A song and a suicide.

Can a song be like a person? They seem to share certain traits. The ability to annoy on contact or to soothe a soul back to functionality. They come and go through your whole life. Sometimes with intense meaning for a short period of time, then to vanish and reappear down the line as a fond reminder of times past, impossible to recapture. Some of them take your hand when you’re a child and walk alongside you forever, dependable and familiar and never changing. Then there are others which change unexpectedly. My parents tell me they resolutely disliked each other as teenagers and then, one day, that changed and 40-odd years later, that change seems only to deepen.

I have a song which has traveled with me unnoticed. It’s called This Woman’s Work and it’s by Kate Bush. I would have been 13 or 14 when I first heard it. I was aware of it because whenever it subsequently cropped up on the radio, I immediately thought ‘Oh no, not this song’.

It’s a stark, simple song. Backed only by piano and her own ethereal backing vocals, Bush sings in the most raw and openly emotional manner lyrics of such great melodrama and disarming honesty that one can only have an extreme reaction to it. It’s either brave or embarrassing.

I have a feeling my first experience with it was the film She’s Having a Baby. This was the first John Hughes film to disappoint me. Having been a rabid fan of his Brat Pack films, this offering – an uncharacteristically visual film in which Kevin Bacon has to deal with his wife’s pregnancy – seemed as boring, trite and cosily suburban as any other film for grown-ups. I not only didn’t engage with it, I was slightly sickened by its brazen emotion. Bush apparently wrote the song specifically for the film and, even more specifically, for the sequence in which it was used in which Bacon finds out there is a problem with the labour and both his wife and the baby are at risk. I found it schmaltzy beyond words. Self-indulgent tosh. Cringeworthy. But, what does a 14 year old boy have to engage with a film like that, so removed from his field of experience? It would be another decade and a half before life would teach me about such things. The song became a hit of sorts. It would make me cringe every time I heard it. By 14 and a half, I had discovered The Clash and the emotions I used music to channel were angry, shouty, political and passionate in a frustrated blaze of testosterone.

My love for music deepened and widened and within a few short years, I was a music snob. I had a voracious appetite for it and wasn’t against the odd ironic indulgence and KISS and Slade hovered around me as acts as I wasn’t sure I liked on a merely hilarious basis. I knew a lot about the music I liked and I liked people who knew a lot about music. I looked down upon people who engaged with it in a seemingly random and casual basis. The height of my awfulness saw me not speaking to my sister for a number of weeks after she’d phoned me to tell me she’d seen an amazing gig and it had been the Stereophonics. These were my university years and beyond and my circle of friends was at its widest with the nucleus of brothers at the tightest it would ever be. One of these brothers was Olly Lassman. We lived together and wreaked havoc in the way two intelligent (although nowhere near as intelligent as they thought), mischievous souls can before life starts to weigh them down. Olly consumed music like nobody else I had ever seen. He was the first person I knew to own a CD burner, so he copied CDs off everybody he knew. These CDs, scrawled with titles, littered the floor of his bedroom, played, then dropped, then found and played again. There was no rhyme or reason to these CDs. No obvious bonds in genre or style. It seemed to me music was just a commodity to him. He didn’t seem to care about any of these bands – certainly not enough to actually pay for their work – and wasn’t an obviously emotional person above his short temper. He just saw music as a consumable. Not emotionally indulgent, maybe. I walked into his room one day and he was playing the Kate Bush song. ‘Oh no, not this song’

“Why are you listening to this?”

“Because it’s a good song”

“How is it a good song?”

“Kate Bush is fucking great”

He was right, but I didn’t realise it then and I remain unconvinced that he really had put any effort into liking her. I felt it was just a song that he thought was ok so he listened to it. Like the breaded frozen food he ate – which was ok, so he ate it and the films he watched, which were ok so he watched them. His passion was more in reading and writing and computer-based experimentation. Kate Bush was as random as any other music he trod on as he walked around his bedroom. To me, she was a needlessly flamboyant pop starlet of the past. Like Toyah – all hair and make-up and angular posturing and wailing. This song was different from her career-high hits, she had traded in mad-girl warbling for syrupy ickiness and sentimentality.

“You shouldn’t be allowed to listen to music” I told him.

He told me to fuck off.

In the intervening years, I would hear the song and it would make me laugh. ‘Oh no, not this song’ because I imagined Olly – angry, fighty, argumentative Olly – having a tender moment and thinking ‘This is a good song’ – a phrase also inextricably linked to the first time he heard the risible novelty single ‘Vindaloo’. He’d been bored so started drinking alone at 1pm. By the time the rest of us arrived home from uni around 5, he was toasted. ‘Vindaloo’ came on the radio and Olly danced along with it, bottle in hand, when it finished, he turned to me and said ‘That’s a good song’.

Also in those years, I came to like Kate Bush. The early stuff. I came to appreciate what she was doing and how incredibly expressive her music was. That it was quite brave and progressive and had a depth and intelligence that most 70s/80s pop really didn’t. I still wasn’t interested in anything she did later. It struck me, that like most great musicians, they release a handful of albums at their most potent and then either die or become rather dull, churning out the odd album every few years to keep the back catalogue stimulated and sell out a greatest hits tour.

In Judaism, we have an incredibly well-planned system for dealing with death. Unlike other faiths where grief is accompanied by endless decisions about coffins, funeral clothes, method of despatch, wakes and the like, Judaism has it nailed. The community know what to do. People have roles and the grieving process is well defined with a very speedy burial and a tradition for the form mourning takes. I rather like it. It forces you to confront the reality of the situation. The grave is unmarked for a year and at the end of that year, the headstone is laid in a ceremony which marks the official end of the mourning period.

It’s now almost a year since Olly committed suicide. A year since I got the phone call which gave me my first visceral experience of grief. Panic attacks, palpitations, fear and anxiety were all old friends by now. Familiar. But this phone call punched me in the stomach and forced it’s fist right through into my guts where it grabbed a handful of intestines and wouldn’t let go all night. Left me in the foetal position unable to walk and barely able to talk. Apparently a suicide makes everyone affected feel intense feelings of guilt, assuming all responsibility in the most arrogant ‘I could have saved him’ way and I wasn’t at all immune to that. Especially since the last thing he told his mother was that he was coming to visit me. I wish he had. I’m angry that he didn’t. Instead he chose the only option he actually saw open to him, which was a lonely death, planned out in a heartbreakingly thoughtful manner to be as sparing as possible on those who would discover him and as easy as possible on those who would miss him. But these things aren’t easy. My guilt was all the more palpable because the last time we had met I’d found his presence so unsettling, I was in no rush to see him again. I even discussed it with a mutual friend and I used the word ‘toxic’. Olly had got beaten up by life, bad luck and bad choices and the last time I saw him he was so altered mentally and physically that I questioned who I was with.

From that whole crazy few years in Edinburgh, where Olly was popular and highly sociable, I was the only person in attendance at his funeral. Some had scattered around the country and world and the others Olly had alienated over the years and contact was lost for various reasons. I didn’t know anybody in the waiting room. As we walked into the crematorium itself, that Kate Bush song was playing.

‘Oh no, not this song’

I guess it had meant more to him than I had realised or given him credit for. As I sat alone in this non-denominational room of strangeness, the only person I knew present lying dead in a box 10 ft in front of me, all I had to focus on was the song. The song began a full body assault on me. Having never paid attention to the lyrics, every one of them resonated unbearably.

I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.

Became the vocalisation of denial. Of disbelief.

I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show.
I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking.

Giving license to publicly weep for the first time since childhood. I’d never seen grief work a room before. Like electricity, it cracked and snapped randomly at people who had been composed five seconds ago and were now suddenly a heap on the floor. It whipped me twice, stealing my breath and forcing me to sit.

Of all the things I should’ve said,
That I never said.
All the things we should’ve done,
That we never did.
All the things I should’ve given,
But I didn’t.

The very voice of guilt.

Oh, darling, make it go,
Make it go away.

Give me these moments back.
Give them back to me.

The anger. The nostalgia.

In 3 minutes, the song that had always been there, somewhere, became the vessel for everything that I was feeling. It became one of the most important songs of my life. It was no longer embarrassing, it was brave. The suicide had taught me, more than anything, the very importance of sharing one’s feelings because when you keep them inside they destroy you from within, rendering you completely alone and, at worst, in a wooden box long before your time and in that room, connecting finally with that song, I feel I fully started to understand the importance of emotional honesty.

But this is a song written for a Kevin Bacon moment in a forgotten John Hughes film. So maybe songs aren’t just people. They’re avatars. Something for us to use to identify with. Like the best visual art, we can imbue a song with our own meanings and our own emotions and then use it to cathartically release them. I love this song now. My journey with it is one of understanding and maturing and it shows me how much life has changed me from being a teenage boy who bristled at the notion of public displays of emotion to having experienced enough to understand the need to emote honestly and the beauty of being able to do so.

