Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Five Cases of Unrequited Love That Inspired Songs

Rock songs inspired by women? Well I could easily done a top one hundred here, or it might have been easier to do a list of songs not inspired by women. To limit the list a little I'm only going to include women who the songwriter, at the time of writing the song at least, had failed to actually get off with.

5. Lillie Langtry inspired Pictures of Lily by The Who

 'Pictures of Lily made my life so wonderful'

A "ditty about masturbation and the importance of it to a young man".

Usually the women who inspire rock songs are people the songwriter has actually met. However in this case Pete Towshend is writing about a woman who died sixteen years before he was born.

The inspiration in this case appears to be a music hall actress whose picture one of Townshend's girlfriends had. Langtry is probably better described as an 'adventuress', as she appears to have done most of her 'acting' between the sheets of various royal beds. Amongst her conquests were apparently the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII of England), the Earl of Shrewbury (then the owner of Alton Towers) and Prince Louis of Battenberg (Prince Philip's granddad). Not a bad little list.

Apart from Townshend, she also appears to have inspired George MacDonald Fraser, who names her as one of the conquests of Sir Harry Flashman VC and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who made her into Irene Adler, "The Woman" who Sherlock Holmes had a bit of a crush on.

As Ms Adler and the great detective never got it together you wonder whether the celibate Sherlock, like the boy in this song, also 'enjoys' her pictures?

4. Suzanne Verdal inspired Suzanne by Leonard Cohen

'Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river'

A much covered song, including by the early Fairport Convention, Suzanne has a melody that is one of the few that can properly be described as haunting.

The inspiration was one Suzanne Verdal, then the partner of sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, whose most famous work is a giant fountain in San Francisco dedicated to Quebecan independence. Cohen says that 'everyone was in love with Suzanne', including him, although, as the song says, he could only 'touch her perfect body' with his mind.

Cohen met her in Montreal, and they would walk by the St Lawrence River before popping back to her place for 'tea and oranges'. An early eco-activist, she was big into recycling, which wasn't terribly fashionable at the time and so probably explains the line ‘you know that she’s half crazy but that’s why you want to be there.’

She travelled the world as a dancer and by the late nineties she was living in a home made shack with her seven cats and working as a dance instructor and massage therapist. However a serious accident ended her dancing career and she ended up broke and homeless.

The song appears in the soundtrack of last year's Reeth Witherspoon film Wild, based on the book by Cheryl Strayed. Verdal was a childhood friend of the author's mother, so it seems everyone really did love Suzanne.

3. Pattie Boyd inspired Layla by Derek And The Dominoes

 'Layla, I'm begging, darling please.'

The bible warns us against coveting our neighbour's ass, but far worse is coveting the ass of your neighbour's wife. In this case the bottom in question belonged to Pattie Boyd, then the George Harrison, then still a Beatle and good friend of Eric Clapton, who was the one doing the coveting.  

Pattie was a model in the sixties who had one line in the film of A Hard Day's Night. Harrison asked her to either marry him or have dinner with him, and she ended up doing both.

It was Pattie who persuaded the Fab Four to meet the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Eastern mysticism worked for Harrison, but the marriage was a bit of a car crash, literally. Pattie was seriously injured when Harrison decided to drive his Mercedes at 90mph during a blackout along a road still under construction. She survived,  but was soon relying on alcohol and cocaine to get through life with her womanising husband.

Clapton meanwhile had the serious hots for Pattie, and after she turned him down he embarked on three years of heroin addiction, which is a bit of an overreaction in my opinion. What was worse is that he then did the 'sleeping with her sister' thing by moving in with Pattie's younger sibling Paula. Once Paula heard Layla she realised what was going on and moved herself out.

Pattie and Paula had another sister by the way, called Jenny, who inspired Donovan's, Juniper and married Mick Fleetwood. They appear to have been that kind of family.

Clapton eventually quit the drugs, and the pro-Enoch Powell rants, and Pattie quit Harrison. They married in 1979, but it was a very similar story and soon Clapton was sleeping with other women whilst Pattie hit the bottle. They divorced in 1989.

Sometimes unrequited love is best left unrequited.

You'd think this would have put her off men for life, but instead she married again just last month to a property developer. However you can't accuse her of rushing into things the third time, as she has been with Rod Weston for twenty five years.  

2. Debbie Bone inspired Disco 2000 by Pulp

'Your name is Deborah. Deborah. It never suited ya.'

Someone who certainly knows a thing or two about getting nowhere with women is Pulp front man, and coolest dude of the 1990s, Jarvis Cocker.

The Deborah in question here was family friend Debbie Bone. The song apparently pretty much tells it as it was and "the only bit that isn't true is the woodchip wallpaper."  

