June 29, 2011
Elton's running order
I've been asked to give the running order for the Elton John concert, so here it is, as a coda to the event.
How many do you recognise?
Funeral for a friend/love lis bleeding
Madman across the water
Goodbye yellowbrick road
I guess that's why they call it the blues
Gone to Shiloh
Song for Guy
Take me to the pilot
Sorry seems to be the hardest word
Don't let the sun go down on me
Are you ready for love
Bich is back
That's enough of the Good Knight for now. Feel free to singalong today. But sing your song...
June 28, 2011
Old but Gold
Sometimes the young ones are kind enough to give up their time to sing a few songs at the Over 60's club. And sometimes, the over 60's return the favour and sing for the young ones, while being paid a large amount of money for their trouble.
It is good to be old at the end of June. There was Bob Dylan, aged 70, performing to 20,000 in London's Finsbury Park. A few counties away, 69-year-old Paul Simon is taking the applause in Glastonbury, while on the south coast, the young whipper-snapper Sir Elton John - a mere 64 - is hammering his piano with his band of long-haired pensioners in Hove Cricket Ground in front of 17000 souls, of which I was one.
Elton John has been writing and performing his songs (with lyrics by Bernie Taupin) for over 40 years. He found fame in 1970 when his love melody 'Your Song' emerged full-formed into the world to serenade a generation's heartstrings. Since then he's been living the creative dream, though it's included a good number of emotional nightmares.
Still, as he told us at the end of the show - while thanking us for our 'love and support' - he's happier now than he's ever been so he won't mind a few thoughts on the gig.
I hesitate to use the word 'gig'. The word has a light and leaping sort of feel, and Elton John - nee Reg Dwight - is both slightly overweight and as I say, well into his 60's.
And as he looked out across the crowd, he will have seen many who'd grown older with him, whose various eras could be defined by his songs. 'Crocodile rock'? Great days - I was a student then! 'Sorry seems to be the hardest word'? Oh yes, that was when I was going through my first divorce.'
It isn't that there aren't young people in the crowd. I sat next to a girl aged 20 who spent most of the time on her feet swaying and dancing with delight. But if you were a bald man with a paunch, you wouldn't have felt alone.
And everyone got their money's worth. Elton performed a full two-and-a-half hour set, ending of course with 'Your Song'. If there were 'zimmer' moments, they occurred when his voice was exposed. Once vulnerable and light, it now has a gruff and assertive tone, which can't scale the heights - certainly not on the falsetto chorus of 'Goddbye Yellow Brick Road, when he asked the audience to fill in for him. Sadly my falsetto is not much better than his, but I tried. We all tried and enjoyed the trying.
So tunes written for the former voice now suffer, they do; but new songs emerge from an older, wiser soul.
The thing is, you lose and you gain with the passing years; and discerning the nature of this exchange in oneself is precious insight. Like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon live, Elton's voice has lost some charm.
But to compensate, he's gained a wonderful body of work to draw from, which, surrounded by good people and a decent sound system - and an audience willing to join in - he can reinterpret for the now. The performance is dead! Long live the performance!
Your song; it changes.
June 24, 2011
The Songmeister General
Oh, and I should have mentioned that I'm going to see Elton John at the weekend.
First album I ever bought was 'Elton John, Elton John'. Yes, it was a record. (Look it up in a dictionary if you're struggling here. It was a round plastic thing with music on it.)I still can't get used to hearing the songs without the scratches.
Anyway, I'm going to see him live. I don't know if we can call the event a 'gig' - he's quite fat and in his 60's after all. 'Gig' sounds a bit lively.
Still, I'll report back.
And in the meantime, you e mail me with your favourite Elton John song ever. He's the Songmeister General after all, and i need to know which song touched you.
I've got most of his albums, and probably 'Peachtree Road' is my favourite.
Favourite single?? Hard, hard, hard - OK then, 'This train don't stop there anymore.'
Now it's your turn.
I went to see a friend the other day. She's just moved into her new house.
