The New Conspirators

May 11, 2011

The New Conspirators

I think I first came across the author Tom Sine at Greenbelt, probably as a reading recommendation from the great John Smith.

At the time his newest book was ‘Wild Hope’ – a book I bought, which I knew was meant to be amazing, but yet never got around to reading. And the thing with Tom Sine is that, among other things, he’s a futurist. He tries to make predictions about what the world is going to be like in a few years time so that we can prepare ourselves to deal with the problems we’re going to be facing. But once that future arrives, there’s not really a lot of point in reading a book that predicted it. So every few years Tom Sine produces another book. The latest is ‘The New Conspirators’ which, thankfully, I did get round to reading.

He’s also a Christian, which means he sees the hope for our world lying in the teachings of  Jesus, and in Jesus himself. This may seem fantastical to some (as it does to me, and *I’m* a Christian, albeit a sometimes doubtful one) but I admire Tom for his unapologetic adherence to Jesus’ ways.

It’s an inspiring, well-written but worrying read as it faces head-on the challenges we may be up against in the coming years.

Here’s a couple of my favourite snippets:

“At the core of the modern worldview underlying globalization is the assertion that the ultimate in human experience is defined primarily in economic terms… it is increasingly colonizing the imaginations of peoples all over our planet to buy into its notions of what constitutes the good life and better future….

Our Christian faith… affirm(s) that the ultimate will only be found in a different reality and a different dream for the global future, defined by the restoration of our relationship to the creator God. It is a dream in which the ultimate is found in seeing broken lives restored. It is a dream in which justice finally comes for the poor, wholeness for God’s good creation and shalom for the nations.”


“Remember that Jesus’ empire was not ushered in with pomp and circumstance. It had its origins with a baby born in a cow stall in an undistinguished village in the Roman Empire. When Jesus began teaching, he made clear that his new empire would be unlike any empire the world had ever seen. It came on a donkey’s back. It’s ‘Imperial Council’ was comprised of a handful of unemployed fisherman, a couple of I.R.S. agents, a prostitute and some other hanger-ons. Jesus demonstrated how to wield his imperial power by washing feet, telling stories and playing with kids. Jesus’ empire is based on the absurd values that the last should be first, losers are winners and the most influential in this empire should clean the toilets.

Members of this empire are instructed to love their enemies, forgive their friends, always give twice as much as people ask of them and never pursue power or position. Jesus insisted that those who are a part of his empire shouldn’t worry about finances, but simply trust God. The resources to run this empire were basins, towels and leftover lunches. This empire also developed a reputation for constant partying – almost always with the wrong kind of people.

Seriously, is this any way to run an empire? Imagine what would happen if you ran a political, economic or even religious institution with these bizarre values. Clearly, it wouldn’t have much of a future. These values might even get the leader assassinated. It is essential that we remember that this unlikely empire is destined to defeat the evil that victimizes our lives and brutalizes God’s world.”

Behind the Glass

April 26, 2011

It took me a while to get through this book but it was worth it, particularly for the following gems of wisdom which are about producing records, but which could arguably be applied to all walks of life:

Behind the Glass

“I guess my advice would be – have a hell of a lot of fun, and don’t let anybody tell you anything is wrong. Just do what you think sounds right. If you like the records I do and send me a record for criticism and I say, ‘Well that sucks,’ don’t let that influence you – hey, I’m an old fart. (laughs) Go do what you feel, regardless of what anybody tells you. Use any means necessary to get the best performance out of the artist. Sublimate your ego and focus on whatever techniques you can use to get the artist’s vision on the record in the best possible way. That way, you’ll be the next you, rather than the next anybody else.”
- Craig Leon (producer of Ramones, Blondie and Suicide)

“Just don’t be afraid to experiment. That’s very important. Most of what we do comes down to experience, and there’s no substitute for that. So just spend a lot of time on it and mess around and experiment. Do crazy things, break the rules. And if you like the sound of it, then that’s great. Have confidence in your own subjectivity; if it appeals to you, and you think it fits with what you are doing, then do it. You don’t have to be a purist about things. If it sounds good, then it doesn’t matter how you got that sound.”
- Mick Glossop (producer of Van Morrison, Frank Zappa & John Lee Hooker)

“…when you’re dealing with musicians, you’re dealing with gentle souls. We’re all from the same tribe; we’re all trying to do something that’s art. We’re doing it to please someone else; we’re all here for that reason. Maybe your form of pleasing someone is to get a number one record, or maybe you just want to get that pat on the back from your fellow musicians who say, ‘Man, that’s some great shit.’ This is what I live for. I don’t live for my position on the chart or how many copies I’ve sold, how much money I’ve made. My reason for doing it is to get that musician guy to say. ‘That sounds really good, man’ – I love that. But we’re all here to do that, so if it’s not coming around, we feel like shit, we want to run back home. So you’ve got to be able to anticipate it and know how to handle it.”
- Walter Afanasieff (producer of Mariah Carey, Michael Bolton & Kenny G)

“I talk about this all the time to people who see where I’m at and think I just woke up one day and I was here. It doesn’t work that way. This was a passion for me and something I just unconsciously did, and I knew I would succeed. In many ways, the best thing that kids that are starting out have is the naivete of not knowing what they’re up against; that’s their best ally. When I was a kid, the most positive thing I’d ever get was, ‘Yeah, you should really go for it and try it, but you need something else in case it doesn’t work out, because a lot of people are trying to do what you’re trying to do.’ In my head, I would think, ‘Fuck you, I’m going to make it, I’m not everybody else.’ That’s what you need. That’s what gets you through it….”

