Thursday, 21 April 2016

Oh No...Not Prince....

I was watching an episode of Boston Legal earlier. In it the brilliant Alan Shore (played by the equally brilliant James Spader who can currently be seen with far less hair in The Blacklist) uses the phrase 'summarily schmidt-canned'. I was working on a way to work this phrase into these pages (just done it) when I noticed a Facebook post by a friend which declared the death of Prince. That Prince. Prince Rogers Nelson for feck's sake. He was just 57.

It has been a severely testing couple of days. A bizarre chain of events facilitated the almost complete erosion of my self-esteem. Just when you get through that, when you finally digest the notion that the majority view on you doesn't matter enough to justify a total meltdown, you find out that Prince has died. The word 'genius' is grossly, horribly over-used. There are very few true geniuses in modern popular culture, much less music. Most of the artists I like fall way short of this billing. I basically like anyone who is easy to copy on karaoke (and therefore musically limited in a technical, music snobbery sense) and a certain soul diva from the south coast. But genius she is not. Anyone who has heard 'Don't Cha' Wanna Ride' will know that Miss Stone's best work is when she is covering forgotten oul classics from the 1950's and adapting the odd White Stripes number. But Prince? Prince was different gravy.

Purple Rain is perhaps the most iconic of his enormous catalogue of hits but the truth is everything he did was pretty magical. I defy even those people who find Sinead O'Connor's 'Nothing Compares 2 U' to be mawkish nonsense (it doesn't help that she actually cries during the performance) to listen to Prince's version and not have their view of the whole song changed for the better. He wrote the song, aswell as The Bangles classic Manic Monday (who doesn't like The Bangles?) and many more hits for many other artists that you've probably bellowed along to on the drive to work. I know I have. Not so much Carpool Karaoke as Peter Kay's Car Share.

Some of his songs were a little on the risque side, leading to the perception that he was....well....a bit of a perv. I remember sitting listening to one album and realising that pretty much every song had a sexual connotation on some level. That could have been the mind of a late teenage male but with titles like 'Soft And Wet', 'Do Me Baby' and 'Sexy MF' the jury has to be out. But on the other hand if you can bury blatantly offensive lyrics amid the spell-binding Hendrixian guitar prowess and a vocal range that made Mariah Carey sound like Bruce Springsteen then you'll probably get away with it. And he did.

Slightly unnerving sexual obsession wasn't Prince's only oddity, of course. Who can forget him changing his name to an unpronouncable symbol in some kind of protest against gender labelling? Word is he wasn't that fussed. Or the time he attempted to shame his record label into settling their dispute by writing 'Slave' on his face? Some thought at the time that a millionaire recording artist shouldn't have been trivialising slavery. I remember Cristiano Ronaldo getting in hot water for a similar loss of perspective. But he too is one of those few true geniuses in modern popular culture I mentioned, so perhaps it's a pre-requisite. It wasn't all bad from Prince anyway. Occasionally he would derive pleasure from giving albums away at a ridiculous price with certain Sunday newspapers. Publicity stunt? Possibly, but certainly better than the £19.99 charged by many hugely inferior artists for the 'deluxe' versions of their work.

As a long-time critic of the general public expressing too much, inappropriate emotion following the loss of celebrities this column breaks every rule. But for me there's a genuine difference between trying to articulate some feelings about one of the most influential human beings of all time and writing RIP to the latest reality show no-mark who has passed, as equally sad as their deaths are to the people who knew and loved them. So, just deal with it if you wouldn't mind awfully. Thanks.

Reflecting now on Prince's death while that terrible song he did which Tom Jones covered plays in the background on one of many hastily cobbled tribute shows on MTV my great regret is that I will now never get to see him live. Latterly he had taken to announcing tour venues and dates at about a week's notice which makes life difficult. Bloody annoying but again the sort of thing you get away with if you're a bona fide genius and an icon. I wouldn't really begrudge him this right. His passing is a genuinely appalling day for the arts, for music, and for anyone with any interest in human achievement in general.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Kelly & Cal

I'm going to put this here because it's important that you see it. All four of you. Ordinarily it would sit in my film blog but even the four of you don't bother with that. You don't want to have Star Wars ruined for you, or something. I have news for you. I didn't ruin Star Wars for you, that was JJ Fucking Abrams.

