The myth of the compassionate conservative

In my tortured, enlightening and frequently baffling explorations of the modern conservative mindset on twitter perhaps the very worst example of hypocrisy I’ve encountered is the supposedly compassionate conservative. Consider these examples:

  • We’re saving asylum seekers from drowning by stopping the boats
  • We’re saving Muslim women from being victimized by banning the burqa
  • We’re saving mothers from making a choice they’ll regret by making abortion illegal (or we’re saving babies)

This is all false of course: the same people who shout these things have absolutely no compassion for asylum seekers, muslims or women’s reproductive systems. Quite the opposite in fact – you only need to look at the revulsion expressed against ‘illegals’ or muslims among the right wing. And I don’t see any of them talking about how to support a mother and baby after the baby leaves the protection of his mother’s womb and becomes an actual living, functioning human being exposed to the world.

It’s bothered me for a long time that these people have this supposed shield of morality and compassion to hide behind. (“You don’t want to stop the boats? Oh, you support drowning all these people then? You monster!”). However, I’ve finally cracked what it is that invalidates this supposed compassion (aside from the blindingly obvious fact that these people don’t give a fuck about the people they profess to defend).

It comes down to choice. For better or worse the asylum seeker makes the choice to get on a boat, often because they feel they have no other choice, or the other choice mean torture, death or misery (for them and their families: let’s not forget these appalling, careless mothers who wilfully bring their children on board these death traps). While the burqa is a reprehensible symbol of patriarchal oppression, the fact is that some women still make the choice to wear it as they feel it symbolises and demonstrates their faith. Abortion is never an easy choice to make, but sometimes it’s made in the knowledge that you’re not in a position financially, mentally or otherwise to bring up a child.

The common element here is removing choice. The common element is not having enough, or any, respect for the group you’re purporting to represent. The common element is “I want to control your choices” (usually because “the choices you make threaten the choices I’ve made”).

And if you still think these conservatives are being compassionate, consider the potential consequences:

  • An asylum seeker who can no longer get on a boat in the hope of finding safe sanctuary in Australia may have no refuge from whatever persecution they’re trying to escape from. They may choose an even more dangerous path to safety, if such a path even exists. What do you choose? The small chance that nature might dump a storm on you, or the very real chance that someone might throw you in prison for the rest of your life, or murder you in your home.
  • A Muslim women who is forced to remove her burqa is now being oppressed by the supposedly tolerant society, quite probably feeling that her right to express her faith has been forcibly removed (imagine ordering Christians to remove their crucifixes, or to surrender their bibles, for example). She’s not being saved from oppression; instead she’s being oppressed.
  • The mother/parents who are denied an abortion may find no support in bringing up their child: the child may grow up unloved, unhealthy, neglected because the family have to work double shifts to survive, it may grow into a life of crime.

Worst case scenarios, for sure, but why care about the consequences of someone else’s action if you’re going to care about the consequences of yours?

 

The boat people aren’t the problem…

Now that we have Tony Abbott as our Prime Minister no one should expect treatment of asylum seekers to improve. After all, his leading campaign mantra was: Stop The Boats! The reason he was even able to run with a campaign policy as primitive and heartless as this is that much of the electorate have been duped into thinking that ‘boat people’ are a big problem for Australia.

Continue reading

Operation Sovereign Borders – saving lives since, er …

Just for fun, and because it relates to another blog post I’m working on, I did a quick bit of word crunching on the Coalition’s Operation Sovereign Borders policy document (and if that doesn’t sound like a title Kim Jong Il would have come up with in his heyday then I don’t what does). There’s nothing scientific in what I did: I simply downloaded the pdf and searched for a few key words.

The results are below and leave no illusions as to what this policy is all about. If you think this is simplistic … well, it is, but it’s extrapolated from a standard political tactic of repeating something ad infinitum until it gets stuck in the voter’s head (a tactic especially favoured by, but not exclusive to, conservatives). Based on this tactic you’d expect the keywords and terms that the Coalition most want to drum into us would be peppered liberally (hey – see what I did there!?) through the policy.

