Sunday, July 14, 2002

Reality, Fantasy And Frivolity

I’m continuously being told by politicians, pundits, TV presenters, financial advisers, and sundry commentators that we all have to face up to today’s reality. That usually means I’m going to get some more bad news of the kind that will encompass a collusion of CEOs, mega-accountants or brokers who have just made off with the life savings of another few thousand (or million) wretches whose fault is nothing more than to have trusted the hitherto-respected captains of industry and commerce, and the rock upon which this modern reality is founded.

I hear from no less a figure than the head honcho at the Wall Street Journal that, well, there’s no real crime here…..this is just capitalism at work, and this is how the system shakes itself down, and we have to not get all
worked up, and face reality. The President and VeePee are all up to their chins in the same quadruple dealing
and have been for years, and the day last week when C.himself stood up at the New York stock exchange and began waffling inanities about some toothless endeavour to form a “swat team” for corporate wrongdoing, while behind him the graph at the foot of America’s bed began to plummet and continued to do so all through his speech was as much reality as anyone should be asked to stomach.

Talking of reality, it is becoming scary just how much ‘reality’ television we are bombarded with. This, as you must know is nothing to do with reality at all; what is happening is that production companies in Hollywood are finding ever-cheaper ways to make programs devoid of script writers, directors, and all the other artistic personnel that go along with bona fide film and television making. Instead we are supposed to gawp at marginally psychotic specimens who are (in the guise of ‘real’ people) in turn instructed to act or overact in the most base, crass and venal of ways toward each other to satisfy the cravings, at prime time, of the moronic hordes who glue themselves to daytime television and the putrid lather of soap operas and/or MTV’s soft-porniglot. Isn’t it ironic that the only mention I have heard this president make toward his televisual preferences is that he likes “The Osbournes,” thus, in essence, showing his endorsement of – you got it – reality TV. Mind you, I shudder to think what passes for artistic taste in that philistine persona; I have a vision of JR Ewing without the script, and a gnawing suspicion that I am perilously close to being dead-on with my estimate of that cultural reality.

And so to fantasy, a much-preferred state of mind where one can at least control the scenario, the enactment, and the outcome of future situations, where we are enticed to higher artistic and cultural expectations, where education budgets are not routinely slashed to provide tax breaks/refunds etc. for the corporately fattened,
where we begin to wipe out hunger and disease and reduce international third-world debt, where the front row of
the audience resembles Claudia Schiffer, Halle Berry, Jennifer Connolly etc. on a nightly basis, and where I can still play ninety minutes of soccer, without ending up a geriatric vomiting heap after ten minutes of being humiliated by someone half my age who has the ball attached to his foot as if by string. There are other more common fantasies I’m sure we all share, some admirable and some a bit more, shall we say...dubious? But the lottery is not for me, nor the pursuit of power and untold wealth for its own sake nor living to be a hundred and ten.

The best come from the dream state, I’m sure you’ll agree, that wonderful hybrid of reality and fantasy where surreal versions of our friends or enemies do the most ridiculous things in the most improbable groups but still with a grain of likelihood and probability. The bottle-rocket you set off a lifetime ago that went through your Granny’s window as she was washing her face at the sink, and which becomes a train coming out the other side of the house, but won’t stop for you on the platform as you are wearing that dreadful shirt that embarrassed your friends at last week’s party – those same friends who have turned into a team of plumbers knocking at your door to fix the stereo you dropped while moving recently to the new house with all these corridors and odd-shaped rooms, each of which has some strange ritual going on as you open the doors one-at-a-time trying to locate the cause of the trouble – trouble you
can’t identify, but which is so disturbing it causes you to attempt vainly to cry out in your sleep. All your wife or partner hears is “AamBphhtakhssssshh,Na” And the next thing you know there’s a dig in the ribs,
light coming in through the curtains, your arm’s numb from lying on it, you’re awake, and you’re back to reality!

If all of the above seems to trivialize the subject matter for your particular taste, then please allow me a moment or two of frivolity. This column has never been more than somewhat of a stream of unconsciousness as far as I’m concerned, and something that is done on a whim and a prayer as and when the mood takes me. I doubt it even reflects much of the opinions of my fellow band-members, but then they can write their own observations should the mood take them. I must say, talking of ‘mood’ that the mood round here is very nice these days. Our
big night at the New Orleans Essence Festival last weekend was just that – BIG, and really very gratifying with the reception we got from one of the largest urban congregations one could amass in this country. All the
players were there, from Isley Brothers on the ‘mature’ tip, to Alicia Keys on the new end, and everyone in between over the course of three solid-gold soul nights. Add the comedians, such as Steve Harvey & Cedric The
Entertainer, and a terrific MC team of the Tom Joyner Morning Crew, and it was sheer gluttony. Nice to have been part of it again, and an honour to represent ‘white folks’ with readily appreciated sincerity. In fact, one girl from B.E.T. at the press conference afterwards asked how it felt to be “honorary Black folks” I leave you to deduce the obvious from this, and let’s just say if you’d told me in Scotland 28 years ago that this could ever happen I’d have suggested it was sheer fantasy, but for this more-than-averagely lucky bastard, it has become ..well, reality.