Anyway this kind of fits here too. Where better to tell you about a film which tries to deal with some very similar issues as Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard endeavours to do? Kelly And Cal tells the story of the relationship that develops between the mother of a new-born baby and her wheelchair-using teenage neighbour. She, Kelly that is, is played by Juliette Lewis who I love. She's beautiful in that interesting way that the likes of Rihanna and Cheryl Whateverhernameisthisweek could never be. And as she shows here she's supremely talented. She's also mad, but not in an 'all women are mad' way but a quirky way.

As we'll see there's much that resonates about Kelly And Cal for me. That would be the reason that I'm up writing at 1.20am. However it is not a perfect film. For starters, the way in which Kelly and Cal's relationship begins is utterly implausible. She's in her back garden having a smoke and he's peering over the fence. After bludging a cigarette from her he tells her she has nice tits. As opening gambits go it's not up there for me, that one. Kelly tends to agree and is about to admonish Cal until she looks over the fence more closely. This is when she sees him rolling away down a ramp and when she sees the wheelchair for the first time. She confides in husband Josh about this and resolves to apologise to Cal the next day. She shouldn't have shouted at the boy in the wheelchair. But the idea that she should feel guilty about his rudeness because of his disability just isn't a realistic one. It certainly isn't my experience of what's happened when I've been rude to women. To pretend that Cal is justified is to make him a victim regardless of his behaviour. Or it could just be me. Maybe you can say what you like when you are as handsome as Cal, played by Jonny Weston.

Josh doesn't get essily offended by Cal either, and this is something I can identify with. As Kelly and Cal's relationship develops Josh doesn't even have the decency to feel threatened. And it's not even because his relationship with Kelly is that rock solid. They argue over the fact that they haven't resumed their sexual relationship since the birth of their son Jackson (it's Juliette Lewis, you idiot). Yet despite Josh's insecurities he still sees no problem with Cal turning up on his front doorstep suited and booted and ready to take Kelly out to a swanky dinner. I rarely do swanky dinners but I have, in my distant past, blatantly snogged the face off a woman right in front of her fella's face. And he was one of those Rottweiller boyfriends, eight feet tall and twice as wide. An able-bodied man would have been beaten half to death by him in my situation. I'd have taken that just to feel respected by him. Threatened. Like I was in the game. At the time I probably laughed at my own audacity, but I know it wasn't long after before I realised that actually I was being mocked.

Josh doesn't get the funk on until Cal, who it turns out is an artist, creates a sculpture of a topless Kelly having seen her undressing in her bedroom window one night. He has a telescope which is a fairly offensive characterisation of the disabled as Peeping Toms, as if that's how we're getting our kicks since we're not getting much else. He does get fairly close to Kelly. At the school after they've vandalised it in protest at 'bullshit proms' or something. But then the police come and Cal's moment goes. Before that there's the cliched conversation about whether Cal can have sex that seems to be a mandatory part of any romance dealing with disability. It's almost always done awkwardly and it's no different here.

The sculpture scenario does provide what was for me the film's comedy highlight. For reasons I won't go into Cal has to steal back possession of his creation. He's spotted by Kelly pushing away from the scene with the thing laid out across his knee. He's wearing a balaclava in a bid not to be identified which is just hilarious. It illustrates perfectly how being the only wheelchair user in the village will get you banged to rights. This has happened to me at work. If any other member of our team gives out duff information the unfortunate recipient can't identify who gave it to them. The best they can do is tell us whether it was a man or a woman. But when it is 'the one in the wheelchair' there's nowhere really to hide. Luckily we don't operate in a culture of blame but you get the point. Sometimes the worst thing about disability is the inability to blend in and go un-noticed. Like being a celebrity only without money or girls. Like Ian Fucking Brady.

Cal comes across as a bit of a childish tit when he doesn't get his own way with Kelly in the end. As a leading authority on being a childish tit I thought they took this a bit too far anyway. He's clearly bonkers about her by the end but he still finds time to call her old and saggy and offer tips on how she might make herself more attractive to Josh during one spectacular blow-up. Is this really what you would say to someone you love, even with a skinful of ale down you? Doubtful. At a stretch you could maybe make the argument that he's just passionate about her. There are those couples who stay together despite arguing constantly and seemingly being constantly on the verge of a break-up. I suppose anything is possible if you're a childish tit.

For all its faults Kelly And Cal is a thought-provoking attempt to examine disability and romance, and more particularly romance in which disability isn't the only potential barrier. But you don't need to see it now, anyway.

Cheers, it's now 2.00am. Sleep well.