So let’s get on with it:

  • lives – 2 mentions (we’re off to a good start with two references to ‘lives at risk’)
  • save – 0 mentions (ohhh, too bad, failed at the first hurdle – and, yes, I did try variants too)
  • danger – 0 mentions (worth a try)
  • protect – 22 mentions (wait we could be getting somewhere here, let’s break that down a bit…)
    • protect our borders – 3 mentions (those fragile borders of ours)
    • protection visa – 4 mentions (something you only get after you arrive here)
    • border protection – 15 mentions (in case you forgot about our poor, beleagured borders)
  • humanitarian – 3 mentions (hmm, something at least)
  • refugee – 5 mentions (because refugees are what we’re talking about)
  • illegal9 mentions (all of which are in the context of arrivals or entry. Reminder: it is NOT ILLEGAL TO ARRIVE IN AUSTRALIA SEEKING ASYLUM but the Coalition wants you to carry thinking it is, and that these asylum seekers are breaking the law)
  • deter/deterrence – 13 mentions (in case you forget what we want to do with those refugees)
  • smuggler – 11 mentions
  • smuggling – 10 mentions
  • support – 10 mentions (none in reference to asylum seekers)

So, in summary, we have 14 keywords there that could, generously, be construed as having humanitarian intent. By comparison we have 41 references to things like deterring refugees and protecting our borders – that’s almost a 3:1 ratio.

As I said at the top, no one should really be surprised by this. However, the next time someone tries to claim that Operation Sovereign Borders is about saving lives do point out to them that it’s actually designed to save our borders: saving lives is nothing more than an inconsequential side effect.

Updates (23/09/2013)

Added a search for smugglers/smuggling. I think it’s reasonable to conclude that Operation Sovereign Borders has a heavy emphasis on people smuggling. Also did a new search on ‘illegal’ to see whether any of the mentions were in relation to smugglers: they weren’t – every mention of ‘illegal’ was in the context of arrivals.

Just for fun I did a search for ‘support’: are we supporting these asylum seekers, these victims of people smugglers, and so on? No, we’re not – the only support referred to is in support of the policies, measures, or the countries that we want to send asylum seekers off to.

I also looked for keywords relating to communications, reports, news and the like to see if there was clear information about withholding reports of boat arrivals, but couldn’t find much. This suggests to me that this is either:

  • a late policy addition, one not derived from a clear plan for deterring smugglers;
  • a post-publication change aimed at hiding the fact that boats are still coming;
  • a previously planned policy that was deliberately presented in the vaguest terms

The most relevant section is below. Draw your own conclusions:

The [Headquarters of the Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Taskforce) will, in particular, establish a communications group, drawing together relevant agencies, the Prince Minister’s Office and relevant ministers’ offices to coordinate all information and communications relating to the Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Taskforce operations to ensure there are strict protocols and disciplines on the release of operational information.

Finally, the policy document has been moved to the Liberals’ main site so I’ve also updated the link: http://lpaweb-static.s3.amazonaws.com/Policies/OperationSovereignBorders_Policy.pdf.

The right to (not) be offended

ouroboros.jpg

I’ve noticed a trend on twitter lately. It’s always been there, but in recent weeks it seems to have scaled to epic proportions. It goes like this: someone will say or do something; various people will take offence at what someone has said and done; various other people will then take offence that various people have taken offence at what someone has said or done. Before long twitter turns into a giant ouroboros in which we’re all eating our own tails (or sucking our own dicks, if we want to try and be offensive about it).

It reminds me of this:

You have no right not to be offended

Because it’s a clumsy double negative it makes my brain hurt a bit, but what it translates to is that you’re not allowed to tell me I can’t offend you, because if I’m not allowed to offend you then it means I no longer have free speech. I wonder, and secretly hope, if this might mean the end of extreme political correctness wherein almost anything anyone says can be judged to be offensive to someone (FYI I don’t disagree with political correctness because I think we should be allowed to offend at will, or that we shouldn’t be careful about what we say, but because it contravenes free speech and effectively grants people the right not to be offended).

Now, if you remove the double negative from the statement it takes on a different meaning, but one I think is actually more valuable:

You have the right to be offended

This is just as much about free speech as the first statement, but it comes with a clause:

You have no right to expect anything to happen just because you’re offended

Let’s clarify a bit here. Some people cause offence because they don’t realise they are doing so (could be a lack of information or basic ignorance); some people cause offence because they are jerks (because they want to offend people or because they are willfully ignorant). Some people take offence because they are human beings; some people take offence because they are jerks.

The right to be a jerk

We typically believe in free speech, which means that people should be allowed to say what they want even it it does nothing more than expose them as massive jerks. Moreover people should feel absolutely free to stand up and say “Hey, I take offence at that!” If we don’t hear both sides of an opinion then we limit our ability to learn.