It's a work in progress, because it's had to be gutted. The plaster was crumblng, the paint, the oddest of colours - previous owner called herself 'an artist' - and it hadn't been cleaned for 20 years.
So presently, there are one or two working rooms, and the rest will be working as and when and in the fulness of time.
She's completely exhausted. The buying was difficult, the moving in a nightmare - the previous occupant had not only taken all the light bulbs; she'd also taken the sockets that held the light bulbs leaving holes in the ceiling - and the physicality of the work of reclamation is a bit endless.
We had a lovely cup of tea. I'm not sure anything else was possible.
And my mind was going back in time as we talked. I remember writing about her in one of my books. It's ten years ago now, but this is what I wrote. You know a little about her present home; here's a little about her past.
'She was 34 when she finally left home.
Physically she'd left years before.
But that's not the same as leaving home,
because somehow she continued to be intimidated and frightened.
You see, it was still her who apologized when dad threw his tantrums,
and stamped his little feet.
No more, however, no more.
Grown men who are still small boys
are not best served by their daughters playing mum.
If he is to be blessed, the small boy must look to himself,
and - Oooh! - there goes a pig flying past my window.
She was 34 when she did the loving thing,
drew a line,
said enough is enough -
and left home.'
June 19, 2011
Will it be a good day?
Sometimes others wish me a good day, as I do them.
I think most people are honourable in their intention and this comment comes from a genuine desire to wish others well, although I am also aware that for some it just rolls from their mouth without any thought of feeling behind it, just a comment offered in a certain situation.
I don't actually mind from where this wish comes from in others, as it makes me stop to consider the question 'Will it be a good day?' this question I always find helpful.
For I know that whether the day is good or bad does not depend on the day, it depends on my state of being.
If I am holding any anger or resentments inside or if I am fearful or mistrustful of a situation going on around me, then I will live the day from an unsettled place reacting to people and events and it is unlikely to be good.
But if I am peaceful and at home in myself, if I can become a space ready to receive and let go, if I am able to trust the path I walk on, then it can be the best day ever.
So I am glad to be wished a good day from anyone, because sometimes just the stopping to consider the question, 'Will it be a good day' enables me to walk across the bridge fom one place to the other.
From being unaware to awareness, and that is always a good day.
Maybe this week I will start the day by asking myself the question without the prompt from others.
June 18, 2011
And so I decided not to flick the switch.
It had seemed a natural enough thing to do at around 4.15 this morning, when I emerged into the day.
It's what I usually do, after all, and usual is everything.
There was half-light outside, but it wasn't flooding the space so why not flick the switch and have electricity light the day for me?
It's nice when other things light our day - whether its light bulbs or other people.
Let them take the strain! And I will bask in the reflected glory.
Though there's a laziness to it. Because borrowed light is a fleeting and insubstantial affair.
Which is why I decided not to flick the switch, at 4.15am.
I would sit in darkness and look for some light in myself; unborrowed light and therefore stronger, longer-lasting, gentler and, well, more golden.
June 14, 2011
Not today, darling
I noticed that Graham Linehan has refused to go on Radio 4's 'Today' programme.
I don't know what he was invited to discuss. He's perhaps most famous for co-writing the comic masterpiece,'Father Ted'.
But apparently he refused to go on the programme because it couldn't acknowledge there were grey areas. They wanted a discussion where one was very black and the other very white. Let combat begin!
I know how he feels. I remember doing the 'Today' programme when my book 'The Beautiful Life' (now 'The Journey Home')came out.
It features ten new commandments, but instead of discussing them in a helpful manner, they phoned up a Christian attack dog to say how disgraceful the very idea of the book was etc etc spluttering indignation moral high ground etc.
She hadn't read the book, of course, didn't know me from Adam and was much too spluttering, venomous and enraged to find out.
Maybe our encounter was good drama. But it wasn't good for truth, which looked on bemused amid the carnage, wondering what to do with itself.