“…If you’re doing anything for money, or you’re not doing it because of money, right there is a dangerous little road to go down. I’ve turned down a lot of things where there was a lot of money offered, but I hated the fucking music. It wasn’t even hard. I just thought, I can’t see myself working on this. And if you’re really into something, even if there’s not as much money as you’d get to do another thing, you’d be an idiot not to do it. If you’re into it, you’re going to get fulfillment out of doing it. There are some people who don’t think that way, but they’re doing it for the wrong reasons, anyway – they don’t have a genuine motivation going on.”
Danny Saber (producer of Rolling Stones, David Bowie & Public Enemy)


April 21, 2011

Things the Grandchildren Should Know

Having racked up over 800 plays by Eels over the last twelve months, I think it’s fair to say I’ve become a big fan.

It’s taken me a while to get there. Somewhere in my crazy head I had lumped the bands Sparklehorse and Eels together (both of them being outlets for American solo male singer-songwriters who make music that, in E’s words, “might make people get up to check and see if something was wrong with their stereo”) – and for some weird sub-conscious reason I thought I had to choose one over the other, and for years chose only Sparklehorse.

It was reading Eels’ Mark Oliver Everett’s ‘Things the Grandchildren Should Know’ that finally got me listening to them. It’s an amazing book which isn’t just for music fans; in it he talks about the death of his father, the suicide of his sister, the long battle his mother had with cancer, and of how he coped with all this tragedy – with music being the main force that kept him alive.

Here’s two of my favourite bits from the the book:

“When you’re a kid and you’re watching your favourite band on TV, it just looks fun and exciting. But it turns out that, in reality, to do it, and to try to do it well – really caring about how it turns out – is extremely hard work and a very stressful lifestyle. It’s not for anyone who isn’t totally devoted to the mission and willing to give up any kind of real life. Because no one will ever care about your stuff as much as you and there will be daily battles to fight – hard, lonely battles. And they never seem to stop for me.”

“That’s the thing about fans. If they like one thing you do, and you don’t do the same thing again, they can feel let down. I never understood that way of thinking, so it means nothing to me, sorry. Why on earth would you want everything to be the same all the time? You can go back and listen to ‘Daisies of the Galaxy’ anytime you want to. I don’t need to do it again. That said, I don’t set out to dazzle the world with my ‘versatility’. I just have some things in me that need to come out. If you only like one kind of music, sorry again, but life’s too short. Every record I’ve ever put out has been met with some torrent of angry fan mail because it wasn’t what they expected. If you want what you expect, why not make your own album then? I’m just trying to make mine and it’s probably not what you’re expecting. I’m glad we had this little talk.”

And here’s the song by Eels I’m relating to most at the moment:


April 13, 2011

Jack Dee

“Bigotry doesn’t often offend me. I usually find it laughable. That taxi driver you keep banging on about harbours views which are so utterly stupid that laughter is the only sensible response. Because if you give words the authority to offend you, they always will.”

- Jack Dee, ‘Thanks for Nothing’

Bands are like marriages

April 11, 2011

Spook Country

‘I loved The Curfew, when I was in college,’ he said. ‘Still do, I mean, but you know what I mean.’

‘Thanks,’ she said.

‘Why did you break up?’

‘Bands are like marriages. Or maybe only good ones are. Who knows why a good one works, let alone why it stops working.’


He crouched there, suddenly aware of something he couldn’t name. The goddess, the noise of the port, the old man, the ten painted disks slung around his neck like blank sigils. Something was about to change. In the world, in his life, he didn’t know. He closed his eyes. Saw the blue vase glowing softly, where he’d hidden it, on the roof of his building.

Accept this.

I do, he told her.

- William Gibson, ‘Spook Country’

Mr. Pritchard

April 9, 2011

The Wayward Bus

“Mr. Pritchard was a businessman, the president of a medium-sized corporation. He was never alone. His business was conducted by groups of men who worked alike, thought alike, and even looked alike. His lunches were with men like himself who joined together in clubs to so that no foreign element or idea could enter. His religious life was again his lodge and his church, both of which were screened and protected. One night a week he played poker with men so exactly like himself that the game was fairly even, and from this fact his group was convinced that they were very fine poker players. Wherever he went he was not one man but a unit in a corporation, a unit in a club, in a lodge, in a church, in a political party. His thoughts and ideas were never subjected to criticism since he willingly associated only with people like himself. He read a newspaper written by and for his group. The books that came into his house were chosen by a committee which deleted material that might irritate him. He hated foreign countries and foreigners because it was difficult to find his counterpart in them. He did not want to stand out from his group. He would like to have risen to the top of it and be admired by it; but it would not occur to him to leave it. At occasional stags where naked girls danced on the tables and sat in great glasses of wine, Mr. Pritchard howled with laughter and drank the wine, but five hundred Mr. Pritchards were there with him.”

