I’m sorry to inform you, gentle readers, that I’ve been a little bereft of inspiration this week. Maybe the Autumn weather has dampened my creative spirit as well as my inadequately waterproofed feet. But never fear, I shall not leave you without some of my classic nonsense to read.
Very classic in this case.
Although I feel like I’ve only recently been writing for the sake of writing, it turns out I’ve been throwing together odd collections of words and phrases for longer than I realised. I had a trawl through my old computer files to look for inspiration and found some bits of writing I did for my English Language A-Level.
Most of these were extremely dreary essays about Death of a Salesman or A Midsummer Night’s Dream but some of them didn’t simply reflect a teenager’s best efforts to sound like a proper academic. To my great surprise, I wasn’t totally mortified by the contents of some of these creative efforts so I’m going to share a couple of them with you now.
I hope you enjoy this trip through my very brief back catalogue of creative writing.
In the Style of Robert Rankin
One of our assignments was to choose an author, study their style and what makes their writing unique, then write a brief passage that drew on what we observed to be their linguistic calling cards. I was reading a lot of books by Robert (not Ian) Rankin at the time presumably because of the books’ slightly spooky looking covers, his sarcastic dry style, and his tendency to title his books with puns (Sex and Drugs and Sausage Rolls being one of my favourites).
My seventeen-year-old self identified footnotes, a slightly formal register, and amusing repetition of short phrases as some of the staples of Rankin’s work. This is what I came up with when combining these traits with my own tendency to make all my characters dress in black.
A Street Carlisle Named Desire
The sun was high, as it so often is on a summer’s day, and not a cloud was seen in the Carlisle sky. A gentle breeze caressed the bald head of Ozzy Hosbourne*, who, with a sense of blissful ignorance, wandered yonder.
Although the sun was high and not a cloud could be seen in the sky there was a sense of tension in the slightly scented air. The roads of Carlisle were unusually quiet for a sunny Saturday. As were the pavements. The shops, empty as a pacifist’s pistol. The clocks ticked their ticks. Their echoes echoed. The tumbleweed trundled contently along an unnervingly hushed Carlisle centre.
If one was a sceptical individual one might say all was far from well in the realm of Carlisle. If one weighed up all the evidence from the surroundings and one arrived at this conclusion of potential impending doom, one would almost certainly not be considered at all crazy. Not by the average Joe, Alan or Steve anyway.
Ozzy Hosbourne, however, was not by any means average. Nor did he possess the names Joe, Alan or Steve, though he did possess an impressive Barbie doll collection – a fact he planned to take to his grave.
Ozzy lived in a state of permanent ignorance.
In a world of his own did not cover it
In fact, in a world of his own on a far off space rock did not quite fit the bill.
In fact, in a world of his own on a far off space rock hurtling in the opposite direction to earth at the speed of light even fell a little short.
Ozzy wandered with an enthusiastic bounce in his skinny yet sturdy legs. He swung his long lanky arms back and forth beside his slender toned torso, encased in a black leather trench coat that had served him well since his turbulent teenage years. Head held high, slightly askew spectacles perched upon the end of his perfectly rounded nose. The spectacles were a recent addition to his appearance and, thanks to many years of squinting due to a lack of spectacles, the eyes of Ozzy were naturally narrower than most. Although he was blessed with a wide and more than fully functional mouth this blessing did not stretch to his ears, which, like his eyes, were significantly narrower than most. This partially explains Ozzy’s permanent state of ignorance and inability to ingest any worldly information.
His denims faded about the knee from the numerous times he had been unaware of what crossed his path and had therefore met said path with a considerable thump. His comfy trainers stained from stepping in undesirable obstacles that he had failed to observe and successfully avoid. Finally, due to the countless times he had trapped his hair in doors, drawers and dustbins, Ozzy was bald atop the head.
So, on this slightly suspicious of occasions, Ozzy ploughed on down Carlisle’s town centre streets, flanked by deserted department stores. The bitchy ladies of business, who Ozzy seldom noticed, not at their usual Costa coffee table. The adolescents on skateboards, who Ozzy was never aware of, nowhere to be seen. The colossal man in a box selling newspapers, which Ozzy may have purchased had he acknowledged the gentleman’s existence, not there to yell out his traditional slogans in a language only he could possibly hope to understand.
All was not quite as it should have been. Sadly, a significant lack of fortune meant that the only person around to notice this was Ozzy, who wouldn’t have noticed an African elephant (or an Asian one for that matter) in a bathing suit.
As he turned the corner on to Gallow Barrow Way the reason that all was not of the norm became abundantly clear. Or it would have had done had Ozzy not suddenly incapacitated himself on a nearby lamppost.
*Not to be confused with Ozzy Osbourne.
Review of Placebo’s Self-Titled First Album
For this assignment we had to study a particular type of writing and produce our own version that fit its conventions. I chose album reviews and decided to waffle on about Placebo’s re-release of their first album.
