ABSOLUTELY EXAGGERATED AWESOME NIGHTMARES FOR THE SUPER EXCITED

The girl standing ahead of me recently in the post office was distraught. She turned to me and through her face mask told me the experience was a ‘nightmare’. Was it because of her face mask, I asked? Apparently not, though she admitted it didn’t help. The reason she was having a nightmare was because she had been waiting for nearly a quarter of an hour. Yes that’s right. A quarter of one hour.

A harmless post office queue? Or Armageddon?

Now I’ve had nightmares where I’m being attacked by a spider the size of a whale. I’ve had nightmares were nuclear warheads are about to hit my hometown, but I can honestly say I’ve never woke up in a cold sweat after dreaming of a fifteen minute queue for a book of first-class stamps.

TAKING EXCITEMENT TO A DIFFERENT LEVEL

Conversely, a couple of days earlier I’d attended a webinar where the administrator kept saying how super excited he was to be there. Super excited. I wondered what level of excitement you have to reach before you become super excited.

I’ve been excited at football matches when I become a 11-year-old again, I’ve been excited when tickets have dropped through my door for a gig or when I’m going on holiday. But did any of those qualify for super excitement?

I looked at his expression for a clue. He just smiled a lot. Maybe super excitement took you to a place of extreme serenity beyond screaming and hugging strangers (pre-covid of course. Now we’d just fist-pump till our knuckles bled).

Then I asked the administrator a question. It was just a simple question about song promotion on social media. He replied by saying my question was awesome. It was not awesome. It was merely a good, solid question. But this man, already at a level of excitement beyond my comprehension, considered my question to transport him to a state of awe.

Yes, he’s excited. But is he super excited??

Bless him. The guy just needs to get away from his laptop screen and look around him a little more to understand awesome. Look at pictures of the earth from space. The great pyramids of Giza. Victoria Falls. The surface of Mars. Then maybe re-evaluate my query about Facebook.

WHEN EXAGGERATION BECOMES THE NORM

But to be fair, he was just representing the general social propensity towards exaggeration. I pine for the days when answering ‘yes’ to a question was sufficient. Slowly it seems, ‘yes’ was phased out and replaced by ‘absolutely’. When, why and by whom was it decided that yes was not absolute enough?

Maybe it was the need to be really positive about almost everything, probably devised by political speech writers and spin-doctors, eager for us to live under a ‘blanket of transparency’ (not talking bullshit to you and me), where people no longer have problems, instead have the seemingly more digestible and manageable ‘challenges’.

Wars have been replaced by conflicts. Based on this WW2 could be gradually re-named in the history books as the Second World Conflict Challenge.

I’m exaggerating of course, but isn’t that what we do nowadays?

During the recent lockdown I’ve been told by more than one person that the inconvenience of social restrictions were like ‘being in a war’. Really? I would challenge anyone from the UK to say to someone from Syria whose family and home have been destroyed by constant bombing and have no recognisable social structure in place that having to wipe down a bag of Dorito’s was like being in a war.

WHAT WOULD WILLIAM SAY?

I tried to offload my irritation regarding everyday levels of exaggeration to my friend but she was too busy being ‘gutted’. Apparently Next online didn’t have the top she wanted in her size and the disappointment at this was the equivalent of having her internal organs laid bare and sliced into sections by a razor-sharp knife.

William Wallace

Scottish Knight William Wallace was, quite literally, gutted in August 1305. After being strung up to the point of near-death, his male parts were severed before later having his body cut into four separate parts. Now that is a whole different level of disappointment. I hope he was wearing a top in his size, just so he knew he looked good ahead of the most excruciatingly painful experience imaginable.

But all I can say for sure is that he wouldn’t be super-excited about the situation. Nope, not even close.

SONGS I’D SELL MY SOUL TO HAVE WRITTEN #1 -‘TEMPTED’ BY SQUEEZE

As a song-writer there are so many songs that inspire you, songs that make you love them for what there are but hate them for reminding you what you can never reach, that I could blog daily but never list sufficiently. But, and in no particular order (despite the obligatory numbering), I’ll give it the occasional go.

First out of the metaphorical hat, a song from the best song-writing duo to come out of London since Jagger-Richards. Yes, even better than Chas and Dave. I’m talking about Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook, the beating heart of Squeeze, and in particular, ‘Tempted’.

The song features, of course, that vocal by Paul Carrack, like warm toast on a winter’s morning; thick toast with oodles of butter on.

The soulful intro, setting it up nicely. The lyric starts, unromantic, practical:

‘I bought a toothbrush, some toothpaste, a flannel for my face’

What song starts with a shopping list? More to the point, what great song starts with a shopping list?

