glimpses of defiance in great artists including Sleaford Mods, Kendrick Lamar and Cabbage, but overall – WTF?! Where’s the anger, provocation, intelligence, passion? As those even-older-than-me Essex codgers Depeche Mode are asking/complaining poignantly on their brilliant latest song, where’s the revolution?

A beautiful contradiction

Everything about this performance is so special. Especially Jake Clemons’ sax playing, the violinists’ obvious enjoyment (especially towards the end) and Springsteen himself being so into it. He recently said something in an interview that strongly resonated with me:

“You go out on stage each night as if, one, it’s the most important thing in your life you can do. And, two, it’s only rock’n’roll. You’ve got to be able to keep those conflicting points of view in your mind at the same time without letting either of them drive you crazy, or taking either of them at 100% face value.”

Now I’m no musician but I really love the idea that each performance is all-important but kind of not that important too. And perhaps that’s true for all creative endeavours. On one level it’s just a song, painting, poem, (or even, dare I say, ad) at the end of the day. But unless you approach it as though it’s the most important thing in the world, it won’t transcend the ordinary and truly connect…

Pure happiness in eight minutes, guaranteed

In the late 80s, during the period known at the time as The Second Summer of Love, two brothers from Sevenoaks in Kent, Phil and Paul Hartnoll, began making electronic music. Inspired by punk, anti-Thatcher politics and the idealism of the rave scene they called themselves Orbital – after the M25 motorway that kids drove around looking for illegal raves. Their first track, released in December 1989, was a 10-minute anthem called Chime, created in a knocked-through cupboard under the stairs that their dad had set up as a home office, using a synthesizer they’d bought for £100 from a bloke in a working men’s club.

Chime was a huge hit at raves, clubs and, subsequently, in the charts. Over in Northern Ireland, a passionate young Irish DJ David Holmes loved it and wanted to book Orbital for his club night in Belfast. The brothers, concerned about the city’s reputation for sectarian violence, were unsure at first. There was still a British Army presence on the streets, paramilitary brutality was depressingly commonplace and politically-motivated killings were a grim fact of life. However, Holmes played the Hartnoll brothers’ fears down and persuaded them everything would be OK.

When they got to Belfast, David Holmes showed them around the city, including the Falls Road, with its army checkpoints and political murals. On first impressions it felt foreboding and the Hartnoll brothers were scared and hesitant. But, after they’d spent the night in various pubs meeting the locals they warmed to the city. They stayed at Holmes’ mum’s house and, in the morning, she made them her famous ‘Ulster fry’. The next day they played their set at Holmes’ club and the place went nuts. Hanging out with their new Irish friends afterwards, they started to understand that the city’s dance music fans were a mishmash of Catholics and Protestants – and none of them gave a flying f*%k about the religious divide. They just wanted to enjoy the positivity and chaos of the music, to embrace its loved-up vibe.

The next day, before they left Belfast, David Holmes asked the Hartnoll brothers if they had any new music they were working on. They gave him a cassette with two tracks on it. After they’d gone, he spent a whole day driving around in a his mate’s car, playing the tape over and over again. He phoned them to say he was absolutely in love with the second track; they told him it wasn’t finished yet.

A few months later, the track was finished, released and acclaimed as an instant masterpiece. It was named Belfast. David Holmes was blown away by this tribute to his city: the track moved him as a musician but, beyond that, the gesture inspired him as a human being. Paul Hartnoll said, “We’d had such positive experience in Belfast, it had been so beautiful, we’d met so many great people, we thought – wouldn’t it be good to actually name something that’s beautiful, soft and lovely about Belfast and put it out in England where everyone has this completely different view of the place.”

Like many fans of the track, the first time I heard it I wondered why it was called Belfast; the story of how it came by its seemingly paradoxical name made me love it even more. There was an idea that went about back in the early 90s that if all the world leaders sat down and took MDMA together, the world’s problems could be solved in an evening. As mental and naïve as that perhaps was, the fact that in the 25 years since this track’s release the city it’s named after has been through a peace process which culminated in the Good Friday Agreement and paved the way for (cautious) optimism seems wonderfully fitting.

Routinely nominated in the top five of ‘best electronic tracks ever’ polls, Belfast is indelibly etched on the memories of the generation that grew up with it, danced to it, came down to it. But whether or not you’re a fan of electronic music, stick your headphones on and listen to it all the way through. It’s as beautiful and moving as a Rothko painting, as poignant and elegiac as a TS Eliot poem. Like all great music it seems to communicate on a gut level, to bypass the cerebral cortex and punch straight through to the core of your being. The way the music ripples and swirls around the sample of the soprano’s refrain, then swells and builds…swells and builds…swells and builds, it clears the distracting buzz of everyday stuff from your brain, makes your heart vibrate and your skin tingle. Or, to put it another way, it makes you feel happy. And here’s another plus point: when it’s over, you’re not left with a soul-crushing hangover that lasts until Wednesday afternoon 🙂

PS. Let’s hope the guy who uploaded the video has finally purchased the full version of Video Edit Magic!