In the ideal world that’s really where it should end in most cases: the person causing the offence, having been so advised, has the choice of modifying their behaviour, or retracting their statement … or doing nothing. The person claiming the offence has no right to expect anything to happen, and if someone else stands up and says “Hey, I take offence at you taking offence!” then they’re not only, sort of, contravening free speech but they’re sucking their own dick.

Obviously free speech can lead to all sorts of infinite loops, but there comes a point where you have to stop and decide that someone’s just being a jerk.

A right jerk

As this commenter says: you don’t have the right to not be ignored. Or, to put it into plainer English: no one has any obligation to listen to you. Having a voice is a right: being listened to is a privilege.

On twitter some people seem to enact this inverse right by reaching for the block button, which seems to me the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and going “LA LA LA”. Sure, if someone’s abusing you then you do whatever you can to silence them and cut them out of your life, but if you simply can’t deal with someone disagreeing then you still have the right to ignore them but you’re a bit of a jerk for exercising this right.

And this is what it comes down to: exercising your right do something doesn’t mean you’re right to do so. I have every right to insult someone else (so long as I don’t threaten them) but it doesn’t mean that I’m right. It most cases it’ll mean I’m a jerk.

I’m aware that some of these thoughts barely even qualify as thoughts, and are quite possible contradictory in places, so I welcome you using the comments below to put me to rights! I can always ignore you, anyway …

Further reading

There are plenty of articles out there on this subject. Here are two of them:

 

What did you do at school today?

The idea of an armed guard in any school, let alone every school as the chillingly out-of-touch NRA proposes, is just about one of the repugnant concepts I could imagine.
Leave aside, for a moment, the matter of a society that has failed so badly, that has lost its freedom, dignity and self confidence so surely, that it needs to defend its schools from its own citizens.

Now imagine your child heading off to school. What’s the first thing they see when they reach the school gates? A man with a gun? Hey, welcome to your future: it’s scary; it’s dangerous; there are people who want to kill you every day, but don’t worry – we’ll kill them first (unless we don’t, in which case keep your fingers cross that your bulletproof backpack does the job, or that your teacher is good enough to get in the way.)

Now imagine you’re an armed guard. Your sole job is to stand there and get ready to shoot the first other guy you see with a gun. What if you get it wrong and the guy doesn’t have a gun? What if you wait a second too long and the other guy gets you first? What if you miss the latest Days Of Our Lives because you’re supposed to be watching that security camera instead? How long till you crack? How long till you realise you’re just another bored, crazy guy with a gun in a school full of kids with soft bodies and pre-pubescent screams?

Now imagine you’re the parent. Is it even worth sending your child to school? Can you take that chance? Isn’t it better for them to grow up stupid than dead? How long are you going to wait for *that* phone call? How long till you decide to get your own gun out of the closet and go an help stand guard outside your child’s school? Oh, look, there’s some guy walking towards you, he looks pretty suspicious. Maybe you’d better shoot first and ask questions later. Does it really matter if it’s some other kid’s father?

Now imagine you’re the child.

Still fancy going to school today…?

Responsive images – one solution

Responsive images is quickly becoming the holy grail of html5 and responsive web design in general: as yet there is no standard way of getting your images to resize across different devices; there is nothing baked into the html5 spec that enables this; there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.

But this is web design and where there is a vacuum there are plenty of smart people around to fill it. Consequently there are numerous smart methods around the web for serving up images that adapt to a variety of devices. All of them have their pros, several have some cons – for one reason or another I didn’t find any ready-made solution that fitted my needs.

What was I looking for?

  • I wanted to load the smallest image first, to save bandwidth on mobile devices
  • I wanted to only have to edit the html, so that this solution could be used on a content management system
  • I wanted no tweaks required to the server (so .htaccess based methods were out)
  • I wanted a minimum of additional scripts, ideally just a single slice of jQuery or javascript
  • Finally it had to be as adaptable as possible, in case someone forgot to put in some of the required markup (more on that below)

Before I go on why not check out a demo of what I came up with?

My eventual solution was partly inspired by this article on Smashing Magazine (which also provides a good summary of the state of play with responsive images) and also by the Filament Group’s solution. It’s also broadly similar to jQuery Picture which I’ve only just unearthed and will definitely be investigating further. Any of the above might serve your needs better than the below.

How’s it done?

The principle is simple: use data attributes to include information for alternate images inside your img tag, and then use jQuery to get the size of the screen and rewrite the img attributes accordingly.