A couple of weeks ago, the song started playing when I had my ipod set to random on the bus home from work. ‘oh no, not this song’ I had to turn it off as it immediately made me well up and start to shake. Both the song and the reaction took me by surprise. When I got home, I played it and it made me cry but that made me happy because it meant I hadn’t forgotten Olly and wasn’t desensitized to the sadness of his death.

This song has been with me for years, waiting calmly in the background, not taking offence at the mean things I said about it and knowing that one day I would need it and it was happy to fulfil that role. Unlike people, there is a permanency to a song. At the age of 37, I now understand that not only will those I love not be around forever, they could also disappear in an instant. I’ll never see my friend Olly again and after a year of him never being too far from my thoughts, I’m getting ready, to some extent, to let him go. But it makes me feel good to know that this one song we argued over can instantly transport me back to him and physically remind me how very important he had been to me. In times past, impossible to recapture.

 

Published in: on November 12, 2013 at 9:39 am  Leave a Comment  

My Empire of Hatred.

Everyone has that one golden insult, don’t they? I’ve heard tale that my great-grandfather, a charismatic man of great humour would, when pushed past the point of control, be known to call someone a ‘dirty dog’ with a venom and ferocity that could stop a man in his tracks. My dad uses the word ‘cretin’, he spits it with bile. I’ve never heard another human being say that word, let alone with such conviction.

My most contemptuous put-down is ‘Empire reader.’

I should give you some background context to this. I grew up the son of a film enthusiast (they weren’t called geeks then and it was pre-Star Wars so that pop culture culture wasn’t really prevalent) my dad had big boxes of Films and Filming Magazine, paperbacks about film history and a constant willingness to take me to the cinema. I became a major film geek. I then went to film school. I worked in about a billion different video shops and then ended up working in and around the film industry in various capacities ever since. Most of my friends are film geeks, film-makers, film bloggers and film critics. Most of my day’s conversations revolve, in some way, around film.

Empire is the UK’s most visible film magazine. When it launched in 1989, it was tremendously exciting. Up until that point, British film magazines were fusty, highbrow, review-based and completely lacking in enthusiasm or colour. Empire exploded to life with gusto. It was full colour and glossy, it had interviews, amazing retrospective pieces and spunky, conversational reviews. I fell in love with it hard and probably loved it up until I hit film school in the mid-nineties. At that point, I started to notice some things I didn’t like about it. It had become very ‘establishment’, it had always boasted interviews with big stars and directors but as the quality of these people’s work seemed to decline, the sycophancy of Empire’s coverage seemed to increase. I was noticing that pretty much every big film was getting a good review. It struck me, and this is just a suspicion, that Empire was starting to use its integrity as currency. To secure the biggest interviews, the most exclusive on-set access and the big cover photo shoots, it was perhaps prepared to forego both journalistic bite and a certain amount of honesty in reviews. The interviews were all fawning and the reviews of the bigger films optimistic. I was also noticing that when the same films hit their video release, the star rating had dropped markedly. This was highlighted by the brief appearance of a magazine called Neon which was intelligent, witty, honest and basically the great British film journalism. I heard that Empire’s publishers bought Neon out and shut it down. I could be very wrong about all of this this. But, if I am, it means that – with the exception of Kim Newman’s monthly video review column – the general journalistic and critical quality of their team has for a long time been just pretty sub-par. I still flick through it when I see a copy lying around at someone’s house. It’s got worse over the years.

But that is, of course, a judgement call. For some people, it’s exactly what they want. And I hate those people. With an ire most folks reserve for Daily Mail readers. For me, the term ‘Empire Reader’ means you’re a feeble-minded person who thinks they’re a film fan but actually has an incredibly narrow perception of cinema and what it’s capable of. The kind of person who thinks having watched Oldboy or a John Woo film makes them somehow exotic and a fan of world cinema. The kind of person who celebrated Martin Scorsese finally winning the Best Director Oscar, despite the fact it was for his worst film. The kind of person who genuinely thinks the Oscars are anything more than a major studio marketing exercise. The kind of person whose analytical skills allow them little more than to admit The Phantom Menace wasn’t very good, yet who bought the blu-ray of it on day of release. The kind of person to whom Quentin Tarantino is the zenith of indie edginess. Even though he is neither indie nor edgy.

That’s why I use the term as an insult. If I call you an Empire Reader, I’m saying that your opinion isn’t even worth entertaining. You’re not culturally or intellectually aware and, worse than that, you think you are and will spraff on about Robert Rodriguez being a ‘maverick’ or Schwarzenegger ‘returning to form’ and pollute any film-based conversation with your uninformed mediocrity.

I like to prefix ‘Empire Reader’ with ‘fucking.’ I tend to drag out the fucking, so it sounds like ‘Oh, what does he know? He’s a ffffffffffffucking Empire reader’. The long ‘fffff’ conveys that I haven’t yet even decided if the target is worthy of being spoken about. Sometimes, I’ll end at the ‘ffff’ – ‘Oh, he’s just a ffffffffffff’ and change the subject because that Empire Reader isn’t even worth wasting words on.

So, why do I expose this vile, intolerant and detestably arrogant side of myself to you today? Because I’ve just seen the ultimate Empire Reader’s film and I felt I had to define what was wrong with the people who love it whilst explaining my issues with the film itself.

The film is Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.

We live in a bit of a strange cinematic landscape at the moment. Hype, generated by the studios and propagated by both the mainstream and independent media compels a lot of us into the cinema to see films that we might not actually ever want to see. It feels like everyone is talking about them and that if we don’t see them, we will somehow be missing out. Hyperbole is also scaling new heights. It seems that every film that is above average (and the average quality of films is not terribly high these days) is being hailed as a masterpiece. I’ve spoken to several people who felt they were conned by Life of Pi, which is a good film marketed as a work of genius. It can be confusing to people and prey upon their insecurities as to their own intelligence.

I’ll nail my colours to the mast right now about Lincoln. It’s the single most tedious experience I’ve ever had in the cinema. I found it actually boring. I thought there was an unfair burden of expectation on the audience to have a pre-existing knowledge of the subject matter and understanding of the political system it existed within. I found it frustrating that so much of the film was shot in wide or medium shots, which is fine for a kinetic film, but for a film constructed mainly of very long, slow, dialogue scenes, to be denied a close-up to see the actor’s eyes as they talk is inexplicable. The performances were good, not great. Good. As they should be from professional actors. The writing was shockingly bad. It was written like a stageplay. Film is a visual medium primarily, the camera should be telling the audience far more than the dialogue. This film is just endless talking. Not just talking. Endless oratory. There is no character development and no feeling of story structure. Whereas the dialogue and staging are more suited to the stage, the storytelling is little more than a historical document. There’s very little real emotion invested, save for a few melodramatic scenes which feel very much wedged in there. You just find out how, technically, slavery was abolished. Only towards the end of the film does Spielberg give us any visual poetry and by then it’s too late. I came out of the cinema just not understanding what Spielberg was trying to do. The film didn’t seem to be making a point. It didn’t seem to be challenging a perception or conveying a message. I didn’t understand it. I suppose I have enough confidence, or arrogance, in my own intelligence to know that if a film, for which I am clearly in its target demographic, bores me or doesn’t make sense to me then it’s a failing on their part more than mine.

I got home and went online to see what other people were making of it. Luckily, quite a few reviewers were giving it only the patchy praise it deserved but so many people on Twitter were treating it with a reverence that I still struggle to fathom above the idea that – to them – a long, historical film directed by Spielberg and starring Day-Lewis must be empirically good, therefore they chose to love it. Its this strange blindness which seems to be eroding the quality of mainstream cinema. This acceptance of below-par work, which baffles me. In the past year alone, we’ve had The Hobbit and Prometheus, both films which were terribly badly written and overlong yet were massive commercial successes and, despite some critical feather ruffling, have not been perceived as any kind of failure to the average cinema-goer. As much derision as I have for the Oscars, if you take the time to compare the films and people nominated in the last 20 years to any single ceremony in the 70s, I think you’ll see what I mean. The Best Film nominees from that decade are still all hailed as classics. Even the winners from the following two decades have already been forgotten. Perhaps film is becoming more disposable Perhaps it’s not even about the films themselves anymore, maybe it’s all about the endless manufacturing and partaking in cultural phenomenons. The trick seems to be to stage one every few weeks so we’re always looking forward to the next rather than questioning the value of the last.

Published in: on January 28, 2013 at 10:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Oliver Lassman

The night I first met Olly Lassman, he got into a bar fight. He not only got into a bar fight, he got me into a bar fight. The fight wasn’t his fault, he was struggling with a drunk Scotsman who was trying to glass him with a broken beer bottle, the bouncers misunderstood the situation and went for Olly, impressively punching him clean out of his jumper and pushing me down a flight of stairs for trying to explain, while the bastard with the broken bottle watched on with glee.