As I say, I don't know which subject Graham refused to discuss. But probably like all subjects, it wasn't black and white. And wonderfully, he prefers the fresh air of listening to the choking smog of point-scoring.
June 13, 2011
Who invented God? God replies
This was sent to me recently, an antidote as Rowan Williams continues to get a kicking from the press.
It's an article in the Times newspaper, written by Alex Renton, a non-believer who sends his six-year-old daughter Lulu to a Scottish church primary school.
Her teachers asked her to write the following letter: 'To God, How did you get invented?'
The Rentons were taken aback: 'We had no idea that a state primary affiliated with a church would do quite so much God,' says her father.
He could have told Lulu that, in his opinion, there was no God; or he could have pretended that he was a believer. He chose to do neither, instead emailing her letter to the Scottish Episcopal Church (no reply), the Presbyterians (ditto) and the Scottish Catholics (a nice but theologically complex answer).
For good measure, he also sent it to 'the head of theology of the Anglican Communion, based at Lambeth Palace' - and this was the response:
Your dad has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It's a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this -
'Dear Lulu - Nobody invented me - but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from.
They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn't expected.
Then they invented ideas about me - some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some hints - specially in the life of Jesus - to help them get closer to what I'm really like.
But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book, I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!'
And then he'd send you lots of love and sign off.
I know he doesn't usually write letters, so I have to do the best I can on his behalf. Lots of love from me too.
June 12, 2011
A very sad story
This week I went for a walk in a park in N17 North London. My destination was the duck pond, I was looking forward to seeing the local swans and their cygnets.
On previous walks I had watched while they built their nest. Then I'd waited excitedly while they nursed and tended their eggs, each taking turns to allow the other to feed.
When they eventually hatched, at first I had been a little disappointed when only two cygnets appeared, as normally swans lay between four to six eggs and most tend to survive the gestation period.
But as I watched the parents swim around the pond with their two perfect little ones, I remarked to my friend that I felt like a proud grandparent, although he was quick to remind me that most grandparents do not get to watch the conception, which was an event we had also witnessed a month or so earlier.
So on this walk when I reached the pond to discover that the cygnets were gone, leaving two sad looking parents, I must admit to shedding a few tears as I released my question into the empty space between them 'Where have your babies gone?'
Do bird's feel the pain of loss? this I do not know, but they were moving differently. Swans normally move through the water looking regal and proud. But on this day these swans looked lost, smaller and sad, so sad.
After speaking to other park users, the local consensus is, that due to several of the pond's larger birds disappearing last year, (presumably for someones lunch) our two young cygnets have been removed and taken into care by the NSPCB.
Swans are protected by the Crown, although I've never met the Queen coming through the Broad Water Farm entrance into this park or indeed through any other entrance.
Then again I have never seen her on Hampstead Heath where both sets of swans have been left to care for their own young without any help from the State.
So it seems that even in the bird kingdom your postcode is a factor when it comes to your children being taken into care.
As with all things there is a silver lining to this tale, as at the moment there is much digging and shifting of mountains of earth in this park.
Again this is not offical, but I have heard on the grapevine that this work is to uncover an underground water source which will help to build a bigger and safer pond for all the wildlife.
So as I throw the bereaved parents and their smaller neighbours a spot of supper, I offer a little prayer.
That the rumour turns out to be true, that good comes from bad situations and soon my beautiful white feathered friends will too have a safe place to bring up their children.
June 11, 2011
Nothing can separate us
You and I are one
Nothing can separate us
Not skin colour, gender, nor religion
Not sexuality, qualifications, nor class
Nothing can separate us
For if I stand against you
I damage myself
It's that simple
Any 'against' in me
Puts negativity inside me
Which is akin to feeding myself poison
Negativity kills me to all that is good in the world
And opens the floodgates to all that is bad
Negativity gives me labels to use
Labels to hide behind
But the truth is out
Any label is only a flimsy piece of paper
That can be blown away by the wind of awareness
Only the insecure will try to hide behind such things
You and I are one
Nothing can separate us
Does this get your vote?