Monday, 4 April 2016

A Silk Purse From a S'au's Ear

There’s a photograph doing the rounds of Junior S’au. For those of you who don’t know, he’s a rugby league player with the Salford Red Devils. The photograph shows him shaking hands with a young disabled fan. It’s meant to show rugby league players in a more favourable light, especially those from Salford following the unsavoury incidents in the crowd at the end of their match with Huddersfield Giants last week. The point being that the media just love to jump on the bandwagon of any negative rugby league story so here’s something which proves that actually rugby league players are a lovely bunch of lads and don’t get half of the credit they deserve.

All of which may be true. The anti-league media do love to highlight the negatives while routinely ignoring the game the rest of the time, and so there is a need for more positive publicity around the sport. Yet as with anything that is well intentioned and is related to disability I have a fucking problem with this particular example. Here’s my problem. It’s a flagrant misuse of disability which I personally find vile and offensive. Of course, I would. Here we go a-fucking-gain. But then you think about it. If that fan meeting S’au is not disabled it significantly lessens the impact of that photograph. It no longer says ‘ah, look how nice our players are’. It just says ‘here’s a picture of Junior S’au meeting a fan’. So in hoiking this photograph around the rugby league community what we are actually doing is using disability to romanticise the players. A kind of inspiration porn in reverse. We’re not saying that the child is marvellous for getting out of bed and living life with such an awful curse as we do with conventional inspoporn, we’re saying S’au is marvellous for choosing to be seen with the child in public. But meeting a disabled fan does not make S’au a hero or a role model. It is not an act of kindness or selflessness. It is run of the mill community spirit. Two equals saying ‘how do you do?’ at the end of a game in which one has paid good money to support the other. A common courtesy. Politeness and nothing more. S’au does not have to go any more out of his way to meet this fan than he would any other. Yes, there may be extreme circumstances with this fan in particular. Her plight may be particularly disastrous and so who am I to deny what is obviously a pleasure for any rugby league-loving child. But there's no context in the photograph and in many ways it doesn't matter anyway, the point stands.

But that view doesn’t tally with the agenda, which is that rugby league players are not louts but gold-hearted champions of the less fortunate. I made this point on social media and was invited to ‘get over myself’ by one person. Which is the great problem with trying to explain disability issues to people who are not disabled and don’t quite have the intellect to debate them properly. The default setting of most people is to believe that disabled people are less fortunate than they are, which fosters a culture of pity over one of respect. Which is why a photograph of S’au shaking hands with a disabled fan is seen as an appropriate way to demonstrate his all-around awesomeness. Look at him giving up his valuable 12 seconds to be the highlight of some poor disabled person’s entire life. That assumes far too much about that young fan’s life and in any case, whatever the circumstances, I would hate to think that someone giving me a small amount of the time of day could be used in this way. I remember when Wigan Athletic got to the League Cup Final about a decade ago, and their then chairman Dave Whelan was rubbing the heads of all the disabled fans in the front row behind the goal during the celebrations. I recall remarking that if Dave Whelan, or any of the players for that matter, had come over to me at the end of a semi-final win like that and put his hands on me I would have punched him square in the nose. It’s not acceptable. Please keep your sense of superiority to yourselves.

I hate to use the word patronising as it is a fairly meaningless catch-all term given to what amounts to a lack of respect for disabled people and a lack of acceptance of them as equals. Yet I have not been able to help but notice over the years how often I have been talked down to by people who have, frankly, very little going for them. Fat people, smelly people, thick people, Tories, all kinds of people who need to have a good look at themselves have been guilty of it. Their sense of superiority is laughable and makes me pity them as much as they do me. And yet still the overriding feeling in society is that people like me deserve pity. The only reason I deserve pity is that my life is made more difficult by the ignorance of others who persist with this appalling attitude. And it isn’t just strangers or casual acquaintances. I’ve had it from people closer to me. For them it is not a lack of respect or acceptance. For them sweeping away these sorts of issues is their way of down-playing disability because they don’t want to see it as an issue and they don’t want you to see it that way either. But that is full-on, ostrich, head-in-the-sand stuff. Disability is an issue, and it is more of an issue today because the general public see fit to approve of the S’au photograph as some sort of example of outstanding benevolent gallantry.

Of course, since everyone else on the planet is in favour of this kind of thing there is peril in pointing out its flaws. Disabled people have to get used to being labelled the bad guy when they make any social comment about their treatment in society. The classic chip on the shoulder. Some choose not to be labelled so and so sit and suffer in their dignified silence. Others, like the clown writing this, are happy to wear the bad-guy tag if it means that one day we will get to a place where disability is not used to glorify the ordinary in a way that only serves to re-inforce the idea that we are somehow less than we really are.