Anyone who knew Olly would not be surprised by a story culminating in him being punched out of his jumper by bouncers as he seemed to attract both crazy situations and hilarious outcomes. Although he would never start a fight or even actually be violent above self-defence, his skill was one of effortless exacerbation which could inspire a passive onlooker to go from docile to glassing someone in mere seconds.

As we stood outside the bar, Olly bare-chested, bloodied and screaming ‘I just want my jumper back!’, we were both struck by the ridiculous situation we’d found ourselves in and started laughing uncontrollably. And that, in a nutshell is who Olly was to me. Had Olly been at my school, my mum would have fought tooth and claw to have us placed in separate classes. He was a bad influence in the best way. He was mischief and cynicism and exuberance dangerously backed up with fierce intelligence and pitch-perfect humour. He was the definition of charismatic and he was one of the few people in my life who seemed to rise above the boring confines of a polite society and revel in either existing outside it or causing mayhem from within.

I speak in the past tense because Olly decided to leave this world a few days ago.

It seems like all the years we were friends, 16 years, I spent a lot of time explaining him to people, often wrapped up in apologies for things which, as usual, weren’t exactly Olly’s fault but were undeniably inflamed by his reaction to them. I kind of don’t want to have to make explanations or excuses anymore and I realise that pretty much any story I could offer you about him would by its very nature end in me saying ‘but that wasn’t his fault!’ or ‘that’s not why he did it!’ or ‘that makes him sound bad and he’s not!’ so, instead, I’ll just tell you what he meant to me and if you meet me in a pub sometime, I’ll tell you tales of hilarity unequalled.

I loved Olly like a brother, we were partners in crime for a few years. I’d grown up in a circle of friends who enjoyed the sport of the putdown and was alarmed to arrive at university in Edinburgh to find myself surrounded by nice, decent people whose faces would drop in pained umbrage when you went too far. It was confusing and constrictive to me at that age as I genuinely saw mockery as a form of compliment. I didn’t meet Olly until my second year and we clicked immediately. He had no boundaries, and I say that as a very positive thing. He took no offence and meant none. It was all fair game with him and he took delight in the raising of stakes. Most importantly he had something which many who claim to have a great sense of humour completely lack; he was able to laugh at himself. This is something he taught me and something that I value intensely.

In the middle of a blazing row, all I would have to do is raise an eyebrow and Olly would collapse in fits of laughter, realising how insane he was sounding. Whenever something went wrong in his life, he immediately saw the inherent comedy in it and wanted to share that with others – at whatever cost to his ego, which was a thing he really didn’t have. He was so funny. He attracted trouble out of nowhere, like a magnet, and would always burn with fury for a second and then resolve into laughter. In one day in central London with him, I watched him get sneezed on by a tramp and spat on nonchalantly by a passing cyclist. It was as if the world, like me, took utter delight in watching him erupt into incandescent fury and then collapse into howls of laughter.

He had the best laugh in the world, his mouth would drop open, his eyes would widen and he’d emit huge HAAAAAAAAAAAs. Better than the laughter, was the moment of realisation, though. I lived for that moment, the point at which the penny would drop and his eyes would go from anger, concentration or disinterest into complete joy, even more so if he was the butt of the joke. He once got a tattoo, came back to the flat we shared and proudly showed it to me – a thick black outline of a dragon. I thought it was awful

“Just an outline?” I asked

“No, I’m getting it filled in next week. Red.”

“Why? Are you Welsh?”

The penny drops, the jaw drops, the eyes widen

“THANK YOU!!!!”

And then we both laughed for ten minutes. It was always laughter. That’s all we wanted from each other, really. In 2002, both of us having moved down south, we decided to drive up to Edinburgh for New Years Eve. We set off in the morning, arrived there in the afternoon, as we drove into the city Olly arbitrarily decided there would be some kind of terrorist strike on Princes Street and decided we should just go home. So we stopped in Marchmont, picked up a sandwich and drove straight back to London, laughing all the way. I could have put my foot down and told him to get the train but 7 hours in a car with Olly observing the world was more fun than anything else that would have happened that night.

He was clever, insightful, artistic, incredibly gifted and he refused to play by rules that made no sense to him. He was fiercely loyal and inspired loyalty in those that understood where he was coming from. Well, we rarely knew where he was actually coming from but we trusted he was coming from somewhere. So much of the craziness in my life happened with him watching on, mouth wide open. We had capers, practical joke wars, fist fights, we had our own student radio show, we reduced two separate grown men to tears (one by loudly improvising a musical based on his life as he tried to revise for finals, the other with a car horn and stoic confused expressions). Olly’s videos were the stuff of legend. Long before Jackass, he was filming himself drinking wee, eating dog food and accidentally stabbing our friend Andy in the head with a bowie knife.

In recent years, our relationship distanced in the way relationships with uni friends do. He would disappear from contact for months and months and then suddenly appear in a blaze of emails and cheap, electric, chinatown buffet appointments and then he’d be gone again. His gift of friendship was a bizarre and unique one, he would share and encourage you to share all of the disappointments, hardships and atrocities of your life and then allow you to laugh at them. When something bad happened, whenever I hit rock bottom, it was Olly I would tell about it as I knew he would not only listen and empathise but immediately defuse it and turn it into something to laugh at until we could both barely breathe. Of course, I now see that the problem with holding your problems up for mockery is that it can give the impression that you’re dealing with them.

In the back of my mind, I’m expecting to turn up to the crematorium this weekend and have him leap out of the coffin, remind me of some bet we made in the nineties about his ability to fake his own death, and demand the Chinese buffet meal I now owed him. But it seems less likely than it might have a few years ago.

I’m angry at him for denying us all a lot more fun and, like everyone else in his life, I’m angry at myself for not having been there for him that night. Mostly I’m just sad. And now I have nobody to take my grief to and have them turn it into a horribly inappropriate but hilarious joke. I’ve not been brave enough or strong enough to make a joke about his passing yet. I tried one, on the phone to one of our mutual friends yesterday, who quite rightly replied ‘we don’t say things like that’.

But we did, didn’t we Olly?

I’m terrified of seeing his funeral through his eyes and getting the giggles. He loved nothing more than social awkwardness, inappropriate displays and the glorious way people failed to communicate with one another. I think nothing would strike him more hilarious than seeing everyone he knew in one room trying to act with the appropriate solemnity the service demands.

I will do my best to resist doing all of the things that would have amused him the most. There’s nobody left who would appreciate it.

Published in: on November 20, 2012 at 4:33 pm  Comments (6)  

David K. Lord 1989 – 2012

For anybody who hasn’t worked retail, it’s hard to quite convey the crushing monotonous tedium. For the time I owned Videosyncratic, a lot of people expressed the view that it must be lovely to just ‘sit in a shop watching films all day’ without realising how crushingly monotonous and tedious that becomes day-in-day-out. The crushing monotonous tedium is punctured only by customers. Customers who, as anyone who has ever worked retail will tell you, are the only thing worse than the crushing monotonous tedium.

Customers serve one purpose: To annoy. They ask the same handful of stupid questions over and over again, they believe that the concept of customer service immediately makes you their lesser and they love nothing more than complaining. When you’re running a failing business, the rare sound of the door opening is accompanied by both the desperate hope of a financial boost and the dread of inevitable annoyance. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, and we were blessed by a handful of regulars whose appearance would actually lift your spirits.

None more so than Dave Lord. I think I speak for all the Cowley Road staff when I say that.

Dave came in all the time, pretty much daily, and with him came a palpable change in atmosphere. He was the happiest, smiliest, most enthusiastic, good natured, conversational  and excitable person to grace our doorstep. At the time, Dave was working nights often so would stock up on DVDs to see him through. I wasn’t just glad to see him, his visits would genuinely brighten my day. We talked a lot, mainly about films but also about whatever was going on. He was insightful and sharp but always warm and upbeat with the irrepressible joy and optimism of a waggy-tailed dog.

On the day we closed Videosyncratic, we had a huge sale and attracted such a crowd that the queue snaked around the whole shop. The staff worked a day longer than 12 hours with no chance for breaks. Dave turned up with a big bag of cakes and biscuits because he could see we wouldn’t be eating. Seeing how busy we were, he vaulted the counter and said ‘what can I do?’ he mucked in for hours and when I thanked him he thanked me back and told me it’d always been one of his dreams to work there. It was a pleasure to have worked alongside him.

David K. Lord

David K Lord.

 

I was filming that day and ended up cutting this short documentary about it:

https://vimeo.com/19402153

I’m so glad that not only is Dave in it, but in both shots, he is smiling (in one of them, he’s even jumping up and down) as that is how I’ll always remember him and that’s what I will always do when I think of him.