<img src=”http://wicked.edpriceishungry.com/img/thumb1.jpg” width=”80″ height=”114″ data-full-src=”http://wicked.edpriceishungry.com/img/image1.jpg” data-full-width=”280″ data-full-height=”400″ alt=”first test image”/>

For the example above, the src, width and height attributes will serve a thumbnail by default, while the corresponding data attributes hold information for the full size image.

In the jQuery script you set a breakpoint (in my case 768px) which sets the screen width above which the full size image will be served.

var screenwidth = $(window).width();

var breakpoint = 768;

if(screenwidth >= breakpoint)  {

    $(this).updateAttribute(‘src’,$(this).attr(‘data-full-src’));

    $(this).updateAttribute(‘width’,$(this).attr(‘data-full-width’));

    $(this).updateAttribute(‘height’,$(this).attr(‘data-full-height’));

}

The above simply says, if the screen width is greater than or equal to 768px then overwrite (update) the src attribute with the data-full-src attribute, and so on.

The final script (which you can view here http://re-covered.co.uk/responsive/js/responsive-image.js) is somewhat more convoluted as my testing revealed a few gotchas:

  • You don’t necessarily want *every* image on a page to be resized, so only apply the resizing to a named container (line 5)
  • You want images to resize both on the initial load of the page, and if the screen is resized (lines 10-16 and 119-129 – Arguably, you may not want to worry about resizing, in which case line 14 can be omitted along with the corresponding detectResize() function in lines 119-129)
  • While you *could* manually add in data-thumb attributes, it makes more sense to do this dynamically (lines 40-42) – this enables us to revert back to thumbnail images if necessary,
  • If the user forgets to put in width or height attributes, we set them to ‘auto’ (lines 47-48) to ensure that the image ratio doesn’t get borked
  • As an added touch the thumbnail also serves as a link to the full size image (lines 91-93) but we remove this link if we’re showing the full size image (lines 75-76)
  • To simplify the code, and avoid unnecessary repeating, I’ve also added a core updateAttribute function (lines104-111)
  • Finally, the detectResize function includes a 100ms timeout (lines 120, 127) otherwise things just get nasty

I’ve fully commented the script, in the hopes that it can speak for itself. Adding a full walkthrough would turn this post into a bit of an epic, but I’ll certainly consider posting more detail if the above isn’t clear enough (I know how frustrating it is to be confronted with the assumption that you already know everything about writing jQuery, or applying responsive design, etc).

For anyone who wants to play further, the above demo is available through my github account: https://github.com/justincawthorne/responsive-images

Consumers vs. Producers (which are you?)

consumers-producers1.jpg

Several months ago I was watching a programme about gun crime in Philadelphia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_and_Disorder_in_Philadelphia). It gave a bleak insight into a city where people had been failed by society, or by their government, or by their parents – and I’m sure some had failed all by themselves. As a consequence a significant portion of Philadelphia’s population had resorted to crime.

There’s a whole book to be written on the above, but the part that struck me was how a lot of these people, clearly feeling they had been given nothing by their supposed providers, had chosen to pick up a gun and start taking what they wanted (or needed) instead. I’m not condoning that, by the way: I’m just suggesting that certain situations lead to certain types of behaviour. The inevitable counter-effect is that almost all politicians would automatically condemn this behaviour – it’s an easy and popular soundbite after all – without ever really thinking about what had caused the behaviour in the first place. (And, hey presto, the politicians get to dissociate themselves from one of the sections of society that most needs their support).

I started thinking about this.

I had this image of an angry Republican raging against such criminals, but who would freely wield his or her own power to get laws changed to fit their own world view. It’s not far from the truth: just look at David Cameron’s response to rioters in London last year:

In a statement delivered outside his Downing Street residence after a meeting of the Government’s emergency response team, Mr Cameron said: “This is criminality pure and simple and it has to be confronted and defeated.” (source)

(There was subsequent talk about the UK government being able to shut down social media services: in short the government using its power to take something from its people).

I came down to a simplistic overview that society is supposed to be provided for by government – the government (or establishment, if you want to be broader) is supposed to provide services, resources, goods, etc, which we then gratefully consume. We are conditioned to think that they are there for us. But why, for instance, are there so few resources available for the people of Philadelphia when there are millionaire politicians in government, and corporations making billions of dollars out of us…?

It’s because we are the providers and the establishment is the consumer.

Again, you don’t really need to look very far to back that thought up – we are the 99% after all. Our labour, our taxes, our creativity all goes towards making a small number of other people very rich: we produce while the 1% consumes.

