Monday, 8 December 2008

News, Views and Music Issue 15 (Top Five): Why Are We Here? Where Are We Going? And How Come We Never Get There At All?

And just in case you thought that review was long-winded, it doesn’t have anything on this next section….yes, we’ve gone all out in our latest ‘top five’ this issue, planning to put to rights nothing less than the questions that have been perplexing mankind for centuries, with the aid of just a typewriter and a CD player. No, the question isn’t ‘when could anybody possibly think that the spice girls were a good idea?’, we mean the the other big question. So here it is – our guide to understanding the ideas ‘Why are we here?’, ‘Where are we going?’ and ‘Why do we never seem to get there at all?’ In short, here are five arguments put forward on AAA albums for the origins of our species….maybe. If nothing else, music is here to raise discussion points so even if you don’t agree with any of the five arguments raised here (and to be honest there’s no reason why you should as they all could be right…and they all could be wrong), take them with a large dash of salt and (Sgt) pepper. After all, we will never know the answers, but thinking about the question is arguably about the most important thing we could be doing – depending, of course, on what the answer actually is. 

5) We have all been here before. At least, that’s the view of David Crosby on the seminal Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young album ‘De Ja Vu’ (see review no 34) which is – among other things - a study of how mankind repeats his mistakes in cycles (just check out that cover, where the quartet are dressed in garb from the American Civil War era, even though one of them is Canadian and another comes from Blackpool). Mankind isn’t ‘evolving’, if you like, just chasing its own tail through crisis after crisis. The title track goes even further, being a Crosby epic about re-incarnation and the idea that our souls are returned to different bodies time and time again down the generations until we get it right. According to Cros’ autobiography, David dallied with the idea of past lives very early in his life when, still a toddler, he found he instinctively knew how to sing harmony notes along with his parents and brothers’ singing and when – at the tender age of 11 – he appeared to know the uses of every sail and mast when taken out sailing one day, despite having never been on a boat before. This ‘déjà vu’ theory would also explain the feelings of many of us that we have been to certain places and done certain things already even though, in our current lives at least, we’ve never been anywhere near. I can’t remember the exact figure, but an overwhelming number of us feel this at some point in our lives, so there. We reckon the Spice Girls have been here at least a hundred times before and they still haven’t got it right.

4) We have all been here before – and we messed it up big time. At least, that’s the view of Paul Kantner during all of his songs for the Jefferson Starship’s 1984 album ‘Nuclear Furniture’ (see review no 87) – we’re not sure if he ever told the rest of the band what he was doing, but their songs seem to fit the overall concept somehow too. The idea is this – picture a George Bush figure ruling over some past highpoint of civilisation, his finger poised on the nuclear device ready to send us to oblivion. Only, in our past life, this figure actually presses the button (no democratic victories for Bracak Obama in this timeline) and suddenly thousands of centuries of human civilisation are knocked out in a stroke. There are huge hints out there that our ancient past was as great technologically if not greater than our own (the true dating of the Sphinx and the earliest pyramids for starters – ie they are still here 4000 years, possibly 7000 years on when most of our buildings from only a century back are in severe disrepair). There are huge hints too at some cataclysmic accident, whether natural or manmade or caused by Bush’s ancestors, that wiped out our species to its very dregs and caused us to start again. Could our mythology be telling us a garbled version of our true past, like some generations-long version of ‘chinese whispers’, dating from a time when mankind had to start all over again and lost the ability to write things down? It’s no surprise that the ‘Nuclear Furniture’ album is also full of (then) topical songs about 1980s culture when it seemed mankind was showing its violent side again (Cold War, violence on television, money-loving yuppies, etc), juxtaposed against protest songs telling us that one day we might be back to the very beginning, ‘huddled in their caves like animals, not human’. This was the period when, just like the aftermath of 9/11, we genuinely feared we might wake up one day to find half the world missing, maybe even the side we were living on. There is a happy ending on the ending, though, thanks to Rose, the charismatic leader, who puts mankind back on their feet again in a much more peaceful, positive manner than the society they left behind so that – in another 7000 years – mankind is still at peace.

