Wednesday 22 August 2018

We All Have an Aretha Track…

… And mine is “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)”. Especially after I took up marathon-running. As a runner, sometimes you come across a hill that’s too steep, a flat that’s too long, a path that’s too rough. You need that track that will make you overcome that hill, beat that flat, win over that path. “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)” has that quality. It’s a rocket-powered, piano-riff-rich, bass-hook-driven monster of a song. And on top of everything you have the soaring vocals of the Queen of Soul. Vocals that sing a song of both surrender and love (“You’re a no good heart breaker/You’re a liar and you’re a cheat/And I don’t know why/I let you do these things to me/My friends keep telling me/That you ain’t no good/But oh, they don’t know/That I’d leave you if I could”).

This is a song about flawed humanity. About what we do and the lengths we go to when we love that other person. Even when that other person hurts us so bad. Whereas blues is pain and soul is reaffirmation, “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)” is a cross between both genres. It is Aretha doing what she did throughout her entire stellar musical career: combining pleasure and suffering.

It is the reason why, when this song comes on my mp3 player, I get that extra burst of energy. It is the combination of brains, brawn (in the form of Aretha’s emotionality) and voice. It is the piano riffs, the bass line, but above all the chops, the pipes. The thought that she only ever took hold of melodies she could feel. And if she felt them, rest assured, so did you.

© 2018

Wednesday 8 August 2018

Thoughts in Progress

I am a writer. That was one of my conclusions when I left The Guardian’s offices recently. I had attended a masterclass by my favourite journalist/columnist, Gary Younge. Gary turned out to be a very engaging facilitator, even if I felt star-struck at the beginning and therefore found it difficult to concentrate. Very few times I am reduced to the role of weepy groupie who has just met her music idol, but that was me the first quarter of an hour. Minus the weeping.

I came away from the masterclass with a few conclusions. The first one was that it is OK to be egocentric as a writer. In fact, in a very subtle way, Younge encouraged his audience to go for a certain type of healthy solipsism. In talking about his family, especially his mother, Gary rendered our own personal stories universal. We all share a relative who is slightly awkward, overweight, eccentric, and at the same time lovable, trustworthy and enterprising.

The second conclusion I took from the workshop was that we writers are privileged. We get not only to experience the occasional, unique moment in history but also to capture it and transform it into a piece of art. An aesthetic truth can be expressed in non-fiction as well as or sometimes better than in fiction.

The third conclusion was the raison d’être of writing. Why write? Because I exist as a human being first and as many other mutations after. And each of these layers feels the need to leave traces of their existence behind. That, in a sense, is the essence of writing. To give a platform to each of these identity markers in order to share a truth with the world. Sometimes in a fictionalised way. Sometimes veracity-driven. Each of these layers makes up and contributes to my writer’s output and constitution. I exist, therefore I write. Or vice versa.

I mentioned the writer’s solipsistic nature before. A caveat, though. It may be our voice doing all the singing but we still play with a full backing band. The combination of these two elements, the writer’s (inner) motivation and the influence of her/his surroundings on their work, gives us a vivid and rich tableau vivant of the writer’s inner world and the way it interacts with the outer one. That’s the fourth conclusion.

The fifth conclusion involves the blank page or the act of killing it. Bump the blank off the page as soon as you can. Your draft should materialise within minutes, because we always have something to say (write).

Sixth and last conclusion: writing is never lineal. Your story has a thesis. It also has an antithesis. The job is to combine both to come up with a synthesis. Writing that takes place in an echo chamber is not writing. It’s self-congratulatory, back-slapping, flat-lining drivel. Write in order to challenge yourself. Only by pushing the boundaries of what we know, as far as possible, do we start to scratch, barely scratch the surface of our human condition.

Thank you, Gary.

© 2018


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