But how does this happen? Looking at Philadelphia made it very simple: all it takes is an item of power. In Philadelphia this item of power is a gun; when you point a gun at someone you suddenly become the consumer – you become the person who can take whatever they are willing to give in order to not get shot.

It’s just as simple with business: Apple releases a new phone; it becomes the item of power. We want the phone (factor in any amount of media, social, or psychological manipulation you want), Apple takes our money.

It’s slightly less tangible when it comes to government. Politicians wield the power (they get to decide how we are allowed to live our lives!) and they will take your votes in order to further their agendas, or the agendas of their rich, corporate allies. We provide votes (and taxes) and they consume the power (and influence, and money). The item of power is simply that: being in power. I’d love to be less cynical about this, I’d love to go back to thinking that governments served their people, but there’s simply too much evidence to the contrary. You only have to look at things like:

This list could go on.

My point is: let’s not be fooled any more. The politician who would condemn a petty criminal behaves in much the same way, just on a much larger scale. We are no longer the ones being served. We are the providers, not the consumers.

But, as we have learned, every society has its limits

consumers-producers2.jpg

(The original title of this post was going to be Consumers and Providers, but that just sounded clunky, so I went with Consumers and Producers instead.)

My #essential20

This list mostly comprises songs that I never get tired of listening to. In some cases I’ve had to choose a single song to represent an artist or genre. While this list doesn’t fully reflect the range of music I enjoy listening to (I’m no muso, by any means, I just like a slightly eccentric list of artists) I’m happy that it includes Leonard Cohen alongside a-ha, Patti Smith with John Barry, Neil Diamond and Primal Scream.

Gloria (Patti Smith)

“Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine ….”

I was introduced to Patti Smith via U2′s cover of Dancing Barefoot (which would have been on this list had it been on Spotify). I can’t claim to be a huge fan – I find vast swathes of her music tedious and borderline unlistenable – but Gloria is one song that grabbed me from the outset and has never really let go. Some of the reason for this is that it’s, in part, a cover – which is almost always a winner for me. It comprises two distinct songs, which is something else I’m usually a sucker for (c.f. Scenes From An Italian Restaurant by Billy Joel). Finally, it starts off so, so softly and then builds to a thundering, enraged critical mass.

I like the original, but I’ve specifically chosen this live version (from the 20th Anniversary release of Horses) because it actually manages to take the original, already intensely powerful track and turn it up to 11. The first time I played this at home my four-year-old son was listening in and by the time it finished he was running and bouncing around the room, completely energized by the song. The fact that it can have this sort of impact means I love it even more.

Better Things (Splendid)

“I’ve got bigger things to lie about than you …”

I discovered Splendid through Buffy The Vampire Slayer (which, incidentally, is also how I discovered my wife, but that’s a whooole different story). Anyway, Buffy proved a surprisingly good source for independent, undiscovered and often very cool music. As soon as I’d heard a few Splendid tracks I decided I had to get the album. Unfortunately the album was only released in Australia (since record company execs don’t actually know anything about music) but, fortunately, it wasn’t long before I happened to end up in Australia (which, appropriately enough, was entirely because of my wife and, therefore, entirely because of Buffy The Vampire Slayer – again: different story).

So, every time we saw a record store I’d go and look for this Splendid album. Couldn’t find it! Eventually, of all places, I picked it up in a tiny record store in a tiny shopping mall in Kalamunda. I think it probably went on constant repeat for several months after that and, while most of the songs on the album are great, it was always Better Things that we came back to if we needed a quick fix of Splendid.

I considered including Splendid’s beautiful cover of Love And Other Bruises on this list, but it’s not on Spotify. In any case, Better Things earns its place here because it always takes me back to just getting married and being in Perth for the first time. It’s no exaggeration to say it harks back to a time when my life completely and irrevocably changed (for the better).

Of course, I like the song on its own merits as well (I could never quite understand how no one had grabbed it and made a huge hit out of it) – it’s beautifully sung, very bittersweet, and has a great build up from the opening to the closing notes.

I’ve Been Losing You (a-ha)

“Yet I did it all so coldly, almost slowly … “

This song doesn’t really have any special meaning for me. It’s true I was sufficiently into a-ha to buy their first album when it came out, and that was around the time that I started doing all the fun things like going out with girls and drinking, so there’s doubtless an element of nostalgia to this one.