When I put together the Anyone Can Play Guitar DVD, I went backwards and forwards about whether to include the Videosyncratic documentary as an extra on it and now I’m so glad I did as it means that all over the world, thousands of people have a couple of Dave Lord smiles in their houses. That’s pretty awesome.

Dave was too young and too lovely to die. My heart and condolences go out to his family and friends. I can only begin to imagine what a hole he must leave in so many lives but I know that having known him at all was a blessing. After that night, we didn’t really see each other again, we had the odd Facebook chat, which was always good.

Ultimately, I’m just a guy who worked in a shop he would frequent. So, I hope the fact that his passing has moved me to write shows what a wonderful guy he was. His presence brightened the day of even the people on the periphery of his life, and isn’t that just the very best that a person can achieve?

Goodbye, mate.

Published in: on May 12, 2012 at 4:41 pm  Comments (2)  

My words are worth not(h)ing.

I really like those blogs/articles/speeches/songs which begin with the author recounting a character-defining piece of knowledge which was passed on to them from their father. Those are great. Wisdom passed down from generation to generation. Maybe I like it so much because I’ve never really experienced it. I didn’t grow up without a father, my father just isn’t very wise. He’s a lovely bloke and a brilliant dad but… you know. My mum, on the other hand – super intelligent. A professor, no less. Genetically, I therefore fall somewhere awkwardly in the middle of the spectrum. I’m just about bright enough to realise how little I know.

I ask a lot of questions because, although I have an intuitive intellectual response to most issues, I constantly worry that I just haven’t understood the discourse. I rarely speak seriously in absolutes and get frustrated when arguments are broken down into defined opposing camps of which, if I don’t choose one, I’m unwillingly placed into one to help someone else make their point.

I’m going to bore you with one more piece of biographical context before I get to the point of this blog. How I came to be here. How I came to be a Huffington Post blogger. The truth is, I know very little about HuffPo besides the correct way to abbreviate it. Until recently, I just knew it was ‘bad’ – that it exploited its contributors and was part of an evil mega-corporation. It was accepted knowledge, I’d never actively found out about it, but that was the buzz that seemed to surround it. I was very happy blogging away on my Grumptimism blog, which got a few hits here and there but generally was untroubled by interest. I don’t consider myself a blogger. It’s not listed on my business card. I keep the blog to get stuff off my chest, keep my writing muscles well exercised and see if other people feel the way I do about things. I’ve never considered it a potential living, I hold no ambition or aspiration for it. I just enjoy it. My day-job is any number of things around the theme of films – I make films, I teach film-making, I critique scripts for a literary agency. I don’t have much money but don’t live the kind of life that requires much.

A few weeks ago, on Twitter, I saw a self-proclaimed ‘high profile woman on Twitter’ write:

Every single time you say “I’ll do it for free” you’re actually saying “I am worth nothing” Don’t work for ANYONE who won’t pay

I voiced disagreement – having taught screenwriting for years, I’m aware that in this industry, you have to go through an initial period of giving it away and being screwed over before you’re experienced and valued enough to earn a decent living from it. Indeed, the experience alone is often more valuable than money in terms of education and exposure. What followed was a few days of public nastiness in which, apparently unable to debate her position, she resorted to making public baseless accusations of harassment which were entertainingly contradicted when I published her private correspondence with me. In those few days, my blog got more hits than it had got in all the years I’ve been doing it. The argument got so muddied it became worthless but at one point she mentioned the Huffington Post being exploitative and I agreed. I realised quickly how stupid that had been as I really had no actual knowledge of it, so I did some reading and subsequently rescinded my comment. The irony of the whole kerfuffle was that this bought me to the attention of the HP who read and liked my writing and offered me a position (unpaid) blogging for them. The offer sounded good to me. Although they weren’t offering pay, they weren’t expecting anything of me. I wasn’t to be a journalist, so wasn’t working for them, they were just happy to publish my views whenever I wanted to offer them. I could submit as often as I liked, they wouldn’t censor or interfere, they held no copyright and I was welcome to publish the same posts anywhere else or even sell them. What did they get out of it? Content. What do I get? A platform where my writing can be seen by an audience of over 3,000,000 readers. What’s to lose there? At the point where I’ve just self-released my first feature film (http://www.acpgthemovie.com), I could use a bit of platform.

The seemed to divide my friends of both the real-life and internet varieties. Half of them were happy for me that my talent had been recognised and was to reach a wider audience, the others (who were mainly writers/bloggers/etc) politely mocked me.

Today on Twitter, I found myself politely arguing with a gaggle of Tweeters all of whom I really like and respect. (@LFBarfe, @angusbatey and @brokenbottleboy) they’re all published writers, excellent wits and far more eminent than I. That said, I just couldn’t get with their contentions.

Again, I’m hearing people talk about getting paid for a fair day’s work. I didn’t understand people’s issues with HuffPo because it was entirely voluntary. They weren’t forcing me to work long hours and pay me miniscule wages, they weren’t claiming copyright over my work. They were just saying ‘you give us content, we’ll give you exposure’ – seems like a fair swap to me. Nobody is going to their site specifically because I blog there. I’m not bringing much to the table. Am I saying “I am worth nothing” like that high profile woman on Twitter has warned? Yes. Yes I am.

Because here’s the important divide; there is a difference between the value of art and the commerce of it.

I’m not saying my writing has no intellectual or cultural value – it does, I’m brilliant – I’m saying it has no commercial value as nobody has ever heard of me. And I’m fine with that. Perhaps one day the HuffPo exposure will lead to my work having commercial value. That would be lovely.

I totally get where the Twitter lads and even the high profile woman on Twitter are coming from. They’re in a different position to me. They’re established professionals who are suddenly seeing a huge change in the media, people who have made a living from writing who are unfairly getting caught in a landslide of inexperienced people like myself happy to offer content for exposure rather than money. That sucks, it’s really not fair on them (except the woman – sod her).

But then, life isn’t fair. Three times, as a professional, I’ve had similar things happen to me.

The first was when I was 12 years old and started my first business. This is true, by the way. I found out that a computer games manufacturer was offering a wholesale fire sale deal. For £50, I could buy a box of computer games with a retail value of £300. I could sell them in the playground no probs. I reasoned with my parents as I begged for investment that at the very worst, if I couldn’t offload them at the 600% mark-up, I was hardly likely to lose money. When the box arrived, it was full of less-popular games for older formats. I barely sold any. Certainly couldn’t pay my folks back.

Twenty-one years later, I had to close down my tiny chain of two indie video shops because, well, people no longer rented videos. They bought them from supermarkets for cheaper than we could buy our copies in, they illegally downloaded them, they joined Lovefilm. To me, paying £3 to see the film once was a good, fair price, apparently time had rendered me wrong.

In the last few months, I self-released a film I made (did I mention? Http://www.acpgthemovie.com) this seemed sensible as it was a documentary about Radiohead, Supergrass, Ride, Foals and some other huge bands, featuring new interviews and never-before-seen archival of all of them. I made it completely independently, own it 100%, worked my arse off on it for almost 5 years – having to give up paid work from September until now just to deal with finishing it, touring it, publicising it and doing all of the mail orders from my house. How much money did I make after 5 months hard graft? Nothing, I’m still in debt.

Each of those three things were done for the thrill of doing them and I’m so glad I did all of them. Maybe it’s my love of doing something that gets in the way of my ability to monetise it. Maybe a complete lack of business acumen. Most likely, I’m just one of those idealists who is unable to accept that there is a huge difference between a thing of cultural value and financial value. Who knows. All I know is that at each of those three moments in my life, confused, depressed and skint, I found myself at some point sat quietly with my dad, throwing my arms up and shaking my head, saying ‘I can’t understand how I’ve still got no money’ and on each of those occasions, he said the same thing to me -

“Something is only ever worth what somebody is willing to pay for it”

Clever bloke, my dad.

Published in: on February 10, 2012 at 11:46 pm  Comments (2)  

Please Let This Be The Last Emma Kennedy Post….

After a peaceful week and a lovely couple of days in Cardiff, I’d almost forgotten about the Emma Kennedy rubbish but I arrived home to a new email from her. I tried to keep the correspondence short and polite but she’s now gone on Twitter and posted up a storm accusing me of dragging her mother into it and apparently talking about my penis!

So, once again, so you can make your own mind up about it all, here is our correspondence.

Emma is in italics

Jon is in bold

Hello Jon

I’m sorry I have to email you again but I would appreciate it greatly if you would remove any mention of my mother from your blog.

