Saturday, May 24, 2014

living in a science fiction present

My grandfather didn't have a television until 1980.  My father grew up in a house without electricity, heated by coal fires, in a remote costal area in Scotland.  They lived 200 metres from the sea and they saw seals every day.  They didn't always see other people on a daily basis.  A lot of time was spent reading books or out living a rural life.  And shooting stuff.

My grandfather died in 1987/1988.  I don't think he ever saw a computer (although I'm not entirely sure).  He was born in a croft in 1903.  I'm writing this on a fancy laptop.  I'm streaming music onto my iPad beside me.  Technology like this only existed on Star Trek and in the science fiction novels and comics my father read.

My grandfather left the UK twice (as far as I know).  In the late '70s/early '80s my parents brought him to Lanzarote and Malta with us for family holidays.  Until then he had never been in a plane.  He did live in London where he worked as a servant in the 1920's and 30's so I guess it is possible that he may have travelled abroad at that time.  I don't know and I guess I never will.

As a kid I never imagined that I would at some point own something like an iPad or a smartphone.  I could could conceptualise a mobile phone as I had seen walkie talkies.  Early chunky mobile phones were available in the '80s but only for the very rich.

Possibly the most amazing thing now is the internet.  Vast amounts of knowledge, science, music, media and art are available free, instantly at the touch of a button.  I did my first degree before scientific papers existed as PDFs.  I had not used the internet or sent an email before I went to university.  I spent years looking for books, comics and music.  Now it's all there.

Our ability to communicate has improved too.  I play scrabble and chat with someone in Hong Kong every day.  I know and care about someone in Hong Kong.  As a child in the West of Scotland I would never have imagined such a thing.  I dreamt of America in movies and comic books and later in records.  I was lucky enough to visit Europe and I knew about World War 2.  Beyond that I knew that other cultures existed but I didn't really believe that I would ever interact with these distant places in any meaningful way.

When I was a kid for a while I wanted to be a spaceman.  When I was very young I wanted to be a soldier but thankfully I got over that idea very early.  Most of the time I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write comics and novels.  As a teenager I wanted to be a rock star or a journalist.  I had a vague childhood idea of being a scientist but only in a sort of very vague science fiction/spaceman way.

I never thought I would be a doctor.  Doctors were the people my mother worked for, a class apart. Twenty, twenty-five, thirty years later, here I am.  How the fuck did this happen?

I sit in a posh flat in Glasgow living in a science fiction present, parts of which echo the William Gibson books I read when I was 10.  Parts of this are so much better than I ever thought would be possible.  When I watch the television news and hear borderline racist, anti-immigration political beasts from UKIP talk, I hear echoes of Mosely and Enoch Powell and it's all gone a bit dystopian.

What would my grandad think if he was alive today?  His generation fought the nazi's and gave us the Scotland we have today.

Neutral Milk Hotel - Live at the Glasgow Barrowlands

I've been neglecting this blog again.  Lots of work stuff has been keeping me busy recently.  However Neutral Milk Hotel at the Barrowlands has to be one of the most anticipated gigs I've been to in ages.

I'm not exactly a Neutral Milk novice, having seen Jeff Mangum play at the ATP festival but this is the first time that I've seen him play with the band that created his legend.  The tickets sold out within seconds and the Barras was packed with lucky fans.

Support was supplied by Francis McKee of the Vaselines who played a selection of new material before battering out 'Jesus doesn't want me for a sunbeam' with Eugene Kelly.

The main event kicked off at 915 with Mangum taking the stage alone and starting 'the king of carrot flowers' before being joined by the rest of the band.  They assaulted the songs with a loose punky fury that was a good bit louder than the recorded versions from 'in the aeroplane over the sea'.  'Holland, 1945' was deployed as a quick follow up.

The band played material from all of their recorded output.  This wasn't a strict reading of the classic album.  I've been listening to NMH for many years and they played a couple of songs that I'm not too familiar with.

The rough setlist was -

The crowd seemed to really enjoy the show although there was a clear rush for the toilet/bar during less familiar songs.  It was a great night of psychedelic punk noise and I'm glad I was there.  I may have preferred the Mangum solo readings at ATP but this was very very good.