However, it was years later that I discovered this particular mix, thanks to the combined forces of a friend at a former job and Napster. I like the original song, naturally, but this version gives the guitar some extra prominence in the intro which I find irresistible. It’s not only a brilliantly crafted, perhaps slightly unusual pop song; it’s not only got Morten Harket’s trademark operatic vocals (I’m a sucker for operatic vocals); but it also hints at something really dark and violent which gives me a whole extra layer of enjoyment when listening to it.

The One I Love (R.E.M.)

It was Orange Crush that really got me into R.E.M. but somehow it’s this song that made it onto my 20. Like Orange Crush it’s got an immortal guitar hook, it’s got particularly striking vocals from Michael Stipe and the fact that it’s actually an anti-love song is an added bonus.

My memory’s a bit fuzzy on this, but I have vague impression of hearing it for the first time and thinking something like: “OMG there’s music like this out there?!? What is it? I must have it!” To paraphrase Obi Wan: I’d just taken my first steps into a larger world.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (John Barry)

Back in England I used to work for Our Price (essentially the UK equivalent of Sanity). One of our favourite albums to listen in the shop to was a collection of all the James Bond theme songs. Having never seen OHMSS I’d never heard that particular theme before and now I think it’s actually better than the regular James Bond theme.

Part of the reason it’s here is because I love instrumental tracks and I wanted to ensure at least one was included, but it’s also here because every time I hear it I get the almost irresistible urge to start making ridiculous secret agent style moves, and you just can’t ignore a song that compels you to make an ass of yourself whenever you hear it ;)

Fortunate Son (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

“Some folks are born silver spoon in hand – Lord, don’t they help themselves…”

This is one of those songs that I’ve liked for a long, long time but never really thought about much. Then the Iraq war happened and this song (written abut the Vietnam war) suddenly became massively relevant again. In fact, I listen to it today and it seems like nothing has changed. It’s lucky that, for a song that reminds me of so much that’s wrong with this world, it rocks so hard you just never want to stop listening.

Cracklin’ Rosie (Neil Diamond)

“Have me a time with a poor man’s lady …”

My Dad used to listen to Neil Diamond a lot when I was growing up and, like Billy Joel (another near miss from this list), the music kinda stuck with me. I rediscovered Neil around my late teens/early twenties and have regularly dipped into his catalogue ever since (seeing Will Ferrell’s outstanding Neil Diamond Storytellers sketch some years back only made me enjoy the music more).

I remember always being a bit put out that Neil Diamond would get filed in the Easy Listening section back in UK record shops. Nowadays he’s moved out of that ‘uncool’ area into the ‘beyond-cool’ stature that a lot of retro artists dwell in – the incredible reception his 2008 Glastonbury set received confirms that.

There are a bunch of Neil Diamond songs I could have included, but Cracklin’ Rosie is and always will be his foot-tappin’ greatest signature tune. I have a fondness for songs that are upbeat in tune, but have somewhat downbeat elements in the lyrics, as well as songs from popular artists that hark back to (possibly mythical) harder times – as far as I know Cracklin’ Rosie is an ode to getting absolutely hammered on cheap bourbon, and you don’t get much more down and dirty than that.

Ashes To Ashes (David Bowie)

“I’m happy, hope you’re happy too …”

I probably first discovered David Bowie through Top Of The Pops – I certainly have vivid memories of watching the Ashes To Ashes video when it first came out (and I would have been about 9 then). I feel like I’ve been discovering Bowie music all my life; point in case – I only listened to Station To Station for the first time last year (I now love that song so much it almost made it onto this list) but Ashes to Ashes must surely be one of the first Bowie songs that I remember from when it was brand new and in the charts.

This is one of those songs where I could happily listen to an instrumental version – that deranged, distorted intro riff gives me chills every time. However, this is Bowie, and if you’re not listening to the words you’re getting less than half the song. This one is surreal, haunting, poetic … falsetto. Just like some of the other songs in this list, it’s a tense mix of sometimes contradictory elements that, for me, means it never, ever gets boring.

Head Over Heels (Tears For Fears)

This is simple: Donnie Darko. Also, this song brings back similar memories to Better Things (above).

I Was Wrong (Sisters Of Mercy)

“In a bar that’s always closing …”

I went through a bit of a goth phase back when I was working in Our Price, listening to All About Eve (who are more folk than goth), The Mission (who were and always will be a little bit shit) and Sisters Of Mercy (who apparently prefer to disassociate themselves from the whole goth thing anyway).

