MIXTAPES

Sadly Chris Cornell (1964–2017), musician, singer, and songwriter, and member of Soundgarden and Audioslave died on 17 May. It was by his own hand: suicide by hanging.  The Grammy-winning rocker had performed that Wednesday night at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. Perhaps indicative of his state of mind, he ended his performance with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s In My Time of Dying. His family “believes that if Chris took his life, he did not know what he was doing, and that drugs or other substances may have affected his actions”.

chris-cornell

The manner of his passing reminded me of just how unbearable being can be.  Cornell literally walked off stage and out of an auditorium full of adoring fans, went to his hotel room, spoke to his wife on the phone, and then killed himself.  Five days later some cowardly religious fundamentalist extremist idiot walked into the Manchester Arena at the end of a Ariana Grande concert and blew himself up, killing 22 and injuring 59. Amongst the dead were many children, including eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos, who was at the concert with her mother and sister. It takes a really special kind of crazy…or evil, to target a tweens and teens concert like that!

manchester-pictures-6-superJumbo

I guess we are all trying to do our best suppress or destroy something within us, be it with drugs and alcohol, religion, or by living shallow, superficial lives of self-involved consumerism. Or perhaps desperately trying to make sense of our existence or to give it all some meaning.

Here’s a kicker, Mr Bill Gates believes the world is a better place than it used to be, and apparently he is not alone! WTF?!!! I quote from a speech he gave at a graduation:

If I could give each of you a graduation present, it would be a copy of The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker. After several years of studying, you may not exactly be itching to read a 700-page book. But please put this one on your reading list to get to someday. It is the most inspiring book I have ever read.

Pinker makes a persuasive argument that the world is getting better—that we are living in the most peaceful time in human history. This can be a hard case to make, especially now. When you tell people the world is improving, they often look at you like you’re either naïve or crazy.

But it’s true. And once you understand it, you start to see the world differently. If you think things are getting better, then you want to know what’s working, so you can accelerate the progress and spread it to more people and places.

It doesn’t mean you ignore the serious problems we face. It just means you believe they can be solved, and you’re moved to act on that belief.

This is the core of my worldview. It sustains me in tough times and is the reason I still love my philanthropic work after more than 17 years. I think it can do the same for you.

The key words he uses here for me are human history.  Perhaps for humans the world is a better place (I don’t agree about that either) than it used to be, but it is certainly not for the planet and its animals…and certainly not for Saffie Rose Roussos.

hawking

Stephen Hawking reckons humanity has about 1000 years left on this planet before extinction. I am a little less optimistic, I reckon we will all be gone long before then. Unfortunately we will probably be taking everything along with us.

mixtape1

Anyway,  so mix tapes (or mixtapes): well, they kind of help life be a little less crappier, if only by removing you from it for a little while. I got to make one recently for a fellow lecturer at a recent university art programme workshop I facilitated.  It got me thinking about mixtapes and the ones I have made throughout my life…the girls I made them for, and the road trips I made them for, and the parties I made them for!

mixtape

These days I generally only make them for my IPOD to run or exercise too. I have to admit though, that those same running mixtapes have saved me when sitting for hours in airports or on planes or during the ubiquitous powercuts we suffer where I live. The technology might have changed drastically but the ethos of the mixtape remains unaltered. It’s something you only really get or understand while listening to it alone in your bedroom (or car), the thought that someone took the time to make a mixtape just for you, and, importantly, it rocked! Or vice versa, when you have carefully compiled music that you love and the person you made it for loves it too! The mixtape then becomes a soundtrack to your whole relationship.

OK, and here is the scenic route bit that is characteristic of my storytelling: on one of my mixtapes is Chris Cornell singing Audioslave’s Be Yourself:

 

Someone falls to pieces

Sleeping all alone

Someone kills the pain

Spinning in the silence

To finally drift away

Someone gets excited

In a chapel yard

And catches a bouquet

Another lays a dozen

White roses on a grave

 

Yeahhh…

 

And to be yourself is all that you can do

Heyyyy…

To be yourself is all that you can do

 

Someone finds salvation in everyone

Another only pain

Someone tries to hide himself

Down inside himself he prays

Someone swears his true love

Until the end of time

Another runs away

Separate or united

Healthy or insane

 

And to be yourself is all that you can do (all that you can do)

Yeahhh…

To be yourself is all that you can do (all that you can do)

To be yourself is all that you can do (all that you can do)

Heyyyy…

Be yourself is all that you can do

 

Even when you’ve paid enough

Been pulled apart or been held up

Every single memory of the good or bad

Faces of luck

Don’t lose any sleep tonight

I’m sure everything will end up alright

You may win or lose..

 

But to be yourself is all that you can do

Yeahhh…

To be yourself is all that you can do

 

Ohhhh…

To be yourself is all that you can do (all that you can do)

ohhhh…

To be yourself is all that you can do (all that you can do)

To be yourself is all that you can–

Be yourself is all that you can–

Be yourself is all that you can do

Get this song, its beautiful. It always finds its way onto my mixtapes as an anthem for individuality.

