No One Dare Disturb The Sound of Silence

I am no music critic; just a humble listener who knows what they like and what they don’t. What I like? Simon and Garfunkel. What I don’t like? (Generally) People covering Simon and Garfunkel. I understand there is a time and a place for covers – presumably when an artist can bring something new, something unique and something arguably better to the table. There are no doubt countless examples of average songs that have been elevated by an alternative ear, a different voice and a new sound. I myself have over the years, probably to the horror of many, preferred cover versions to their originals. Some of these rooted in almost fact that they are “better” and others based on nothing more than my preference for a particular artist. In regards to the latter I’ll not be too specific as I’m liable to lose all credibility.

When you think about it, it seems an awful injustice that someone, who took the time to craft their melody, perfect their sound and create those meaningful lyrics that probably encapsulate the loss of a previous lover, should be subjected to the misinterpretation of their song. A pain which I’m sure can, thank God, only be alleviated by millions of pounds of royalties.

By the title of this piece, I’m sure you’ve gathered what has inspired my latest rant. To those who know me, they will know that I am a huge Simon and Garfunkel fan. And herein lies the bias. I am fully aware that my words are probably clouded in a spellbinding mist of love and adoration for the duo and are a far cry from a neutral standpoint. For the purposes of this, you’ll also note I have revised the lyrics to the song that you see in the title. They should read “No one dared. Disturb the sound of silence.” In this instance, someone has dared disturb it and ironically they come in the form of a band named Disturbed.  A heavy metal band, this seemed like an unorthodox choice for the group, one which I can respect and understand if little else. I often think had I possessed some kind of musical talent and decided to go on one of those TV talent shows I too would cover The Sound of Silence. A timeless classic of this nature always prompts these lesser renditions.

People writing songs that voices never share. No one dared. Disturb the sound of silence.

As I write this, my initial hardened stance has softened. Disturbed, like many of us, were inspired by the song and wanted to “pay homage and honor” to its creators by reimagining it. It just simply did not need reimagined. It stood in its original format completely perfect.  The softness cannot be emulated; the haunting undertone mirrored; the honesty echoed.

I recall hearing it live – admittedly by Garfunkel alone and 50 years later. Artie, in his seventies and struggling with his voice, still managed to perfectly embody the spirit of the song in a way that a younger man or stronger voice could not have. It belongs to him and Simon (and no, we’re not getting into the Paul Simon vs. Art Garfunkel debate now).

Others have quite openly stated their preference for this newer version. I imagine every time this happens a fairy somewhere dies. And that is where my real problem lies. I shudder at the suggestion that someone could hear both and get more from the latter. I despair at the thought that many will not even know that another or better version even existed; one which captivated audiences around the world and cemented the beginning one of the most powerful careers in music history.

I recognise that some good may come of this. Perhaps when millions flock to YouTube to listen to this song, they will note those two odd looking chaps in black and white and think to click on them – not only offering them the true Sound of Silence but a catalogue of music so wonderful they’ll wonder how they had managed to go their whole lives without ever having listened to those two chaps before. After all, it’s what happened the first time I heard The Sound of Silence.

For that, I suppose I can thank you Disturbed. But I beg you: stay away from Bridge Over Troubled Water.

 

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The Nightmare Before Christmas: Where Halloween Meets Christmas

“Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems, in a place that perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams; For the story that you are about to be told took place in the holiday worlds of old.

Now you’ve probably wondered where holidays come from. If you haven’t, I’d say it’s time you begun.”

The question “Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween or Christmas film?” is probably old hat by now, but as that time of year draws near, I can’t help but continue to wonder when the most appropriate time is to indulge in this annual right of passage.  Even if we asked Burton himself, I doubt we’d come to any kind of unanimous understanding.  It is, I believe, entirely subjective.  If you’ve never seen the film before (shame on you), this piece of narrative will be as useful to you as a pumpkin on Christmas day. It is the quintessential example of “love it or hate it”.  In fact, I will go as far as to forbid you to watch this timeless tale and feel nothing. 