I like this song mostly because it’s simple yet dark, gentle yet nihilist, and doesn’t really sound like the sort of thing you’d expect from Sisters Of Mercy.

Everybody Knows (Leonard Cohen)

“Everybody knows the good guys lost…”

My first proper introduction to Leonard Cohen was in an awesome film called Exotica, which used this song for a striptease routine. Yeah, they really did that.

I went out and bought I’m Your Man pretty soon after and found at least four songs on there that could be candidates for this list. I won’t say I tirelessly explored every word that Cohen’s ever written, but I was enough of a fan to pay to see him when he came to Perth a few years back and, boy, am I glad I paid those bucks! (That said, this is one of the few songs where I actively prefer the studio version to any live recordings).

Kelly Watch The Stars (Moog Cookbook Remix / Air)

I really like the original version of this song, but this Moog Cookbook remix will instantly put a skip in my step – it’s one of the funnest songs I know (and, yes, funnest is totally the word I’m sticking with). I have a fondness for cheesy listening music (sound samplers from the seventies, etc) and this also fits that bill.

Karma Police (Radiohead)

I worked in Our Price when Radiohead were really starting to hit. I had a really good friend who was a huge Radiohead fan. I then married someone who is also a huge Radiohead fan (no, not the same person). Despite all that it was only a few years ago that I really started paying Radiohead any attention, and I think this is one of the songs that helped kick that off (as well as Just).

Don’t You (Forget About Me) (Simple Minds)

This is my guilty pleasure, I can’t deny it: I love this song and will probably never ever get tired of hearing it. I’ve specifically chosen the extended version for my list because it has a similar (yet still not identical) opening to the version that plays at the start of The Breakfast Club, which anyone growing up during the 1980s is contractually obliged to have as one of their favorite films.

Come Together (Primal Scream)

One of the best things about working somewhere like Our Price is that it massively broadened the range of music I listened to. I know Come Together was a reasonably big hit for Primal Scream, so it’s unlikely I’d have missed it, but this track heralds from a time where indie music was becoming something really exciting in the UK. I used to have a handful of 12″ singles that I would play on constant repeat (The Storm by World Of Twist is another) and remember just really, really starting to enjoy an ever increasing set of songs, artists and genres.

I hadn’t actually listened to this track for years until I rediscovered it more or less by accident the other week. For that reason I debated whether or not it belonged on my list, but after hearing it again I just wanted to keep playing it over and over. This track is a great listen, but it also represents a significant period of my life, musically, and stands in for that indie/dance/psychedelia genre that’s otherwise not really represented on this list.

Born Of Frustration (James)

“Show me the movie of who you are and where you’re from …”

I’m not a big James fan but I’ve been hooked on this song ever since it came out (I had it on 7″!). I’m not sure what it’s all about, but in recent years I’ve started to appreciate the lyrics as much as the composition.

All Of My Heart (ABC)

ABC’s first album, The Lexicon of Love, was one of the very first albums I owned but I only had it because I liked Poison Arrow (a song that my son really likes now). It was yeahs and years later before I ever gave the album a proper listen and it’s now one of my favorites – a perfect slice of lush, stylish pop. I really have no idea when, where or how this song grabbed me but I could listen to it endlessly.

In The Meadow (All About Eve)

All About Eve were probably one of my favorite bands for a year or two (beloved enough that I had much fun trawling record fairs so I could collect as many of their 12″s as I could afford). In truth I think the song December, from their second album, is a better song – and it also closes with an incredible, iconic guitar solo. However, this one gets my vote because it feels so much darker: it always gives me the image of black, threatening clouds gathering on the horizon – then you get hit with the blazing, apocalyptic guitar solo that wraps up this track.

The Kick Inside (Kate Bush)

‘Oh, by the time you read this …”

Looking back I must have been a fan of Kate Bush for almost as long as I’ve been listening to music. I like almost all of her work, but it’s probably her first album that I would take if I had to choose only one. I was leaning towards Them Heavy People for a while, but I opted for this because I think it’s possibly the most beautiful song Kate Bush has written (more so that This Woman’s Work).

Once again it fits that bill of sounding lovely, but being incredibly dark and desperately, desperately sad: the song (apparently) is about a girl who commits suicide after an incestuous relationship with her brother results in a pregnancy.
And the way the song just stops …

Torch (extended) (Soft Cell)

“I wanted to grab you and kiss you but I thought you’d hit me…
… too right, baby!”