- John Steinbeck, ‘The Wayward Bus’

We’re all Bastards

April 7, 2011

We're all bastards

By Derek.

Poor listeners

April 5, 2011

Years ago, I remember watching the film ‘The Accidental Tourist‘ on TV. It was one of those films where nothing really happens, but I was still drawn in by the great characters, the slow atmosphere and the sweet dialogue.

A couple of years ago I read an article about the author Anne Tyler, whose book the film was based on. Some songwriters are described as ‘the songwriter’s songwriter’ (Ron Sexsmith, who I mentioned in a recent post, being one example). This article suggested that Anne Tyler was the ‘writer’s writer’, and that Nick Hornby and Roddy Doyle had nominated her ‘the greatest living novelist writing in English’.

At that time it was bothering me that all of my favourite authors were male; John Steinbeck, Iain Rankin and Douglas Coupland being a few. So I bought the first book written by Anne Tyler, ‘If Morning Ever Comes’. I loved it and am now working my way through all of her books chronologically.

Just like the film I mentioned earlier, nothing huge and dramatic often happens in her books, but her writing is beautiful, her characters believable and her stories perfect for getting lost in.

“Tyler is an exquisite chronicler of the everyday. Home and homesickness are her central preoccupations; repression, guilt and estrangement her prevailing themes. Her characters are at once infuriating and endearing, conservative yet quietly eccentric. They are all unheroic survivors.”
The Observer

Here’s an extract from ‘A Slipping Down Life’, her third novel, that particularly resonated with me:

Anne Tyler - A Slipping Down Life

The congregation commented on the sermon during each pause. ‘”It’s true. It’s true.” “Amen.” “Ain’t it so?” Like poor listeners in an ordinary conversation, they seemed likely to jump up at any moment and interrupt to tell experiences of their own. Only none of them did. Instead, Evie began to worry that it would be her herself who interrupted. Pauses between paragraphs grew longer and quieter, swelling until they might burst forth with her own voice saying something terrible.

Ordinary ministers picked a single, narrow theme for each sermon; Brother Hope tried to cover the world in an hour. Faced with the leap from one topic to another, from the evils of pre-teen dating to the inevitability of death and from there to the unnaturalness of working mothers, he kept taking a breath and hesitating, as if he worried about the abyss he had to span; and every time it happened Evie drew in her breath too. She was not certain what would burst forth. She gripped the chair in front of her, and the man who sat in it turned to show her the expectant, circular eyes of a baby.

A Jealous Mistress

March 31, 2011

I read ’17′ by Bill Drummond during the first few exhausting weeks of having twins.

I would go to bed at 9 o’clock at night, read a little bit of the book, then grab a quick sleep before  my wife and I would get up at 10:30pm to give the babies a feed. Then we’d be up again at 2:30am for another feed, and then up any number of times after and in-between that to settle either, or usually both, babies. Just like anyone who’s had a baby really, except there’s two of them.

There wasn’t a lot of time or energy for reading (or for anything really), but thankfully this book had short chapters filled with great stories and original ideas.

I love Bill Drummond’s work and how he’s moved so easily from one art form to another, never putting limitations on what art is, or being precious about anything he’s created.

17 by Bill Drummond

“Between the years 1977 and 1992 I had found myself involved in the making of pop music. It happened by accident but had taken over my life. In 1992 I found the strength of will to put a stop to it. Well, almost. I did have a couple of minor lapses.

There were a lot of reasons for wanting to stop doing pop. One of the main reasons was there was all this other stuff I wanted to do. Somehow the whole process of making music didn’t allow for this, music being a jealous mistress and all that. I needed to create time and space for the other stuff. ‘Music is not my first love and it won’t be my last,’ to misquote a lyric you might have heard once or twice.

- Bill Drummond, ’17′.

Philip Yancey on Writing

February 8, 2010

Soul Survivor

I recently read ‘Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church‘ by Philip Yancey.

The following is taken from his chapter about the writer Frederick Buechner:

“Why do we do it, we writers? ‘Of making many books there is no end,’ sighed the teacher of Ecclesiastes some three millennia ago, and 50,000 new ones will appear this year alone. Yet we keep at it, cranking out more and more words, with the potential to bring harm as well as comfort. I think we do it because each of us has nothing else to offer than a living point of view that differentiates us from every other person on this planet. We must tell our stories to someone…

…Every writer must overcome a kind of shyness, putting out of mind the fear that we are being arrogant by thrusting ourselves upon you the reader and egotistical by assuming our words are worth your time. Why should you care about what I have to say? What right have I to impose myself on you? In another context, Simone Weil presents a kind of answer: ‘I cannot conceive the necessity for God to love me, when I feel so clearly that even with human beings affection for me must only be a mistake. But I can easily imagine that he loves the perspective of creation which can only be seen from the point where I am.’ That is all any writer can offer, especially a writer of faith: a unique perspective of creation, a point of view visible only from the point where I am…

…We can only write with passion about our own experiences.”


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