Bone went on to a career as a mental health nurse and innovator in the field of children's mental health. She was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours list just this year. Tragically she died of bone cancer in January, just hours before she was due to receive news of the award. She was only 51.

She and Cocker may never have been more than friends, but they stayed in touch and he sang Disco 2000 for her at her 50th birthday party last year. The song is a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman.

1.  Danae Stratou inspired Common People by Pulp

'She came from Greece she had a thirst for knowledge'

Another failure to the 'lanky northern git' that turned into a Britpop anthem.

(Lets forget about the William Shatner spoken word version).

There must be a little bit of doubt about the identity of the identify of the Greek student who told him 'that her Dad was loaded', as BBC3 tried and failed to get Cocker to pick out her picture a few years ago, and a Greek-Cypriot artist called Katerina Kana believes it was her. As she does claim to remember Cocker, unlike Stratou, she has a good claim.

However as the only Greek student who 'studied sculpture at Saint Martin's College' at the time Cocker was there, Ms Startou is currently the most popular choice. In reality Cocker didn't take her to a supermarket, or anywhere else. In fact she appears to have turned him down flat and forgotten about the entire incident. A certain amount of artistic license has therefore gone into the song, especially as the middle class Cocker can't really claim to be one of the 'common people' either then or now.

Stratou herself has gone on to be an internationally renowned installation artist specialising in very big outdoor, errr, things. She eventually married a Marxist Professor of Economics by the name of Yanis Varoufakis.

When the left wing Syriza party swept into power in post-austerity Greece, Varoufakis was invited to become finance minister and champion of the common people of Europe's most unfortunate nation.

Stratou and Varoufakis recently had an encounter with some of those common people whilst out for a meal in Athens' Exarchia district. Exarchia is the home of Athen's arty-intellectual-lefty types and is regularly engulfed by anti-government riots that resemble small wars. During the stand-off Ms Stratou stood her ground and protected her husband, showing she is no more phased by balaclava wearing anarchists than she is by amorous 'lanky northern gits'.


So there we are, the moral of the story? Self abuse can be inspirational, there's nothing wrong with tea and oranges, nice girls should never marry racist guitarists, sometimes it's good to just stay friends and don't worry too much if you are an ultra-cool rock star and the girl you fancy dumps you for an economics teacher.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

How to save the Human Rights Act

In 1215 King John met a group of his barons by an ancient yew tree, a meeting place since Anglo-Saxon times. There he signed a document that outlawed absolute monarchy. Ancient freedoms that dated back to the fall of the Roman Empire had been violated by the king and so the barons demanded these rights were now preserved in writing. The Magna Carter, signed at Runnymede, was the first human rights act.

 Eight hundred years later I am in London for the 70th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, watching some very old soldiers parading proudly in the sunshine. These men, and women, had grown up in the aftermath of the Great Depression in a country where no job meant no home and no healthcare. They then fought Nazi tyranny and celebrated victory by creating the Welfare State and giving liberty to the people of the greatest empire the world has ever seen.

Meanwhile Britain's new government is to celebrate these historical events by abolishing the 1998 Human Rights Act. This is seen as quick and popular move by the Prime Minister, a sop to our billionaire owned right-wing press that is already celebrating that "Human Rights Madness" is over.

The Act requires British courts to "take into account" judgements of the Human Court of Human Rights. It does not bind us to the court's decisions, but nor does abolishing it completely free us; the only way we could do that would be to leave the Council of Europe.

The Act is to be replaced with a 'British bill of rights'. These have not been published, mainly because they don't exist. The committee that was to draw them up broke up three years ago when it couldn't agree. Anyone who believes this as yet unfinished bill will give us the same rights has more faith than I have in a Prime Minister who is willing to say without irony:
"For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone."
The European Convention on Human Rights, which underpins the Human Rights Act, was draw up in 1950 by a continent recovering from the ravages of total war and the brutality of the Nazi regime. Deriving from the UN Declaration of Human Rights passed two years early it aimed to make 'never again' really mean never again.

However whilst the Act remains a backstop against totalitarianism, it's main beneficiaries have been people in society who are usually forgotten, even by Human Rights champions.

Thanks to the Act council's can no longer require women fleeing domestic violence be separated from their families, the army can't sack you for being gay and victims of human trafficking are treated as people and not just contraband cargo.

Personally I have been affected in two ways. After I was found not guilty of Criminal Damage to six acres of Genetically Modified maize the Human Rights Act meant the police had to destroy the DNA sample they'd taken off me. Meanwhile at work, if I decide a person with dementia isn't safe to live in the community an independent person checks my decision.