This was a very late addition to the list – in fact, I’d completed my list when my wife reminded about this one and I hurriedly went and placed it at the end. I had every intention of placing it elsewhere in the order (and having my list conclude with Kate Bush), but the way it starts up after The Kick Inside just seemed too perfect.

I got into Soft Cell during my Our Price years and this song, with its flugelhorn hook, always jumped out at me whenever. I particularly like the extended mix (more so than the single mix) because of the alternate intro (which tantalisingly withholds the main riff for a verse or two) and the bizarrely flat singing from Cindi Ecstasy, which contrasts perfectly with Marc Almond’s especially powerful delivery. If you’ve read my notes for Come Together above, this is another one of those 12″ singles that I used to play on constant repeat. (And here’s an interesting article I stumbled across all about the recording of the song.)

Reflections

It’s very obvious that there’s not much in the way of recent music in this list. That’s not because there’s no recent music that I like, I think it’s simply to do with timing. It’s no secret that as you get older you tend to get set in your ways – especially if you have a life that’s as happy as satisfying as mine (I have no overriding need to search for new and shiny experiences – I don’t ignore them when they come along, but I don’t always seek them). This inevitably means that the fundamental changes in life happen less and less often as you make your way through the whole shebang.

For most of us music is linked to key, formative moments in our lives – those fundamental changes, or turning points. While the songs above are not always connected to specific memories, most represent various phases in my life: times when I was discovering music, starting something new, or just learning how to grow up (work in progress). Several of the songs are not ones I liked when they were first around, but ones that I learned to love much, much later – arguably for reasons of nostalgia.

It’d be interesting to try rebuilding this list in a few more years’ time – to see what stays, what drops off, and whether any more recent music manages to earn its place in there…

(FYI I planned to do a list of near misses, but since this is so long already I’ll do that as a separate post!)

#essential20 – the lists

Seb Sharp (@sebsharp)

Felixmeister (@felixmeister)

Clayton Bolger (@claybo76)

Michelle Soia (@TheDestroia)

Dann de Wolff (@d_wolff)

Mark Griffiths (@stokegriff)

John Erren (@John_Erren)

Mags Lum (@ScientistMags)

Rachel Cawthorne (@rachelhatesjazz)

 Angela Kowalczyk (@superflange)

 Mark Ampersand (@tobiasampersand)

Craig Taylor (@supercujo)

 

#essential20 – the faq

Why

I have a bunch of friends on Twitter who regularly talk about music – sometimes its music I know and sometimes it’s not. And sometimes it’s Nickelback, but we won’t go there. While I enjoy an occasionally bizarre range of music it’s fair to say there are some huuuuuge gaps in my musical knowledge.

So, it struck me that one of the best ways of filling some of these gaps would be to get some of my friends to create a list of their 20 ‘essential’ tracks. It’ll be interesting listening to what keeps other people’s feet tapping but, more selfishly, it might help me add a few previously undiscovered favourites to my own playlists.

What

Trying to identify your 20 most favouritest tracks is a challenge for even the most casual muso, so here are a few criteria to help you narrow that list down. Your songs should probably satisfy at least one of the below, but filling more than one checkbox means you’re definitely onto a winning song.

  • Songs that you will never, ever tire of listening to
  • If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have 20 songs to listen to …
  • Songs that have had a major influence on your life
  • Songs that remind you of significant periods of your life
  • Songs that represent your favourite artist(s)

How

The #essential20 is fairly flexible, but there are a few tiny ‘rules’ to help make this work:

  1. You should create your playlist on Spotify (and share it)
  2. You should give it the title #essential20
  3. You should tweet about it incessantly using the hashtag #essential20
  4. Obviously it can only be 20 songs. No more, no less. Medleys and concept pieces are ok.

The next bit is not a requirement but it would be really, really awesome if you could pair up your playlist with a blog post explaining your choices.I’m particularly interested in the following:

  • How did you go about building your list? What were your personal criteria?
  • Why did you choose each song? (Yes, I want to read why each, individual song is important to you)
  • What songs narrowly missed out on the list (you could include Spotify links here as a way of including a few bonus tracks)
  • Did you learn anything interesting during this process? Did your song choices surprise you? Are there songs that you thought were important, but turned out to be more disposable than others?

When you’ve done your playlist, and optional blog post, why not put a link in the comments section below?

Happy compiling, people – I know it’s going to torture choosing but it’s going to be a blast listening to the results!

Help

The following links may be useful when wrangling Spotify:

(but not very often…)