Nov 2007

Insights that stood the test of time

There’s a big old cardboard box that’s lived in the darkness of a dozen wardrobes. (How’s that for an intro rich in potent psychoanalytic symbolism?) It originally housed a Commodore-64 personal computer, which means I’ve been moving this box from house to house, wardrobe to wardrobe, since Athens in 1985. It’s a long long time since it contained a C-64 though. Over the years it has become the repository for my old dream-diaries, letters I’ve received (and a few I never sent), personal journals filled with strange scribblings, cards, photos and assorted frozen memories. So, despite outward appearances, this is not an innocuous cardboard box. Far from it. This is something to be approached with extreme caution.

This time round I only lost half a Saturday. It helps if you open the cache with a specific target… in this case something that had survived the great journal purge of the mid-90s by virtue of being written in an old school jotter… a painfully earnest essay written after reading The Communist Manifesto for the first time. I was sixteen and just becoming aware of politics. Someone (MM) had thrust a copy of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book into my hand around then, and I’d also somehow picked up the entirely erroneous view that being a Marxist was inherently edgy and sexy. Apparently it entailed sitting in Parisian cafĂ©s with women who looked like Audrey Hepburn.

I had it confused with existentialism.

So I’d been calling myself a communist and a marxist (and sometimes a Maoist) for a few months when it occurred to me that it’d be a good idea to read something on the subject. Besides, the expected deluge of Audrey Hepburns had never materialised, so I had plenty of free time. I read The Communist Manifesto having found the Little Red Book completely mystifying. And overnight I became a libertarian capitalist and remained that way for several years. Without a doubt The Communist Manifesto is the worst advertisement for social justice ever written.

The essay I wrote in response is called “The Big Problem with The Communist Manifesto”. As a stylistic conceit, each paragraph opens with “The Big Problem with The Communist Manifesto is…” It gets tired and tiresome very quickly indeed and makes me cringe a little, though in my defence I was sixteen! I’ve seen the same approach used by professional journalists; what’s their excuse?

The Big Problem with The Communist Manifesto is it envisions a world with a smokestack on every horizon, but there’s only so much coal.

That was the line I was looking for. It’s the first thing I ever wrote on the subject of sustainability. Admittedly, it was another twelve years before I returned to the subject. Still, it’s as valid a sentiment now as it was then.

Impossible to ignore however, on the jotter page immediately prior to The Big Problem with The Communist Manifesto I had written a single phrase. The three words fill the page and are written in carefully constructed letters with intricate cross-hatching. They state, bluntly, “Bowie is God”.

And yes, that too is still as valid a sentiment now as it was then. So in honour of the purity of my 16-year old self’s insight, here’s an artist-specific version of that old “First Line” quiz. Identify the following Bowie songs from their first line…

  1. I’ve come on a few years from my Hollywood highs
  2. (Hello love) (Goodbye love) / Didn’t know what time it was, the lights were low… oh… oh
  3. I’m stomping along on this big Philip Johnson
  4. Tragic youth was looking young and sexy
  5. When all the world was very young, and mountain magic heavy hung
  6. As they pulled you out of the oxygen tent, you asked for the latest party
  7. Oh. Ooooooooooh yeah. Ahhhhhhh!
  8. Let me put my arms around your head…
  9. Aaaaahoh. Aaaaaaaaahohhhh. Do do do do do. Do do do do dooooooooo…
  10. Nothing remains. We could run when the rain slows.
  11. Stinky weather / fat shaky hand / Dopey morning doc / Grumpy gnomes
  12. And so the story goes they wore the clothes, they said the things to make it seem improbable
  13. Day after day, they send my friends away
  14. Cold fire, you’ve got everything but cold fire
  15. Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooo oh! Weaving down a by-road, singing the song

Posted in: Opinion