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Twenty one years on and Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas has lost none of it inherent charm.   One of the few popularised stop-motion pictures of our time, the animation automatically gains “classic” film status.  This aspect of the film, while truly captivating, is purely superficial.  What makes the movie a masterpiece is undoubtedly the singular story at the heart of it.  It is here where you’d imagine we might be able to ascertain the true categorisation of the film:

Enter Jack Skellington, the protagonist and King of Halloween Town.  Adored by his loyal subjects, he struggles to understand why he is unfulfilled.  It seems there’s a hollowness that transcends even beyond his physical pumpkin form. This might best be illustrated by his annual attempt to reinvent himself, which provides the memorable opening to the film.  Unhappy with his latest transformation, we follow Jack to the outskirts of Halloween Town.  As he casually laments in the company of his sidekick Zero (some kind of Ghost dog with a coincidentally bright red nose), he inadvertently stumbles into another seasonal dimension: Christmas Town.  Inspired by curiosity and his own personal crisis, he endeavors to make Christmas his own and bring it to Halloween Town.  With every best intention, the diabolical plan is doomed from the start.  The sleigh is a coffin led by a crew of skeleton reindeer; the presents are wrapped in what only can be assumed to be Beetlejuice’s wallpaper; and the stockings are filled with surprises designed to either scare or ensnare the children of Christmas Town. 

While the story largely takes place in Halloween Town, a grim setting consumed by distinct images of darkness and horror, and the majority of characters in our acquaintance are ghosts and ghouls, the underlying message is warm and fuzzy as opposed to being in any way chilling or bleak, thus laying the foundation of an interesting paradox.

In the end, both Christmas and Halloween triumph.  Santa Claus makes amends for Jack’s disastrous efforts and secures a Merry Christmas for his people, while the message of Halloween prevails as Jack finally comes to terms with his true calling as Pumpkin King.  The final scene depicts this perfectly as we watch the snow fall for the first time on Halloween town and a medley of  “This is Halloween” and “What’s This?”, the two most polarising songs of the film, plays.  It is perhaps in this ambiguity that the real splendour lies.  The film has the ability to cross boundaries and appeal to everyone – or at least almost everyone.  Halloween holiday makers and christmas fans alike can indulge in their seasonal preferences and equally fantasize about concepts of Christmas everyday and a perpetual Halloween.

After having just watched it, I feel suitably excited for both occasions and it seems this wasn’t too far off Burton’s intention.  The 1982 poem on which the film was based was reportedly inspired by the director having witnessed a store replace their Halloween display with a Christmas one, signifying that once Halloween is complete, we’re already in pursuit of the next “thrill”.  His Nightmare Before Christmas grants us rare permission to appreciate and anticipate both events simultaneously and with equal excitement.  Burton becomes both our Bogeyman and Santa Claus all wrapped in one.

So, if you’re feeling particularly Halloweenie, I suggest you turn out the lights and treat yourself to the horrors of Halloween Town and it’s inhabitants.  The eerie scenery and macabre characters truly put the “eek” in freak.   Alternatively, if you’re on the home straight to Christmas, curl up by the fire and indulge in the festive undertones of this delightful feature.  The scene in Christmas Town alone will warm the cockles of even the hardest of hearts (just wait until you hear that snow crunch). Or if like Jack, you need an excuse to occasionally escape to another land, do what I do and watch it all year round.

Cats: The Real Underdogs

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I don’t appreciate the question “Are you a dog or cat person?” I love them both and why society demands we choose between the two is beyond me.  There never seems to be any alternative propositions:  No one cares if you prefer goldfish to cats or hamsters to dogs.  Cats and Dogs have been pitted against each other and I believe this has been to the distinct disadvantage of our feline friends.

Cats. They started off on a good foot but something appears to have went wrong for them somewhere along the way (I am of course referring to domestic cats.  With the likes of Simba and Mufasa on their side, “big cats” are, on the whole, considered pretty likable).  The good foot I allude to dates back to Ancient Egypt. The Egyptians adored, revered…even worshiped the traditional house cat.  In fact, it is the Egyptians who are responsible for the domestication of the species.  Not only admired for their grace and poise, their ability to keep vermin at bay made the cat a popular figure in Egyptian culture, evidence of which can still be found today.

Since then, cats have remained an ideal choice of pet and yet, paradoxically, there exists an overall negative opinion of them.  This can range from their supposed indifference and snootiness to being downright evil.  The latter seems to have evolved from the Middle Ages when cats became associated with witches, illustrating just what hanging out with the wrong crowd can do for your reputation.  Was it their fault witches took a shining to them?  If anything, i’m thinking that if witches, callous and cruel by stereotype,  even liked them, then there must be something profoundly endearing about the creatures. Unfortunately, those Medieval folk didn’t share my rationale and the result of the affiliation was CATastrophic.  Cats were murdered en masse, the effect of which ironically extended beyond the species to the perpetrators:  It is thought that had this intolerance not existed, local rodent populations could have been kept down, lessening the spread of the plague epidemic.