So, in the end, a mixtape is about sharing powerful words, poetry put to music, with someone special. It’s you whispering in someone else’s ears about the things you love…or hate. You sharing you with another person and if anything is going to change the world ever it will be doing things just like that.

chriscornell1

Loss

It’s been a year since I lost my mother and 4 since I lost my little furry buddy, Champers, and to be honest, the loss still weighs heavy upon me. Time, they say, heals all but heal is probably not the right word. I think it is more that one learns to deal with the loss. You suck it up and carry on because that is what life does, it continues. You get dragged along regardless. What is really bothering me at the moment is the suffering my mother endured, especially in the last years of her life. I am so sad for her. Those final months at her side, watching her die, really haunt me.

607_349030341860556_2079854711_n

 

Above: my mom (on far left) with her brother and his wife. 17, I think?

Now you should know that I am a firm believer in the idea that to live is to suffer. God does not want you to be happy, He/She wants you to be strong! Through adversity we grow and become stronger and better for that suffering. That is if we can find meaning in the suffering. Nietzsche said, “he who has a WHY to live can bear almost any HOW”. And I guess in a way this relates to my last post and the “So what?” question. You are alive, so what? Make it count, do something with it that is meaningful. For my mom that was her children, her family and her animals. For me it is about making a difference: animal rights and feminist rights, and of course, making art that makes a difference also. In this way you find meaning in life. Unfortunately our societies have become very much about consumerism and being consumers. Got to have the new iPhone, got to live in the right neighbourhood, go to the right school. Squeeze out more children; spoil them so that they can also become consumers. Buy huge, petrol-guzzling vehicles and tell yourself it is for safety reasons and never mind what we are doing to the environment. Connect on social media and present yourself as a commodity there too, and bitch and whine but do nothing really. For too many people that is their meaning of life and the world as it is today is the result of that. For too many the idea of being a good provider (consumer) is the meaning of life. No! Go do something meaningful! Make a difference!

Below: My Champers.

img-20120428-00356

 

So I guess I like Viktor Frankl’s notion of meaningful grief through the contemplation of one’s beloved. Frankl was a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War where his entire family (apart from one sister) including his wife, were killed. This was how he survived he says; contemplation of one’s beloved. Suffering somehow allows for transcendence when it finds meaning. Existence or experience moves beyond the normal or physical level. Think Mandela or Mother Teresa or even Marina Abramovic. Similarly contemplation of your lost loved ones as well as imagined conversation can lift you up to a spiritual level and help you make sense of the loss. Inside you they will endure. I like that thought. In my contemplative state my mother remains that youthful, exuberant, warm nurturer who loved to have a house full of children, her own and the entire neighbourhood’s. In my contemplation Champers dozes, pressed up alongside me as I read, purring contentedly.

Below: Me lighting candles in preparation of my 40RTY (2016) performance.

api-26

So What?

So What?!

api-44

Above: 40rty by swany (2016)

OK, so here is probably the most uncomfortable lesson, art as an academic pursuit has presented me with: the “so what?” lesson. “So what?” is uncomfortable because it immediately makes you aware of the dissonance within your world and you cannot help but find yourself outside of your comfort zone. By dissonance I mean inconsistency between the beliefs one holds (or it could also be between one’s actions and one’s beliefs). Want an example? Loving (claiming to) animals so much yet they appear on your dinner table, that’s dissonance. How does “so what” create dissonance in the artistic world? Well, it says “yes, you can paint (draw, sculpt) well, but so what?” Painting is a technical facility, it is what you do with it that makes the difference. Decorating walls with paint techniques does not make you an artist, it makes you an interior decorator, and yet you are painting and have a technical facility. I might have a really sound understanding of the body because I did biology at school but it does not make me a doctor. There is a huge amount of dedication, effort, sacrifice and training that goes into becoming a doctor, and similarly in becoming a fine artist or visual artist. “So what?” asks what are you are willing to do for your art, it asks for sacrifice. So you love animals? Well, stop eating them then. Get the idea? “So what?” asks for moving beyond the mere application of paint in an effort to represent what you see or what you wish to “pretty”. It wants you to think, to feel, to be…it wants you to question everything, to remake everything, to see everything for the first time. It wants you to get the hell out of your comfort zone!

api-37

 

 

Above: 40rty by swany (2016)

The first time a lecturer used the “so what?” statement/question it figuratively stopped me in my tracks and changed the entire way I view and consider art forever. Not just art though, but also the world. This is what a lot of artists entering academia find extremely uncomfortable which is good because…well, you know, the whole “comfort zone” thing. Unfortunately, because of this discomfort many drop out, most in their first year of studies. I have experienced this both as student and lecturer. I usually start a new year with a group of about 40 1st year students. By the end of the year I am lucky if I have 10 progressing through to second year. By their final year the group will consist of no more than 4 students. In my final year I was the only one of my group to qualify. This is not because I am some artistic genius but simply because I embraced the “so what?” statement/question and the accompanying being out of my comfort zone.

b42

 

 

Above: self-portrait (a couple of hours before the performance).

Ask yourself that question, you will be amazed at the effect it has. Ask “so what?” and see if you can answer. Then see if the answer is one you can live with. And to live for art, as one of my most favourite writers, Jeanette Winterson, says, is to live a life of questioning.