A hairbrush, pyjamas, new shoes and a case

Glenn Tilbrook, guitarist and composer with Squeeze, would have been well-practised at receiving lyrics from bandmate Chris Difford that didn’t fit the norm and making gold-dust from them; this would have been no different. A lyric stuffed with bare glimpses of images and places going by.

Passed the church and the steeple, the laundry on the hill

Difford wrote the lyric on the way to the airport, about to go on tour and all too familiar with the temptations that would bring. Who needs looks when you have an electric guitar and a clutch of hit singles?

The cover of East Side Story which includes ‘Tempted’

Tempted by the fruit of another

Tempted but the truth is discovered

A young man about to leave a love familiar, a young man with a screaming libido that drives him to do things he’ll know he’ll regret but is only a little keen to resist.

‘Your body gets much closer, I fumble for the clock

Alarmed by the seduction, I wish that it would stop

Then the regret, the blunt stab to kill off the sickening guilt from the airport’s duty free.

‘I bought a novel, some perfume, a fortune all for you

But it’s not my conscience, that hates to be untrue

Despite the song not even tickling the top 40 anywhere it slipped into almost every mixed tape I ever made and remains high in the musical consciousness of anyone around in 1981 who possessed even the merest sniff of good taste.

Quintessentially British, more specifically South London, the quality of Tilbrook and Difford songs transcend regional parameters. That said, ‘Tempted’ felt different.

It’s soul-tinged production from Elvis Costello and a voice such as Paul Carrack’s; surely inspired by the likes of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, give the song more of a universal reach which help explain why it has grown and reached further down the years. But then great songs have a habit of doing just that.

ZOOM AND THE DEAFENING RISE OF THE QUIET WRITER

I have recently completed a week-long online sitcom writing course where for one hour a day for five consecutive days, 30 comedy writers logged into Zoom and together, under the guidance of comedian and comedy-writer Bennett Arron, we came up with the premise of a sitcom.

As someone who has done more writing courses than Katie Price has had failed relationships, this one was definitely different from all the rest, and not just for the obvious reason that this course was done via my laptop screen.

Democracy Rules and No Ice please

With the mute button an essential of any online meetings with this many participants, what was lovely on this course was how much more democratic this made the experience. Everyone got to contribute, via the chat button, if that’s what they wanted to do. If they wanted to sit back and absorb, that was an option also. No-one felt the pressure to say something, anything, just to not feel left out.

And no dreaded ice-breaking routine, the initiation ceremony of every writing class. As a writer who still carries awful memories of having to move around a room with a playing card lifted to my forehead as part of a ‘getting-to-know-you’ process, the ice-breaker can be the writing equivalent of a dentist’s injection of novocaine into an exposed gum – yes you can see the point of it but if there’s a way of avoiding it then sign me up.

The Loud-Mouth on mute

What the mute button also does is nullify the power of the, how shall we put it, ‘mouthier’ writer . Almost every course, workshop or seminar I’ve attended, has had the presence of the writer who likes to dominate the room with opinions or questions that can break the flow of the poor tutors carefully planned lesson.

Many have read all the writing books and attended, at great expense, at least one of the major script-writing gurus seminars, subsequently screen-writing psychobabble is their second language. However, as I’ve witnessed many times, talking a good script and writing a good script, are two very different things. Just ask any of those script-writing gurus still without a screen writing credit.

Quiet in good company

In a recent blog, the great comedy writer Ken Levine tells how Neil Simon was very shy and ‘not great in a room’, and cites others who were fantastic in a room but ‘couldn’t write a decent draft to save their lives’. Writers, generally speaking (or usually not speaking), are an introverted breed who have to raise themselves above this natural inclination to walk into a room of other creatives. Or anyone, for that matter.

A few years ago I met by far the quietest writer I’ve known, who, like myself was one of those selected to be a shadow-writer on the Channel 4 comedy-series Shameless. So inhibited was he in meetings that he was, to all intents and purposes, anonymous. He found the meetings incredibly difficult and stressful, and contributed little; if anything, to them. On Twitter he described himself as a ‘socially awkward TV writer’.

But boy, could he write. Since then Mark Brotherhood has written for a host of shows including a later series of Shameless, Hollyoaks, Benidorm, became the lead writer on Sky One comedy-drama Mount Pleasant and is the writer/creator behind ITV’s recent series The Trouble With Maggie Cole. Zoom was made for the Mark Brotherhood’s of this world. I have no doubt he’ll be loving it.