Ridiculous superstitions have emerged throughout the centuries, seemingly as a result of this unfortunate association, further entrenching the negative perception of cats.  Let’s take a moment to review a few of these:

  • If a black cat crosses your path, evil and bad luck will fall upon you.
  • Cats suck the life out of newborn babies.
  • Coming across a cat at midnight is seeing Satan himself.
  • If you wake up in the morning and see cats playing, the whole day will be wasted.
  • If a cat leaves its house while a person in the same house is sick and cannot be coaxed   back inside, that person will die.
  • A cat sleeping with all four paws tucked under them means bad weather is coming.

While any (reasonable) individual would deem these beliefs absurd, the sentiment behind them – that cats are in someway evil or malicious – still lingers.  If you consider cats in pop culture, you’ll find the majority of them are, quite frankly, obnoxious, while their common counterparts (domestic dogs) are conveyed as trustworthy, loyal companions.  Take Disney’s  Lady and the Tramp and Cinderella.  The only cats to make an appearance in the former are Si and Am, two troublesome siamese cats whose only purpose in the film is to sabotage Lady, the lovable cocker spaniel.  The latter – Cinderella – firmly establishes the existing juxtaposition between cats and dogs: Bruno the dog represents Cinderella’s doting ally while Lucifer provides the sidekick to the villainous Lady Tremaine.  *Note that the cat is actually named after Satan.

Other popular examples might include Tom and Sylvester (the antagonists to Jerry and Tweety respectively), whose characteristics are ostensibly the same.  The two are depicted as ruthless miscreants, ceaselessly in pursuit of their prey.  They, importantly, never win and are always outwitted by their supposed inferiors, painting a picture of cats as, not only cruel, but unintelligent. 

Even when their characters aren’t in some way “bad”, many possess negative traits.  Sassy from Homeward Bound is shallow and conceited, while her partners in crime, Shadow and Chance (both dogs), are playful and loving; Top Cat, although the protagonist, is a no good gangster; and the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland is just an overall pain in the ass. There are of course exceptions, but I would argue that the image one conjures up as a result of these cultural depictions, is that of a villainous, mischievous cat either being stroked by an evil genius or at least wreaking havoc in a small town house.

Indirectly related to the issue of cat stereotyping, is that of the stereotypes surrounding people who like or own cats – namely women.  For some reason, we’re either crazy, single, or in some way slightly unhinged. I realise, that in writing this I will automatically be conceived as a “crazy cat lady”.  I do myself own two cats.  Having grown up with cats my entire life, I am obviously biased, but this bias is based on actual experience as opposed to myths and superstition.  I can in no way identify with the notion that cats are sly, crafty or vicious.  They might not be as jolly as their tail-wagging rivals, but they possess other attributes which are equally favourable such as intelligence, dignity and resilience.  And to those who would say they are indifferent and unaffectionate, I refute that profusely.  My cats cry when left alone, crawl beside me when there’s an opening, and, on occasion, follow me around just for company.  They are no less loving or loyal than dogs and their hearts always seem to be in the right place: for example in the past month, my cat Polka has brought to my doorstep four shrews and at least five birds; I haven’t the heart to tell her that I have absolutely no use for them.

The objective of this narrative was not to take away from dogs, but rather to “give to” cats.  And yes, while they are slowly becoming internet sensations, I believe there is still a sense of reluctance on the part of a lot people to accept them as caring pets. The following video is not intended to show the dog up – but more to highlight the actions of this one particularly brave cat.

Reality TV: Sadism and Shame

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I read an interesting article this morning about the downfall of television. You can imagine the gist: Modern television – horrid. Keeping Up With the Kardashians – horrid. My inner snob shares similar views: “TV. Chewing gum for the eyes. Why, i’d much rather read a book.” 

The intellect in me – if one such exists – fantasizes about a me who consumes books on a daily basis and abhors television.  And while I can say that Keeping Up With the Kardashians is horrid (in my opinion), this admission doesn’t stop me from indulging in similar monstrosities such as Made in Chelsea and The X Factor.  I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’m actually looking forward to The X Factor starting this weekend, despite the fact that every year I watch it I want to tear my face off.  Two things here: 1. Shame 2. Masochism.

The former is defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.”  Watching the X Factor, therefore, almost equates to an act of wrong doing.  Let’s consider this further.  For instance, I was catching up on #madeinchelsea yesterday and I literally said to my sister “I’m watching Made in Chelsea even though it’s shit”.  Note: It is always essential to make this disclaimer when watching reality TV or else it might be known to others that you actually enjoy it.  Let’s get to the root of this so-called shame.  It would appear that we think we’re better than reality TV – or at least some of us do (myself included).  I think I am, or at least should be, above the frivolity of talentless fame junkies seeking five minutes of fame.  I should be watching the news or the latest documentary on World War I. That’s that little snob in me. In reality, I have the propensity to like crap TV.  Does that make me an idiot?