3) We haven’t been here before and our past has been leading us up to this point in time. Ah yes, Darwin’s theory of human evolution and the origin of the species which, by it’s author’s own admission, was as full of holes as a Swiss cheese – although still more accurate than any theory up to that time. Let’s look at this theory in greater depth – if survival of the species continues to this day, then where on earth did George Bush and the Spice Girls come from? Anyway, whatever the side effects, it seems to make sense that mankind would learn something from his past, although strangely there were less musical candidates for this commonly-held theory of the origins of humans adapting and learning how to cope with life than you might think. After toying with various Monkees-growing-into-men concepts we’ve plumped for the Moody Blues album ‘To Our Children’s Children’s Children’ LP, one which dates back to the tail-end of the 1960s (the last point in time when you could argue that the human race was moving forward at any speed). As the album puts it, ‘we go higher and higher now we’ve learned to play with fire’, with mankind a species determined to master everything in his power even if it leaves him isolated and confused (is a bigger brain really better in evolutionary terms? Are we the only species that has suicides, needs psychiatrists or cries buckets of tears on a regular basis? And no lemmings don’t count – all that cliff-jumping is a myth I’m afraid). And yet there’s also something deeply uplifting about a good half of this album, with mankind ever looking forward to the next big project. That next big leap for mankind that might – just might – unite us all in delight at our bravery and daring and truly bring the human race up to an evolutionary peak. Now that would be nice wouldn’t it, but somehow this theory seems the least believable of all the five put forward here!  

2) It’s not what we were before but what we grow into during our life on this planet that matters and our soul will live on after our death, depending what we did with it on Earth. The ‘death’ issue of this argument was dealt with by Hari Krishna convert George Harrison on his seminal album ‘All Things Must Pass’ (see review no 42). Often overlooked is his follow-up album ‘Living In The Material World’ (1971) which carries on this story, telling us what happens after we die and what we should have done during our life. This album has taken plenty of stick in the past (mainly from me) over its desire to lecture and convert us all to Hari Krishna far less subtlety or movingly than its predecessor did, but this album is also full of glorious songs about how our spiritual side should be nurtured and cared for at the expense of the ‘material world’, which is surely something that many an AAA reader wishes (anyone with an over-riding interest in music seems to share these views to some extent, however lightly or strongly, so it seems). The title track for one contrasts the messy business dealings of the end of the Beatle days with the ‘spiritual sky’ Harrison felt at the beginning of his solo career and is probably the best AAA evidence out there to becoming small and humble against the sheer magnitude of the world and how determined we should be to follow ‘the right path’ for others as well as for ourselves.

1) We weren’t here before and we’re only here thanks to some helpful aliens carrying out genetic experiments. When younger Kinks brother Dave Davies released his album ‘Chosen People’ in 1983 fans gasped. Well the couple of hundred who bought the album did anyway, because record label Warner Brothers seemed determined to bury the thing (to date, less than half the tracks have appeared on CD and then only the less controversial ones). You see, according to Dave’s brave and revealing autobiog ‘Kink’, he was visited by aliens telepathically during the early 1980s – a time when he was fed up and quite badly depressed over all sorts of things in his personal and musical life. The aliens, who mentioned that they had been looking after us for some time and even stored a data bank full of the actions of all of us during our lives, said that they had tried to talk to our world leaders to steer us a path for the greater good but had failed (seeing as Reagan and Thatcher were both in power at the time, that’s probably no surprise). Instead, they were communicating with certain artists, ones whose message could be heard by anyone should they choose to listen to their music, read their books or study their paintings. Most usefully, the aliens also told Dave that humans had failed to awaken their spiritual side and showed what that 70% of the brain we don’t use is for – telepathic abilities that allowed Dave and his partner of the time to dispel clouds of negative energy from those around them, making them feel happier about life (nearly all the concerts where Dave used this trick have gone down in history as the Kinks’ best shows – well those since 1982 anyway). Unfortunately, the aliens could do nothing about Warner Brothers record executives who buried the thing stone dead (the ‘Dave Davies Anthology: Unfinished Business’ is your best bet for listening to most of these tracks – although sadly you won’t find the album’s lynchpin ‘True Story’, a song where Dave recounts his strange tale before shaking his head and asking why the aliens should talk to him because ‘I’m just a poor boy’). Read the book and hear the album and the whole thing seems unnervingly plausible. Err, don’t look now but does that moon look red to you?

Don’t have nightmares though, stick on a soothing AAA record instead and, until next week, keep rocking! See you for issue 16 – on which we’ll be celebrating the best releases of the past year.

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