Monday, 16 November 2009
Jean Genet wrote "Our Lady of the Flowers" entirely in pencil while he was imprisoned, scribbling on the rough surface of the brown paper that the inmates were given to make paper bags from. The story goes that, whilst exercising in the yard one day a prison guard noticed Genet's make-shift manuscript and took it away and had it burned.
And so, Genet began his novel over again.
"Why?", "For whom?", Jean-Paul Sartre asks: "There was small chance of his keeping the work until his release, and even less of it getting printed...Yet he wrote on, he persisted in writing. Nothing in the world mattered to him except those sheets of brown paper which a match could reduce to ashes."
And so it is that I find myself sometimes, on those darker days, wondering what it's all for, if anyone will ever get to hear all the hours, all the words. Most of the time I think it doesn't matter; it shouldn't matter if what you create ever sees the light of the day. You write at least for your 'imagined audience', for all the people you hope it might touch or make a small dent in their universe. There's a line in a song I wrote recently that goes "I'm tired of writing love songs / Never heard by anyone". But it's not nearly true.
I wrote as a eleven year old child who didn't know the white from the black keys on the piano after my parents sold it. I wrote as a fourteen year old girl surrounded by people who laughed every time she picked up a guitar and told her to stop trying to be one of the boys... I wrote through this final year at University when I needed to say too many things that couldn't be spoken. And I write now because it still comes out of my fingertips. I just can't seem to stop spitting out my heart.
I can't understand the band I saw on Orange Unsigned that blamed the lack of coherence in their music on the fact that they didn't know what it was that the record companies were looking for... Emily Haines from Metric puts it pretty well here - when she talks about the need to release yourself from the expectations of scenes. You get the simplest, clearest and most genuine songs when you remove yourself from the gridlock and paralysis where nothing can ever be cool enough, referential enough, or it doesn't sound enough like someone else (or it sounds too much like someone else).
When I was six my teacher lost my picture of a kingfisher that I had taken four days to draw for the school parents' assembly and made me hold up a painting of a hedgehog done by some other child instead... I was mortified and spent the whole assembly mouthing silently but persistently to my Mother that it wasn't my picture. I didn't want anyone thinking I was responsible for the primitive finger splodges of some visually challenged peer...
I hope I will never hold up a song here or anywhere else that I don't feel proud to put my name to. I want to do more than mouth along the words.
It's too easy to criticise the wealth of constructed 'artists' churned out by certain corners of the industry - sure, there's a place for everything that means something to someone - but what is more scary to me is this trend towards what you might call 'fabricated authenticity' - the simulacra of the Artist (and their five co-writers...) and the slow erosion of the corner of the world where we can say what we want when we want.
So, I've been laying the foundations slowly with some other like minded and concerned individuals to carve out a place to do such a thing. A place that can bring together a diverse number of voices through music, art, film, thought that all want to reach up and beyond the merely consumable. As I think Stephen Fry said (paraphrasing Oscar Wilde), yes, all Art is useless. But then so is love. It's the little things that help you rise above the awfulness and the banality of life. And it is also its uselessness that makes it so very valuable...
Posted by Catherine AD at 22:28
Just a quick note to say that the BBC Children in Need song 'All You Need is Love' and the album 'Bandaged Together' (both of which I recorded vocals for this summer at Abbey Rd studios) are out now!
They are available to buy from HMV, Tescos and lots of online stores here:
We had a great day recording it at Abbey Road - Please support this great cause and let's make some money for Children In Need!