If we do not take act these rights will go. Now is the time to fight.

Governments can make very bad decisions when trying to please the tabloid pack, witness the Dangerous Dogs Act. Once they get going they can also stick with even worse decisions rather than look weak, such as the Poll Tax.

The best way to save the Human Rights Act is to convince the government as quickly as possible that this will not be the quick victory they hope, but a long and difficult campaign. We have four lines of defence; the Scots, the Irish, the Lords and the backbenches.

1. Scotland

The Human Rights Act was incorporated into Scottish law when the devolved parliament was set up in Edinburgh. It is far from clear if Westminster has the authority to change this without the consent of the Scots, which is most definitely not going to be given.

In the complicated language of devolution this covered by the Sewel Convention, and legal experts are divided on the issue. Scotland has just returned a record number of Nationalist MPs to Westminster, where they have no power whatsoever. Furthermore instead of the second vote on independence they want, they are about to get a referendum on leaving the European Union, which they don't want. 

Abolishing the HRA north of the border could cause a massive legal battle and political revolt, neither of which a government elected primarily by the south of England will really want.

2. Northern Ireland

Across the Irish Sea are similar problems. The HRA is part of the Good Friday Agreement which brought to an end nearly 30 years of The Troubles. Replacing it would require cross party agreement from Nationalists and Unionists in a parliament where arguments about innocuous things such as flags can quickly escalate into international incidents.

Furthermore The Province has good reason to be grateful to the European Commission on Human Rights. In 1976 the court ruled that the use by the British Army of hooding, wall-standing, sleep deprivation, starvation and subjection to noise, known as the 'Five techniques', amounted to torture. Greece under the Colonels was the only other EU country to have been found to have tortured it's own citizens.

The Irish, of whatever colour, are unlikely to want to rewrite the agreement that brought them peace or to lose rights that within my lifetime have stopped torture.

3.The Lords

The Conservatives now have a majority in the House of Commons, but as they are no longer in
coalition with the Liberal Democrats no longer have one in the House of Lords.

Principles dating back over a hundred years mean that the Lords can't oppose manifesto commitments, but they can delay them for up to two years. What's more the Lords take their responsibilities as guardians our mostly unwritten constitution seriously.

The Lords can prevent this being a quick win for the government, will expose the proposals to expert scrutiny and demand the Prime Minister expend valuable Commons time if he wishes to get them through.

4. The Backbenchers

The government majority in the Commons is only twelve. The non-appearance of Sein Fein at Westminster and Ulster Unionist support makes this a little more in practise, but it's still not much.

The Conservative Party seems to care more for the rights of corporations than individuals, but there are backbenchers who still value individual liberty, and even some who like European institutions like the Commission on Human Rights. One such in Kenneth Clarke who has said:
"I personally think it is unthinkable to leave the European convention on human rights. It was drafted by British lawyers after the second world war to protect the values we fought the war for."
Ex-Chancellor and Home Secretary Clarke, the model for the smoking Minister of Health in Yes Prime Minister, has no future in this Eurosceptic Cabinet so can basically say what he wants.

That it has come to relying on a man whose day job is selling cigarettes to Vietnamese kids to defend our human rights says a lot about the parlous state of UK politics, but unless we plan on giving up on being human, now is the time to fight with whatever weapons we have.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Human Rights Act: A letter to my MP

Letter to my MP on the plan to abolish the Human Rights Act:

Dear Andrew,

Congratulations on your re-election. No doubt it will mean plenty more emails from me.

At the weekend I was down in London for the Glossop North End's FA Vase Cup Final. The result was disappointing, but it did mean I was able to stay overnight in order to see the VE Day 70th Anniversary parade. Watching the veterans parading down Whitehall, many of them older than my clients at work, was a moving experience and reminded me of how we need to protect what they fought for.

One legacy of the war is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed in 1948 to ensure that what the Nazis did would never happen again.  I understand the Prime Minister's frustration with the European Court of Human Rights, which has left behind its main mission to concentrate on trivia like prisoner's voting rights, but we must not let this distract us from how important Human Rights are, and how vital it is to have them integrated into domestic UK Law.

What's more getting rid of the Human Rights Act will cause major problems within the UK. They are
a part of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, a deal which I, as someone who lived in Ireland in the 1990s, regard as John Major's greatest legacy. Abolishing the Act will also cause a further rift with Scotland at a time when we really need to be doing everything we can to persuade the Scots to stay in the Union.

Please right to the Prime Minister, with either your words or mine, asking him to reconsider this hasty action and to concentrate instead on the more pressing problems of the country.

Yours sincerely

Martin Porter