As you may well be able to tell from this short passage, I know very little about music. I can’t play any instruments, I can’t read music, and my singing ability is questionable at best. The thing that fascinates me most about music is the lyrics. My old diaries and notebooks were plastered in song lyrics and my brain holds onto lyrics with a vice-like grip, despite being totally unable to remember other, arguably more useful, information like how much my set of adjustable dumbbells weigh in total or which combination of buttons will restart my ancient Ipod when it freezes for the thousandth time.
Unsurprisingly I’ve almost completely glossed over anything to do with musical instruments in this review and mostly banged on about how much I love Brian Molko and his whiny nasal charms.
I did find reading this review vaguely heartwarming. As I’m sure is the case for a lot of people, as I got a little older I paid less attention to new music and was less bothered about going to live gigs. Music became less of a passion and more of a comfort blanket. I stopped looking for anything new and coddled myself in repeated re-listenings of the albums I already knew and loved. It was cheering to revisit the younger version of myself that adored performers like Brian Molko and couldn’t wait for the release of my favourite band’s latest album.
I'm sure I also thought I was being ever so daring by writing about sex so much in a piece of A-level coursework. What an adorable little nerd I was.
Placebo Self-Titled Album
Placebo have come a long way. The re-release of their debut self-titled album ten years after its original release date is proof enough of that.
When this album was first released Placebo were a threesome of relative unknowns with an unusual dress-sense. But singles like “36 Degrees” and the anthem of the outsider, “Nancy Boy”, brought the band into the limelight they rightfully deserved and proved there was more to this band than an androgynous front man and a ridiculously tall guitarist.
Since the original release of this album in 1996, Placebo replaced their drummer, Brian Molko went through more makeovers than Madonna and they delivered four new albums as well as a greatest hits collection. All these albums present intensely sexual and passionate lyrics at their best and an originality that has yet to be matched by another band of this genre. This band is refreshingly unique.
The album itself has a constant stability about it with a bank of brilliant songs that have become classics in Placebo’s collection. “Come Home” provides a powerfully pounding opening and sets the standards for the tracks that follow. Classic singles “36 Degrees”, “Teenage Angst” and “Bruise Pristine” sustain the high standard of music and lyrical creativity.
But you cannot talk about this album without mentioning “Nancy Boy”. The third original single from the album that reached number three in the UK singles charts and showed what Placebo do best; erotic lyrics, intoxicating vocals and a blissful blend of powerful and precise guitar work. Not forgetting a chorus that gets itself firmly wedged in your head despite any efforts you make to remove it. A perfect blend of filth and flare.
Placebo succeed where others have failed because of the unique originality of their lyrics. Gems such as “Since I was born I started to decay” (from “Teenage Angst”) reach out to their audience and seem like something only the tantalisingly twisted mind of Brian Molko could conjure up. Molko’s deeply depressing style of writing has continued into their albums that followed their debut and reflect the unstable emotional ride he has been on. Molko has come close to the edge on occasions and the pleading lyrics of “Commercial For Levi” (“please don’t die”) illustrate a struggle to survive that a lot of their audience can understand.
One awesome moment of lyrical creativity is the incorporation of numbers in “36 Degrees”. Somehow even a list of digits seems to convey a strong emotive message of the struggle to stay alive and I have yet to find a similar song that uses language so effectively.
The quality of this album cannot be denied but it does have a few flaws that prevent it being just perfect. For example, Molko and his band have a great ability to create imaginative songs that use synthesisers and electronic effects well, “Lady Of The Flowers” being a good example. But the closing track on this album, “Swallow”, is not one of these. As a final track it is weak and does not give the album the climax it deserves. It is more of a flop than a finale. If you were hoping for an arresting last penetrative punch you find yourself disappointed with a gentle and unsatisfying slap in the face. As the light drumming drones on and the mechanical voice crackles into earshot you can’t help but wish for something better. Something with a bit more substance. Something that sums up what an achievement this album has been.
An added treat for the Placebo addicts out there is in addition of previously unheard demo tracks. Sadly, there is a good reason some of these have not been included as album material before. “Paycheck” is a creative use of Molko’s vocal abilities that does not quite work but the tune is definitely catchy. “Flesh Mechanic”, “Drowning By Numbers” and “H K Farewell” become more enjoyable with every listen but still don’t quite reach the high standards that Placebo are capable of reaching. It is fairly obvious these were just stepping stones on Placebo’s way. The true geeks amongst you may even be able to spot the lyrics in these demo tracks that have been carried forward into their later albums and put to much better use. The only one of these bonus tracks that reeks of class is “Slackerbitch”. It’s aggressive, sexual and catchy. It’s pure Placebo.
Despite the odd imperfection this album still proved to the world that this band were going to be more than met the eye. Their later albums continued where this began and if their latest album, “Meds”, is anything to go by they are far from finished producing music so good you could lick your dinner off it.
Worst Track: “Swallow”
Best Track: “36 Degrees”
For Fans Of: Sonic Youth and Coheed and Cambria
Thanks for joining me on this gently cringeworthy trip down memory lane. I also hope you enjoyed the cover photo of me as a sweet young seventeen-year-old. Rest assured that present JoJo will be the one putting the words together for next week’s post!