I don’t see why you felt the need to mention her at all.
The person to whom she was referring was a man called ********* who stalked me for two years.
Thank you.
Emma Kennedy

Hi Emma,

I went back and looked at the blog, willing to make changes had I been unkind, but I can’t see anything there that could be considered offensive. I didn’t actually write about your mother, I just quoted you. The only reason I wrote those blog posts were to record and make available our correspondence since I felt you were embarking on a tactic of misrepresenting the nature of the conversation and my conduct.

For that reason I’ve decided to leave the complete correspondence up there un-edited.

I’m not doing so to be hurtful or spiteful, I just feel that you turned a debate into a public conflict and as such, it probably wouldn’t be wise to lower my defences. No offence was, or is, intended.

All the best,

Jon

Jon
The only person who turned this into a public debate was you.
The tweet where I quote my mother had nothing whatsoever to do with you or this ridiculous spat. Please remove it. I do not want my mother mentioned in any context on your site.
Thank you
Emma

I’m not going to edit the blog.

J

Right. So you’re happy to represent an elderly woman as making a personal jibe about your appearance and in so doing make her look like an arsehole when she wasn’t talking about you and is oblivious to your existence? Correct?
This just requires a yes or no answer Jon

No.

Thank you

So, as I sit at the computer to edit the blog, I then receive this…

Wow. I am told you are trying to sell your dvd off the back of my mother.
What an amazing man you are

Emma,

I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.
I see on Twitter you’re again trying to spread misrepresentative slander about me. I have no choice but to answer that by posting this latest batch of correspondence.

Let. It. Go.

Jon

Please do Jon. You come out of this very well

So that’s that.

 

**************UPDATED FRIDAY 20TH JANUARY 2012*************

Hi Emma,

I’m writing to you for the last time – to put an end to our correspondence.
i will not reply or respond to you on email or Twitter and I respectfully request that you cease to make any further reference to me in a public forum.  if you do persist with your commentary on me or this issue I shall have to seek further formal advice.

I think you’ll agree we’ve exhausted the subject.

This situation isn’t doing either of us any favours. So this is our handshake and let’s call it a day,

Best wishes,

Jon.

Published in: on January 19, 2012 at 10:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Another tedious post about Emma Kennedy.

Well, here we are again.

Please don’t feel obliged to read this post. I only feel obliged to post it because Emma just wrote a blog about me inferring that the reason I’d stopped posting about her was because I had something to hide or be ashamed of rather than that I was trying to let this just die.

For a woman who accused me of bombarding her with emails, she has sent me 13 in the last 24 hours, I’ve replied to half of them – politely but mainly trying to put the matter to rest.

I shall post the entire correspondence below.

The only points I’d like to address about her blog – which will be evident to anyone already following the thing – are that firstly, I didn’t know I was blocked by her. She didn’t inform me and I don’t know how one would even notice – so I was certainly never angry about it. At no point in this whole thing have I felt angry.  Also, I’ve never said that young writers should “EXPECT” not to be paid. As for the three ‘missing’ tweets I didn’t post in my original blog which apparently contextualise better – I actually thought they were less relevant. They relate to Danny Baker being offered an unpaid writing job. To me, there is a world of difference between companies asking Danny Baker to write for free and an unestablished young writer being asked to write for free. There is no value in a free job to Danny Baker as he doesn’t need experience or a platform to display his talents to generate further work.

Oh, and there’s one thing we both agree on in her blog, we definitely both agree that she’s been an arsehole, so that’s good.

As I said, don’t feel obliged to read these emails. I post them purely so, if you care, you can make up your own mind…..

Emma’s emails are in italics

Jon’s emails are in bold

Dear Jon

I’ve just read your open letter to me and I’m afraid I’ve greeted it with disbelief.

First thing I’m accused of is “dragging” (dragged in your blog but you get the gist) this matter into the public forum. Unless I’m very much mistaken, you and I had a spat on twitter between ourselves. At no point did I mention your username in my timeline. It was an argument I was having with you. Not you and all my followers.  Even today, after receiving an endless stream of personal and rude abuse from your followers, at no point did I do a general tweet mentioning your name to my followers. I could have done. But I didn’t.

And I’m not the person who wrote a blog about it and then published it to all and sundry. You did that. So in terms of dragging this matter beyond what it actually was – sorry – but that finger points firmly at you.

Yes. I do have a long history of men tweeting me to argue endlessly, then going apoplectic after I block them and then emailing me because they want to carry on arguing and then bleating about it on Twitter to carry that argument on further and involve people who weren’t involved in the first place. Yes. I do. That’s what you did. You can try and sweeten that up any which way you want. But that’s what you’ve done.

The tone of your email was far from conciliatory. You emailed me because you were angry I’d blocked you. Your second email was aggressive. I’d asked you to stop emailing me. But you didn’t. Last time I had a man I don’t know from twitter emailing me after I’d blocked him, he emailed me eighteen times. You can probably appreciate that I didn’t want 18 emails from you. I had to take legal advice after the last one. And I was told that if it ever happened again, I had to be very firm and quite clear that I didn’t want the person to contact me again. I did this with you twice. I was perfectly entitled to do so.

I am afraid I think your behaviour is harassment. The fact you have written a blog about it and an open letter to me is also harassment. Turning your followers onto me is harassment. This is harassment. Stop hounding me. Please.

I find it very strange that anyone who is blocked on Twitter would then find the email of the person who has blocked them and email them. I think that is peculiar behaviour. I am not going to apologise for saying that.

I have a lot of people contacting me on Twitter. I have many discussions on many topics. Every now and again, someone crops up who just goes on and on and on when we have established, in probably the first or second tweet that we are never going to agree. You fall into that category. I wasn’t going to block you until your snide “Oh hallowed writer” tweet. Also there was a tone to your tweets that I found aggressive. It’s up to me who I block. It’s my account. I don’t have to explain to anyone why I want to block them. Nobody does. I’ve been blocked plenty of times. I expect I annoyed the people who did it. Fair enough. It’s their account. What I didn’t then do is email them, blog about it and write an open letter to them.

If I blogged and wrote open letters to everyone who sent me abusive messages or sent me messages that upset me I would literally get nothing else done.

The tweets I think you should have included in your blog for balance were my tweet of Harlan Ellison’s video – pay the writer. That came from Danny Baker who had just tweeted that he had been offered a top flight job for BBC4 but had been told there was no fee. That’s where this all started. I RTed the link to the video. It was quite clear that it was about writing for a film company who have substantial pockets. I then tweeted that every time a writer agrees to do a job for nothing they are saying “I am worth nothing” Again, this was referring to film work. I think it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to appreciate that this also referred to TV companies.  I then followed that up quite quickly with the tweet that you took issue with. The one in which I said that no writer should work for nothing.

Instead, you have represented on your website that I was advocating that writers should never write anything in any circumstance for anyone or anything. This is clearly nonsense. And if you had read my tweets to other people during our exchange you would have seen me saying that I was only talking about TV and papers – ie companies with funds who can and SHOULD pay.

When you say you didn’t send anyone my way to abuse me – what did you think was going to happen when you posted that blog and published our emails without putting up those first tweets that put it in context? If that isn’t someone screaming LOOK WHAT SHE DID TO ME I don’t know what is. I didn’t ask you to tweet me. I didn’t ask you to email me. I asked you to stop emailing me. You didn’t. And I think your emails were vile. They were very unpleasant to receive. Quite why you think it’s acceptable to email a woman you’ve never met to be abusive and then not expect me to want to defend myself is beyond belief.

I disagree with people all the time on Twitter. I disagreed with several of your friends today. Some were blocked. Some were not. It is very clear to me who should be blocked and who shouldn’t. Again, it is entirely my right to block who I wish. Someone simply disagreeing with me isn’t one of my blocking criteria.

I think you have blown this entirely out of proportion and you have created a whirlwind when there needed to be none. There is a vast difference between replying to your friends (which they were) and tweeting my followers. I replied to your friends who came to attack me. That was it. I am allowed to do so.

If I had the time I expect I could trawl through your feed and find some suitable shitty things about me. But I’m not going to. I don’t see what the point of that would be or what it would achieve.

I believe young writers should be paid. And that they should not be taught to EXPECT not to be paid. That is my position. And I’m sticking by it.

I suggest you take a long deep breath and walk away from your computer.

Yours sincerely

Emma Kennedy

This was followed swiftly by…

ps if you want to reply to that email please do, but I’ve got no interest in any further contact with you

I replied…

I’ll find those three tweets and add them to the blog. They weren’t purposefully omitted.

We clearly don’t see eye to eye about things and there’s no point raking over that mess any more. We also clearly have radically different views as to what constitutes bad conduct.

it’s a shame they happened to clash.
I find it extraordinary that you complain about raking over a mess after the the absolute tizzy whizz you’ve caused. I don’t wish you any ill Jon. I just completely disagreed with you. It was a row on Twitter. It’s not the end of days
And now, in the spirit of all things good and decent, let us shake hands and say no more about it
Emma

To which she correctly asserts in her blog that I did not reply. I was out. At a gig. A band called Hot Hooves – check them out: http://soundcloud.com/hothooves

By the time I got home, she had sent me another email, which I replied to incorporating whatever I would have replied to her previous one.

