Sunday, 12 December 2010

Reflections in a Golden Teardrop [note to self: think of better title later]

I started writing this blog one year ago tomorrow, which prompts a post-length period of reflection: is there anything I have learnt? Any wisdom to pass on to regular readers, other bloggers or those considering a blog?

Spoiler alert: No. Well, not really. Not much, anyway.
Though in my case I can certainly say it has served a purpose, albeit a negative one: displacement activity for the more challenging task of playwriting. This way, I still get some satisfaction from moving words around on a page, tweaking phrases, and revealing a certain amount about myself, but in a more controlled situation: Play Writing, you might say.

And the immediacy is a big incentive: playwriting (that more daunting single word activity) is delayed gratification, bigtime, whereas in a blog the very firstlings of your brain can be the firstlings of your keyboard-hovering hand, to be instantly devoured - in theory - by your legion of readers.

Such have I dreamed, anyway. Which does introduce one problem: working out how many people are indeed reading this, and whether that number means anything.

I have two official followers (thank you both) and use statcounter to monitor visits to the site, but in most cases, unless a page is refreshed, or a visitor clicks on another page, it's impossible to tell whether someone has alighted for an instant via google images (often via Bowie pics), beetled off after realising there were no downloads, or lingered awhile to drink in my wisdom. Occasionally sites link to specific posts, resulting in several hundred hits in a day, slowly tapering off over a week or two, but only a handful of those visitors appear to explore any other pages. The same thing is happening right now with a recent post about the sitcom Peepshow.

Essentially, then, this kind of writing has to be its own reward. Which I understand. I think it's partly about how the internet is used: I know that even for those blogs and sites I prize highly I rarely stop to add a comment unless it is related to self promotion. The World Wide Web is a kind of big sweetshop where the owner isn't looking and normal rules of politeness and decorum go out the window as you devour what you want then scuttle away.

I have only really been pained by a close friend who had encouraged me to write a blog, even to the extent of saying he would read it regularly, then chose not to do so when it came into being. Though I suppose that he had one sort-of excuse which few others could call on: "I've heard it all before."

And occasionally - or so I tell myself - there have been posts which have provided information otherwise difficult to find on the net. I began writing about Alan Klein in the Gnome Thoughts ... series in relation to Bowie, but the lack of any in-depth online review of his solo album prompted me to write my own, and the lack of any interview material online prompted me to get in touch with Spencer Leigh, who very kindly allowed me to use his radio interview at the time of the album's CD reissue as the basis of a long post about Klein's career. I have also been in touch with an actor and director who was involved with all the incarnations of What a Crazy World so hope to be able to add more to the story eventually.
Regardless of readership, I'm also pleased that the September 2000 posts between myself and Clarke Davis from Steve's Kewl Doo Wop Shop are back online via this blog. Whatever else they may be, they are genuine attempts to explore what it feels like to listen to doo wop records.

And I suppose it was the enforced rereading of those posts (transcribed from printouts, they had to be proofread very carefully) which kickstarted me into writing new pieces, first about doo wop and then gradually embracing other music, and music-related topics. I realised how much I'd missed writing about music for a receptive audience on the doo wop shop board, and it seemed reasonable to assume - given the amount of stuff on the net about doo wop - there would be some kind of audience out there for the new material too.

I didn't start monitoring visits to this blog until about three months ago, so I don't know what sort of takeup there was for those early posts. Maybe it's just as well: writing here was initially an act of faith, and a joyful process of self-exploration as I rummaged through my musical memories, trying to recall as precisely as I could how my lifelong interest in various musical strands began.

To some extent this blog is a kind of Doo Wop Shop extension with a membership of one (Clarke is not involved with the blog although he has checked it out and seems to like it). But it's also a way of maintaining the pleasure I got in my former dominie mode whenever I prepared talks about my enthusiasms.

It will no longer harm my career prospects (I have none) to admit that I took far more pains with these than I ever did for any class, as it offered an opportunity to articulate, and perhaps communicate, my enthusiasms. Music-related talks included Ben E King and Stand By Me (the basis of the two posts about the song in this blog), Louis Armstrong, Sam Cooke, and Tea for Two as a blueprint for jazz artists; comedy subjects included Tony Hancock and - my first and happiest of all - Laurel and Hardy.

For the best of these, it felt like the discharging of a debt: no words can match the experience of watching Laurel and Hardy, but using all my powers to frame a description of those two supreme clowns which would be equally accessible to all the ages assembled felt like a long delayed thank you to their shades for the unfailing pleasure they had given me from an early age: I was back in my old primary school in Steelopolis-as-was, watching a silent comedy flickering on a white sheet (this was the sixties - it's just that facilities weren't that great).

When I finally left the institution which had borne me for a staggering fourteen years, I redid the talk about Ben E King. It had been long enough so that a complete cycle - do you say generation? - of customers had left since its first outing, but I was unable to resist rewriting the whole thing, choosing different musical examples. An unnecessary effort, but I felt more alive rushing round, finalising things than I felt in the execution of my normal duties - one reason why I had to go.

But the above may help explain why I've persisted with this blog. Writing aboout music here may be a way of avoiding "real" writing, the writing which would challenge me more and perhaps have a greater power to affect those who absorbed it, but I have to trust and hope that this second division activity on which I am currently engaged here is not without merit in its own right.

And there may even be a way I can combine the two ... but that will be the subject of a later post.

Meanwhile, if you have been, thank you for reading.

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