Communication is a mystery.
You organise a massive publicity campaign to get your message across, and no one hears. You whisper something in a dark alley at midnight - and the whole world suddenly knows.
So communication is not an exact science, but wonderfully and infuriatingly random and so it is with tweets. Sometimes there's reaction, sometimes there's none.
Yesterday was reaction, and though the responses slightly missed the point of my tweet, it was all interesting nonetheless.
My original tweet concerned the Archbishop of Canterbury's recent foray into politics in which as guest editor of 'The New Statesman' he accused the government of pursuing radical policies no one voted for. And so my tweet:
'Radical policies no one voted for'? True, Rowan. Tho I spose the same could be said of the beatitudes.'
One aghast tweeter asked if I was comparing Cameron to Chris...I presume he meant 'Christ', though who knows? Maybe there's a Chris out there who believes Christ took all his best ideas
Two other tweeters raised a similar point concerning choice: 'We can choose what we do about the beatitudes every day - can only alter health policy every 4 years.' Fair point.
And similarly: 'It could be yes, but they are not forced on the population. Conservative policy affects us all, religion is optional.'
Another had no time for anything the Archbishop said: 'Why is the opinion of someone who believes in angels important? My three year old daughter believes in fairies and no one listens to her.'
This was hard-hitting, not so much for his thoughts on Rowan Williams as for his thoughts on his daughter. It's a tragic that no one is listening to her.
But as I say, no respondents picked up on my particular reason for tweeting which was to reflect on the link being made between 'Something being voted for' and 'something being good.'
We didn't vote for the beatitudes or Monet's 'The Thames below Westminster.' But the world would be infinitely poorer without them.
But Hitler came to power through the popular vote and votes cast for Qatar hosting the 2020 World Cup were almost unanimous.
There must have been some good votes in history, with the rejection of the Tories and Winston Churchill after WW2 being one of the most surprising.
But most wonders, most goodness, most delight, most wisdom emerge into the world without a voting paper in sight.
June 08, 2011
Jesus and the countryside alliance
I've been enjoying nature recently. Even in the city, it's remarkable what grows in the cracks between the concrete. And remembering some dialogue from my 'Conversations with Jesus of Nazareth', I seem to be in good company here.
So another in these occasional extracts from the book, as ever, the words of Jesus are entirely his, and you find us talking about 'that incident'. Remember it?
S: You recently lost your temper.
J: Don't judge and you won't be judged.
S: It wasn't meant to be a judgement - but then again perhaps it was.
J: With whatever judgement you judge, you will be judged, and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you.
S: I understand. But what interests me most is the cause of your rage. You went into the Temple here in Jerusalem, saw people buying and selling things and proceeded to assault them with both word and whip. Violent.
J: 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' I said, 'but you have made it a den of robbers.'
S: So you flung over the moneylenders' tables and kicked over the chairs of the dove-sellers. And how very similar your words were to those of the prophet Jeremiah! Centuries before, he too had stood in the temple, and said 'Do you think that my temple is a hiding place for robbers? I will drive you out of my sight as I drove out your relatives!'
J: As I say, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer.'
S: The temple had lost its identity as a place of prayer and prayer matters to you, teacher. But then unlike most people, you have a profound trust in your heavenly father.
J: See the birds of the sky who neither sow, reap nor store food in barns. Yet your heavenly father feeds them. Aren't you of much more value than these birds?
S: With such limitless trust prayer must be both easy and delightful.
J: Or consider the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don't toil, they don't spin, yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these.
S: Your eyes are never far from creation, teacher. Indeed, I sometimes think it's your scripture even more than the scriptures themselves.
June 03, 2011
The Conan has landed
Click below for wonderfully written review of my 'Conversations with Conan Doyle' in today's Daily Mail.
'World-class pillock? Or Genius?'
June 02, 2011
They say you have to be in it to win it.
But sometimes you have to flee it to see it.
And sometimes, you have to end it to mend it.