Just to help you understand the sort of day I’ve had after you put up your blog – here’s the latest tweet, from @chazzyb31 which I got about two minutes ago. I’ve been getting these all day Jon. An endless stream.
“I have no idea who @emmak67 is, but I think she’s an over-privileged, out of touch, nasty cunt”
Emma

Emma,

I’m one of the most sympathetic people you could hope to meet but, honestly, you had some faceless idiot call you a nasty cunt whilst I had a prominent broadcaster announce that I was a mentalist, stalking, sexual harassing shit teacher. I absolutely win in the shitty day stakes.

J

I should also have added in my original email that you also omitted your initial tweets to me. So you’ve made it look as if I started that exchange. Given the level of abuse I am receiving and will continue to receive for weeks to come I would appreciate it greatly if you could rectify that. Thank you
Emma

I never said sexually harassing. I said harassing. Which I still maintain you were. But good to know you think it’s fine to whip up people so they call me names all day. At least you only had to deal with me thinking you were an idiot.
Please amend your blog
Thank you
Emma

And I should also point out you wouldn’t have had any of this if you’d left it. Your blogging about it has rattled this on. That’s your doing. I forgot about you days ago.
Now please, can we draw a line under this
Emma
You SAID harassing, you ALLEGED sexually harassing when you said “still I suppose some men have nothing better to do than harrass women on the internet” Come on. You know it had nothing to do with your gender. We both deal with young writers, it was ENTIRELY issue-based. You skewed it into a gender/harassment issue and everybody apart from you can see that and see through that.

I genuinely didn’t whip people up.

I know this is going to sound like point scoring or something but genuinely it isn’t. If you look back at the whole thing – it was just me disagreeing with you, that happens on Twitter all the time. I had no misogynistic agenda, no reason or desire to stalk you. I posted the blog because you threatened to report me for harassment. Do you understand how serious that is and why I urgently had to make all the information available?

I didn’t ask anyone to contact you and tried to hold back from interacting for the rest of the day.

The people who are giving you shit, I don’t know. Ross is a friend and Dom is an ex-student and I’m sure you’ve found them both reasonable – they’re lovely people.

The responses you’re getting are not because people disagree with your stance on writing, they’re because of your out-of-proportion manner of dealing with someone who simply didn’t deserve the level of hostility and reckless rhetoric you used.

I wrote the blog to protect myself from a nasty threat YOU made. You didn’t ‘forget about this days ago’ – I woke up to a threatening email from you 17 hours ago.

You caused this, you fanned the flames by making up reckless lies and allegations and you’re having to deal with the fallout from that.

I have no desire to argue with you at all. I never did!

I’ve apologised if I made you feel harassed, I’ve tried consistently to make peace.

I’m almost impressed by the epic lack of self-awareness you’re displaying. You’re now guilty of every single thing you’ve accused me of baselessly – gender agenda, bombarding with emails for hours on end, writing an email as long as an essay, being rude, being aggressive, being a shit teacher (did you notice how almost in the same tweet you went from saying how much you cared about young writers and how 85% of them were hopeless – HOPELESS!) – you’re behaving weird and that’s what’s whipped this all up.
I have no beef with you beyond the slanderous stuff you said today.

Just let it go. Don’t drag this into another day.

J

Jon

Spend one day in the shoes of a high profile woman on twitter and I think you will completely understand.

We are probably never going to agree on anything but I want you to consider one thing.

Let’s say you have a wife, or a girlfriend. You might, you might not. Let’s say that wife or girlfriend has an argument with someone on twitter. Happens all the time. No biggy. But let’s say there was something about the tone of the argument your wife or girlfriend didn’t like and so she blocked the person she had had the argument with.

And then that person emails her. Because he or she is angry about being blocked. And your wife or girlfriend asks them to stop. But they email her again. So this time she is quite firm. And then that person writes a blog about your wife or girlfriend. And then writes an open letter to your wife or girlfriend.

Would you think – oh what a great guy he sounds? Or would you think that’s a disproportionate response to what occurred and I’m not sure I like this guy?

As for you having to protect yourself all you had to do was not email me again. That was it. That was hardly the ask of the century. You were tweeting me in your capacity as a teacher. And you were tweeting someone who is regularly asked to mentor young writers. What you were doing was directly connected to your job. That’s how I read it. You will probably think entirely differently.

I think you need to calm down about all this. It was a spat on twitter. That was it. You have made a mountain out of a molehill.

Oh my god, you’re still going.

I don’t need to calm down about this because I don’t care – you’re the one bombarding me with emails, I expressly asked yesterday to not let this drag on to today. You’re making the mountain yourself – you’re the one making mountains. If you have experience of this stuff, why don’t you just ignore me? What are you hoping to get out of sending me so many emails?

I’ve genuinely considered the hypothetical situation you posited. And my answer is, if this happened to my wife or girlfriend, that I would have read the content of what the guy was writing and – had it been identical to the content I created – I’d have pointed out to her that there was clearly nothing sinister about any of it. I’d have told her not to threaten him with action over the non-inflammatory emails he sent, I’d have told her not to spend a whole day on Twitter slandering him despite his staying polite and I’d tell her to just walk away from it rather than sending endless follow-up emails.

I’ve actually had to hold some of the women in my life back from entering this matter. They, along with women on-line who have contacted me who I don’t know, are disgusted that you turned it into a gender issue. You sound ridiculous when you invoke the ‘angry threatening man’  defence. Even complete strangers can see that there was nothing in my words, tone, intent or actions that conform to a notion of misogyny and I’ve remained polite and calm.

Your version seems to hinge on me being angry about being blocked. As I’ve said before, I wasn’t even aware I’d been blocked. I emailed you – as it says in the first paragraph of that very email – to apologise and explain. How can you find anything in there with a threatening or stalkerish tone?

Obviously, I will never spend one day in the shoes of a ‘high profile woman on twitter’ but the simple truths are that you don’t HAVE to be on twitter and you chose to continuously (you’re still doing it!!!!!) exacerbate this situation.

So, once more, I apologise for any misunderstanding and suggest you don’t even reply to this email.

Let’s both do something more worthwhile and productive with our weekends.

All the best,

J

Yes. Good idea. Let’s never speak to each other again. Thank god for that
Emma

Finally, the capability to admit that someone else was right.
Goodbye.

There was a slight addendum to this which, hopefully, represents the end of the correspondence. I was alerted that to a tweet she’d made:

My mother the philosopher klaxon “Emma, beware the obese man with a tidy beard on his own with a laptop”

which seems a strange thing to post apropos of nothing but as this final correspondence shows when I – full of belly and tidy of beard – expressed disappointment she claims ignorance, so let’s give her the benefit of the doubt….

Honestly? You’re making fat jokes about me now?

Grow up.

Are you ever going to stop emailing me?
I have absolutely no idea to what you are referring. I haven’t got the first clue what you look like.
And by the way – I find it very interesting that you haven’t seen fit to publish my reply to your open letter. What a surprise.
Emma

Fine, I’ll publish everything.

I’d really hoped this was all over.

Can you explain what you meant about me making fat jokes about you please?

I’m referring to the quote you posted from your mother.

At this point, you’re harassing me. I don’t want to discuss it anymore. I don’t want you to email me  again. I’m asking you to draw a line under this and stop referring to me in any way online.

That’s got nothing to do with you. I am baffled as to why you would think it has? I will say it again, I have not the first clue what you look like. Why would I? I’ve never met you. Your avatar, if I remember correctly, is a normal sized man with a moustache.
Have you a God complex or something?

Please don’t ever email me again.

And with that, hopefully, we have an end to the matter forever.

Oh, and yes i did agree to post those other three tweets on the blog, but I can’t be bothered. You can find them in her timeline.

Thinking about it, to try to draw some kind of positive out of this whole thing – I’m happy to capitalise on the increased traffic and any goodwill you might have for me by telling you about the film I just made – an independent music doc, narrated by Stewart Lee, about and featuring interviews and never-before seen archival footage of Radiohead, Supergrass, Foals, Ride, Swervedriver, Talulah Gosh and more. Why not watch the trailer and then order the 2-disc DVD set from http://www.acpgthemovie.com if you put the word ‘emma’ in your order, I’ll throw in a free ACPG plectrum!

Published in: on January 14, 2012 at 7:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

An Open Letter To Emma Kennedy.

Hi Emma,

I’m writing this as an open letter so as not to incur whatever retribution you promised should I email you again.