So yes, for me Zoom courses are the way ahead for now at least, despite those instances when, via the chat button, you type in the comment you consider to be your most hilarious or insightful, only to watch it float away from the tutors gaze like a used condom in a fast flowing river.

Image by photographer Kristina Flour

ELTON JOHN AND MY BIG BAG OF BEAUTIFUL DREAMS

Dreams come in different shapes and sizes. And different packages. They can be private and low-key, they can be brash and bold. They can be sturdy and solid, they can be fluid or fragile. On one particular, crisp October day in North Audley Square in London, my dream came in a big red sports bag. I was 21, a fledgling songwriter and was about to have my first meeting with a music publisher – Elton John’s Rocket Records.

Contained in that sports bag was an envelope with a cassette of a song I’d written with my then songwriting partner Bob Mouat. God knows why I took a sports bag to house a cassette and a couple of sandwiches, maybe that was considered rock n’ roll chic at the time. If you’re willing to go with that rather unlikely explanation to replace the one I don’t have, we’ll go with that.

Impossibly early for my meeting, I’d been sitting on a park bench for over an hour. I was beyond nervous. Elton was the first artist I’d seen live and he and his lyricist Bernie Taupin were my main songwriting inspiration, so to have an appointment at his music publishers was spine-tingling, even if Elton and Bernie were oblivious of my existence and probably partying over in LA. None of that mattered. What did matter was that I was here, today, with my song.

Of course an essential element for any dream is how you envisage it panning out. This may have nothing to do with the eventual reality but that doesn’t matter at the start, you have to see it being glorious and exciting and everything you want it to be. I’d made this appointment weeks ago which gave me plenty of time to decide in my head how this was all going to work out.

How the Dream Meeting would unfold

I was going to play the song and the Publisher Man (the mists of time have left him nameless, so from now on Publisher Man is his new moniker) would nod approvingly, realising this could be a red letter day in his career. I’d be sitting here maintaining my cool; I knew the song was good.

Then the door would open and someone would step in. I presumed it would be another publisher but as I turned my head I would recognise the face. It was Elton.

He was dressed as casually as Elton John could dress at just gone 4 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, cutting a striking figure in feathered headdress and diamante suit. Publisher Man would acknowledge EJ (as in my head that’s how Elton would soon ask me to address him), and continue listening to the song.

EJ would ask who’s song was playing and Publisher Man would introduce us. EJ didn’t normally cover other people’s material but he would ask my permission to put the song on his soon to be recorded multi-platinum selling album. I’d answer casually that that I’d need to ask my songwriting partner but it shouldn’t be a problem. He’s then offer us a 3-year publishing deal and ask if I’d be willing to write some lyrics for him. I replied that I’d be happy to. At the same time I felt the warm, excited flow of urine trickle down my inside leg.

As he leaves the room he gives a respectful nod to my big red sports bag and the rest would be rock ‘n roll history.

How the Actual Meeting unravelled

Five minutes before the appointment I approached Rocket Records, sports bag in tow, and walked in. Either side of the receptionist desk with it’s huge Rocket logo hung various framed photo’s of Elton’s album covers, live photos and gold discs. My heartbeat quickened. I introduced myself to the receptionist informing her that I was there for my appointment with Publisher Man. She looked puzzled, then informed me that he wasn’t there.

In disbelief I explained how I’d phoned up two months before and made the appointment. She asked me if I’d written to confirm the appointment and I replied that I hadn’t as I’d taken the phone call as verbal confirmation of the meeting.

I asked if there was any other Publisher Person I could see and she explained they only had one other and he was out of the country. I was crestfallen, and she could see it. I told her that I’d travelled down from Liverpool for this one appointment. Her polite apology understandably failed to lift my spirits.

I turned and slowly walked out of Rocket Records, never to return. Elton didn’t ask me to refer to him as EJ and somehow his career stumbled onto multi-Grammy and Oscar successes, not to mention a Knighthood, without recording our song. Or using my lyrics.

The dream changes shape. Again. And Again..

I learned some important lessons from that rather naive first trip that rendered it more than just a useless and crushingly disappointing journey. First, always back up any appointment with a letter (this being the days before emails), and never go down with just one song and one meeting. We may never have hit the heights we originally aimed for but from then on we always got respect, we eventually got songs published and had many great experiences.

But some things don’t change; the constant and undying need for passion in that thing you love doing, for that fire to remain burning inside. Most importantly, knock-backs still serve a purpose if we are only big enough to learn from them, and adjust accordingly. Dreams are pliable, they can change shape when needed. Only submission to the disappointments can destroy them completely.

And if you allow disappointment to destroy your dream, then what else is left?