Worse still, does that make me a bad person? Does watching these inane examples of television reveal something darker about ourselves? If anyone watched BBC’s Extras, you’ll recall Gervais gave a wonderful dialogue on the evils of fame and reality TV in the Christmas finale.  He compared the concept of Big Brother, X Factor and the like to the Victorian Freak Show, where viewers took pleasure in watching the participants publicly humiliate themselves.  Let’s face it, everyone’s favourite part of the X Factor is watching those without the “X Factor” and the Kardashians wouldn’t be worth keeping up with if it wasn’t for their tears and tantrums.

Inherently tied up in these themes is the concept of judgement.  Whether talent based or following the lives of individuals, we’re given an insight into real people’s lives.  Yes, “some scenes have been created for your entertainment”, but there is an overall guise of reality that previous television never offered us.  Given that luxury, we can get to know people and, most importantly, judge them.  “How could he do that?”, “That bitch”, “They sound like a dead cat” etc etc. Our position of unseen onlooker allows us to jump on our high horses and condemn the behaviour of others as “bad” or “wrong” while proclaiming that we  “would never do that”. 

This idea of judgement is also interesting from another perspective. We judge others who watch these shows, assuming their intellect to be lesser and their standards lower.  A dangerous, prejudiced assumption which leaves us feeling “ashamed” to be watching these shows in the first place.  It seems we’re all too eager to judge from either perspective.

As far as the future is concerned, it is unlikely that reality TV will disappear anytime soon.  Its ever increasing amount only reflects the ever increasing demand for it. Whether rightly or wrongly, this appears to be what society wants from their late night viewing.  According to the aforementioned, this can be attributed to the following:

  1. We’re closet sadists who get a kick out of watching people make idiots of themselves.
  2. We are, in fact, the idiots.
  3. We enjoy judging others as it makes us feel slightly better about ourselves.

That seems awfully condemning, doesn’t it? You’ll be glad to hear, I’m going to offer you a much more appealing alternative: it’s only TV.

A Generation of Lost Boys – A Robin Williams Tribute

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I write this post in light of the recent passing of Robin Williams. I daren’t delve into questions of suicide and depression – i’ll leave that to the “professionals”.  I think instead what I will do, by way of tribute, is consider, not specifically the works of Robin Williams, but rather the genre, which to me at least, he embodied.  My intention is certainly not to pigeon hole his talent into this one category.  I am well aware of his vast capabilities and how well rounded an actor he was. To me though, Robin Williams is, and always will be, Mrs.Doubtfire… Peter Pan… Jack. 

We #90skids have a way of sensationalising the nineties.  Weren’t our movies and cartoons – even our toys – just the best? It is not for me to decide whether the nineties trumps the noughties or whether kids today really do have no idea what they’re missing.  At the end of the day, it’s subjective.  There was, however, something undeniably wholesome about this period in time.  Games, for one, generally involved more than one person and occasionally dared us to venture outside; sitcoms focused on the values of family life; and movies offered us a healthy alternative to reality.

Before horror got truly horrifying, before Pixar pixelated our screens, there was a delightful spell of what might best be described as “family films”.  Not animation but live action, fun for the whole family films. Honey! I Shrunk the Kids, The Mighty Ducks, Home Alone… I could go on forever baby (see what I did there?). There is something so quintessentially nineties about these films that it becomes difficult to even imagine them in today’s world.  Have we just outgrown them? Are their adventures not quite adventurous enough for the modern audience? Perhaps they are to the nineties what Westerns were to the sixties.   A time in space that we can appreciate and look fondly upon but will, most likely never, be revived… which, I guess, is fine. We have the DVDs and the memories.

It is these memories which, I believe, contribute such a huge part to our feeling of loss and grief over Williams’ death. People often ask how we can mourn over people we never knew, or why someone’s death is of more significance because they were “famous”. I would argue that we did know Williams. Perhaps not in a conventional sense but nonetheless in a very real way. To any kid who grew up watching this funny, rather hairy, man play an overgrown child, a nanny, a genie, Robin Williams encompassed a world filled with possibility.  He taught us many important lessons: that dude can sometimes look like a lady, that green goo is not a toy, and that under NO circumstances are we to play mysterious board games that appear to be playing the drums. Most importantly, he taught us that it’s ok to be silly. I think this is maybe why we’ll miss him so much. To many of us, he was much more than an actor; to a generation he represents a time in our lives when we felt truly happy.

To paraphrase Tinkerbell:

“You know that place between sleep and awake, that place where you still remember dreaming? That’s where (we’ll) always love you, (Robin Williams).”