It’s been an odd day on Twitter and I’ve tried to avoid fanning the flames above directing people to my blog which I wrote because I wanted transparency in the situation. You were accusing me of harassment and rather than have my reputation completely unfairly sullied, I decided to make the whole thing public – having nothing to hide.

You’ve said in your subsequent tweets that you have a history of “men on twitter being rude, being blocked, going nuts, tracking me down, emailing and then whipping up a fricking storm” I’m sorry to hear this and didn’t know that I was in any way adding to a longstanding issue. It was never my intention. I’d hoped the tone of the initial email I sent was not ‘nuts’ but conciliatory. It was rewarded by hostility on your part but I guess I now understand where that came from and, again, I’m sorry if I made you felt harassed.

I wrote the blog about the situation to get it out in the open and be able to state my case clearly. you have 100 times more followers than me, so if you write something negative about me, it has an effect. I needed my response, my position, to be available.

I do think it’s obvious from my initial email that I still had respect for you and hoped to resolve and be done with the matter.

Today, you’ve dragged it into a strange public forum and have spent a lot of energy in saying untrue, unkind and recklessly libelous things about me.

These are the things that you have said which are UNTRUE:

@mr_clark he was HARRASSING me

 

@mr_clark Well, you weren’t at the receiving end of it for HOURS ON END. Still, good that you’re picking up the baton eh?

 

@mr_clark He tracked down my email after hours of hounding me. Do you think that’s acceptable?

 

@oneofthosefaces That and fact he’s quite deliberately omitted my three tweets that set that argument in proper context

 

@dombeno And after he tracked down my email like a mentalist. Yes

 

@dombeno Yes. I have read his blog that he wrote after not leaving me alone for hours on end. Yes

 

@rosslawhead Could you please ask your friend to stop sending people my way to chuck abuse at me. I’m getting sick of this

 

@hagenilda YOu should read his emails to me. They’re vile

 

 

 

1. I completely apologise if I made you feel harassed but I was not harassing you. I certainly wasn’t ‘HARASSING’ you. I think the emails illustrate that fine.

 

2. You were not at the receiving end of anything from me for ‘HOURS ON END’. You weren’t silent and bombarded. We tweeted to each other on the matter for a couple of hours. You were NOT on the ‘receiving’ end, it was an interaction where you gave not just as good as you got but with demonstrably greater aggression and nastiness.

 

3. It’s weird to paint it as me ‘tracking down your email’ after ‘hounding’ you – I simply clicked on the public ‘contact’ button of the public website you list in your public twitter profile. As much as it might strengthen your position to paint me as some kind of a stalker, I simply am not.

 

4. I genuinely don’t know which three tweets you’re suggesting I’ve deliberately omitted – show me them and I will gladly add them to the original blog post.

 

5. I didn’t send anyone your way to abuse you. I just posted that blog. Any responses you’ve had – from friends of mine or strangers – are people acting entirely on their own volition.

 

6. The fact that you LIED to hagenilda about me sending you ‘vile’ emails before you realised I’d actually posted our whole correspondence is shameful. Shameful.

 

I’m a person you don’t know who disagreed with something you posted online. When I tried to extend an olive branch, you accused me of harassment and have now spent the best part of a whole day writing libelous, slanderous bile on twitter about me.

 

You know nothing about me, yet you’re happy to create an image of me to 40,000 plus people that I’m the kind of person who hounds women for hours online before tracking down their email and harassing them with vile emails.

 

That is not me. Our correspondence clearly shows that that is not me.

 

The initial issue we disagreed over (which I still don’t think we actually do disagree about, you’re just unwilling to consider what I was actually saying) is no longer an issue to me. I really don’t care about your opinions or trying to change them at all.

 

I want you to stop posting unwarranted, malicious, slanderous, reckless things about me right now.

 

I’m sorry I don’t fit the profile of someone you would prefer to have disagreeing with you – some odious misogynistic stalker with an axe to grind against you and all other women.

 

I’m just someone who disagreed with a post you made.

 

I can’t fathom why you have responded in the manner you have. I totally apologise for having somehow exacerbated this situation, I’d like it done with and I would truly appreciate it if you’d re-read our correspondence and your responses and hopefully see that the right thing to do right now is to make it clear to your followers that I’ve been rather misrepresented by the things you have written today.

 

If they continue, I’ll explore legal options.

 

 

Jon

 

 

 

 

Published in: on January 13, 2012 at 6:05 pm  Comments (1)  

Emma Kennedy and The Case of The Unpaid Writers

This morning, I awoke to an email from an actress/broadcaster/author/journalist/twitter celebrity (this is all one person, by the way, it wasn’t a petition, these are all the strings to a single bow) which read:

If you contact me one more time I’m reporting you to your college.
Don’t think for one single second I won’t do that.
You are harassing me.

Sent from my iPhone

How did this happen? How did I go from being a mild-mannered chap minding his own business who people might describe as ‘quite nice’ to being a harasser of one actress/broadcaster/author/journalist/twitter celebrity? What follows is the story of my fall. A cautionary tale to all of those who think they’re just being normal but are, in fact, harassing.

In the interests of full disclosure, before I begin my tale of woe, I feel I must level with you, dear reader, and admit to three prior incidents which could easily be construed as celebrity harassment. They have no direct bearing on this case but lest they be resurrected out-of-context to form some kind of basis to firm up this accusation, I’d like for you to know the truth about them and to recognise that I was forthcoming in detailing them.

Incident 1. 1992. Oxford. Complainant: Timmy Mallett. Some friends and I saw Timmy Mallett in a queue at some event in a park. We laughed and mocked him from a point further back in the queue and then I shouted “Oi Timmy, Give us a WACAWAVE!” He turned around and fixed me with a haunted look of anxious disappointment which robbed my epithet of both humour and dignity.

Incident 2. 2011. The Internet. Complainant: Richard Herring. Richard Herring asked for recommendations for summer reading. I immediately replied “Don’t bother reading your own book. It’s quite disappointing” I regretted sending it quite quickly as it was more snide than jocular but it was, in my defence, rooted in a genuine disappointment at having paid £11.99 to read a man swing between dull self-indulgent regret at a life wasted and smug references to casual sexual encounters. Before I could delete the tweet, he had responded by comparing me to a woman’s genitals and blocked me – which is fair enough, really.

Incident 3. 1999. Marks & Spencer Food Hall, Oxford St, London. Complainant: Christopher Biggins. Whilst trying to navigate my way around the narrow labyrinthine overpopulated food basement, I found my path obstructed on three separate occasions by the same apparently owner-less trolley left lazily in the middle of the aisle at an angle. Three times I moved it to the side to clear the way. On the fourth occasion, grumpy and un-lunched, I shoved the trolley with all my might and watched it careen into a chiller unit at the end of the aisle. Proud of my work, I turned to find myself face-to-face with an outraged Christopher Biggins. “Why did you do THAT?” demanded the owl-faced off-hours panto dame who, in my memory, was clutching a bag of frozen peas.  I had no response. “You’re a very RUDE man!” he proclaimed before marching away towards his wronged trolley. “Fuck Off” I replied in a barely audible mumble as he left, not out of genuine malice but because I knew this was the chance to secure an anecdote entitled ‘The Time I Told Christopher Biggins To Fuck Off’

To these three people, I offer a belated apology, but I doubt they care. None of them accused me of harassment or threatened to report me to my college. I don’t actually have a college to be reported to, although I’m not sure that would have been a factor that concerned any of them.

No.

The self-proclaimed harrasee is a person called Emma Kennedy. I followed her on Twitter because she seemed to be having a funny discussion with the incredibly excellent Caitlin Moran and because I remembered her as a peripheral character from the Lee & Herring stuff which I always loved (despite having been mean to Herring that one time). At some point last year, she and I exchanged a couple of tweets about something. I have a feeling it was the Murdoch thing. I can’t remember the nature of the exchange or the subject but it left an apparent precedent that she was happy to engage with people on Twitter. If only I’d known then what I know now (tone of mock drama, there)

I should say, at this point, if you can’t be bothered to read a transcript of a Twitter argument, I don’t blame you. Tiresome and tedious, this whole matter. There’s a good chance I’ve peaked with the Biggins anecdote on this blog and, really, I’m only writing this one to publicly state my case having been accused of harassment. That said, what Emma and I disagreed on is an interesting issue (rendered pointless when reduced to statements of 140 characters) and – after the transcript – I’ll conclude this blog by talking intelligently about it and, possibly, making a corker of a joke at Emma’s expense.

So, here’s the conversation we had. You should be aware that it was happening ‘live’ so sometimes they go a bit out of order as we address points the other had raised several tweets previous, but you’ll get the idea….

So, that’s that.

That was our dialogue. When it was finished, I was a bit pissed off not just because I felt we’d both got needlessly aggressive but because I felt she maybe hadn’t actually understood what I was saying – it was a thick and fast dialogue (resisting the temptation here to add ‘she was thick, I was fast’, that would be immature) so I made what I now see to be a mistake by sending her an email. In the meantime, one of my students had sent her a single tweet, which she responded to in volume (as you can see, he didn’t engage with her at all beyond his single tweet):

I sent this email to try to clarify my position and straighten out any bad feelings:

There are a couple of things I regret about this email retrospectively. The first is what I wrote about The Huffington Post, I’ll elaborate on this in a bit. The second is that I said ‘I am indeed a shitty teacher, teaching at shitty establishments’ I phrased it that way to highlight her definition of shitty as wrong but, on second reading, it might have come across as just agreeing with her. I’m not a shitty teacher and the places I teach are far from shitty. It’s just that neither I nor they are world-renowned, which is usually a lazy person’s basis for assessing quality.

The exchange continued:

then:

which prompted:

to which I replied:

which ended finally with the aforementioned:

There’s a certain logic that says if someone feels harassed, then they are, I think it’s pretty clear that that was never my intention but, out of respect, I’ve not responded privately.

There are two points to be made following this discussion.

My first is my position on writers not getting paid. I think there is a notable division between unpaid work and exploitation. If a writer were being exploited, it would mean that whoever they were writing for was publishing their work without their knowledge or permission, uncredited and/or retaining the copyright on it. That would be exploitative. The publisher would be profiting from the actual work and the writer would get nothing in return.

Although it’s a disingenuous practice for profitable companies to publish a writer’s work unpaid, I don’t think it’s exploitative. Firstly, they have the writer’s express permission to use it. Secondly they are providing a platform for a writer’s talents to be spotted. Thirdly they are allowing these writers to cut their teeth and get valuable industry experience.  I don’t know Emma’s story and what her route to ‘success’ has been but, especially since the internet went huge, it’s almost impossible for a new writer’s voice to be heard. The internet is a quagmire of amateur journalism. Her assertion that ‘Talented writers don’t get ignored’ and ‘luck has nothing to do with it’ are painfully naive and her hostility to the sentiment that this industry rewards tenacity over talent smacks of either insecurity or ignorance.

I know a bunch of talented writers who go ignored – of course they go ignored – the competition is ridiculous. As I mentioned (and will continue to do so forevermore on this blog) I’ve spent the last 5 years making a film about precisely that and when you get members of Radiohead confirming that their career was thanks in no small part to luck and timing and commercial trends… well, I respect their views over hers.

The cream doesn’t always rise.

That may sound pessimistic, it may sound bitter, but it’s true.

I’ve always taught on the principle of honesty. I think a lot of adult education is actually motivational speaking – people like Robert McKee, Dov Siemens, these 2-day expensive workshops which seem to promise to prepare you for the industry. They’ll list glamorous ex-students in their literature but these guys tour the world to packed houses. Out of how ever many thousand people who take their courses, how many go on to success? My ethos is that if you want to learn to write, then you’re learning a craft and you’re learning how to express yourself. That’s almost incongruous to learning to make money from the skill. I teach people how to develop into good writers. That’s all I promise because that’s all I *CAN* promise. I grew up reading all of those books entitled ‘how to write screenplays that SELL’ – nobody can teach that.

All writing is competitive. If, unlike Emma, you don’t have an agent, a body of published work and a slew of rich, famous and influential friends, then you’re on your own in a sea of other amateurs. You have to do anything you can to get your name known. And that is currency you’re dealing in – not money. The money will come once you’re somewhat established. If anyone offers you a raft, a platform for your work you take it on the single proviso that your name will be on it. When you’re starting out, a by-line, a credit, anything you can put on your cv or will widen your audience is of at least equal value to a couple of quid. Work hard and be as tenacious as your personality will allow.

The stupidest thing to do would be to demand money if you’re an unproven, unknown talent. Ask if it’s possible by all means. But if you refuse to let people see your work for free at this point in your career… people won’t see your work because there is an endless queue of people behind you who will happily seize the chance to work for free to begin with.

This is true also in the world of music and comedy, where you expect to do unpaid bottom-of-the-bill gigs to get experience and exposure. it’s true in design – all of the designers I’ve ever hired I found through admiring the work they’d done for free on gig posters and websites. It’s true for writing too – screenwriters and novelist friends of mine have all responded to this issue of the past few days by telling me how their first deals were spec deals – they had to do the work before the company decided whether it was worth publishing or commissioning and these deals are usually now actually back-end profit-splits. This is what you have to do to get started. And it’s worth doing.

I applaud Emma’s idealism. The notion that if all writers refused to work unpaid it would suddenly become a fair world for writers (FACT) but we’ll never know because that’ll never ever ever ever ever ever happen. It’s a competitive marketplace and you have to be in it to win it. Or you have to be very very very very lucky.

The other point I guess I want to make is a brief one about this horrible new concept of ‘Twitter celebrity’. Some people seem to think that just because people choose to follow them they are actually fans who agree to exist in some kind of state of devotion, deferral and awe. They aren’t. They are all human beings, many of equal or superior intelligence and integrity who simply don’t have the same public profile or platforms.

Oh yeah, I promised to end on a joke…

How many Emma Kennedys does it take to change a lightbulb?

None, she is incapable of affecting change and is naive to the landscape of artificial lighting.

Published in: on January 13, 2012 at 2:40 pm  Comments (35)  

Lex Gigeroff 1962 – 2011

Exactly 11 years ago, I went on a ridiculous adventure with my best friend Andy. I was a year and a bit out of film school, he’d just graduated that summer and we were going to become hugely successful comedy TV writers. We’d had meetings and were buoyant with misplaced confident in our talents – the kind of confidence which gets you places but doesn’t do you many favours once you’re there.

Just before Christmas 2000, the wonderful Allison Outhit had contacted us from Canada where she worked as show runner on a TV show called Lexx which I had never heard of. Andy’s parents had satellite TV, so he’d seen a few episodes and said it was pretty good. Allison wanted to know if we wanted to try out as writers on their new (and final) series. I ran out and bought a couple of videos from the first series and couldn’t see how we’d fit into the show but after 6 months working in web design, I was willing to give anything a go. Even if it meant flying all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia in the dead of winter to do so. It was dark and colder than anything I’ve ever experienced anywhere else but it never once felt depressing as the Lexx family was a warm, intelligent and funny bunch. Allison was busy a lot and the show’s creator/producer Paul Donovan was an odd but welcoming chap. The cast were also welcoming but odd and busy. Andy and I instantly fell in with the show’s head writers – Jeff Hirschfield and Lex Gigeroff. For the time we were there and that time in our careers, they felt a bit like big brothers. They’d bust your balls and make fun of you but they were never less than supportive or encouraging.

The first time I met Lex, before even being introduced, he strode up to me, just in from walking through a blizzard and crunched my beard, which had frozen solid “Good beard, it’s got a good crunch to it!” were the words he introduced himself to me with.

This was our first professional job ever and we were thrown in the deep end. From day one, we were taken seriously and treated as professional TV writers despite only ever having written short films and spec scripts. The first meeting we had was a roundtable with the writers, creator and producers. This was to work out the story arcs for the first series and make sure we’d all be working from the same page. It was fun but terrifying. Not only were we not seasoned writers but we knew so little about this series specifically. We were in over our heads and I think we stayed a little quiet. Lex saw this in us and once the meeting was over invited us out for coffee the next morning.

When it was just the three of us, it was great. He was a sincere, sarcastic, encouraging bear of a man. He explained how the show worked, was patient with us and helped us get our episode pitches in order so that we could realistically get to write episodes which we were suited to. Throughout our time writing on that show, he stayed in contact and gave us insightful help and positive encouragement. He didn’t need to do that, it was a sink or swim environment but he gave us his time and experience and enthusiasm. I’d like to think that if I reflect the same virtues through my screenwriting teaching, that they were instilled in me by him.

He really didn’t need to be so nice to us. In a sense, we were taking food from his table. The previous three seasons had been written entirely by Jeff, Lex and Paul. The only reason they had brought us aboard was that to qualify for British funding and tax breaks, they had to have a certain percentage of the writing team as British. The fans were livid about outside talent being brought in (especially when I mentioned online that we knew nothing about the show) Lex could have justifiably been openly resentful and hostile but was the very opposite of that.

I can’t pretend to have known Lex well or to have kept up better than the occasional exchanged ‘what are you up to these days?’ Facebook messages but sometimes brief interactions with special people resonate through the rest of your life. His untimely passing this Christmas Day has really saddened me. The world has lost a good man. He was just 49.

I’ll always be grateful to Lex for the things he taught me and the encouragement and support he gave to a couple of newbies on their first pro job.

Bless you, mate and I hope that whatever’s out there is far less dark and twisted than you imagined it might be.

Published in: on January 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.