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“You have 20 seconds to comply”

Someone reminded me of my school days this week. It was interesting to look back and discuss my tactics for getting through that period. It was essentially a ‘head down’, low profile approach as I didn’t want to attract attention to myself. I wasn’t very keen on school and I longed to be 16 so I could head off to study music at college.

College was totally different and my ‘under the radar’ methods switched to rebellion with drink, drugs, piercings and chasing girls. I guess this is a classic teenage story and I’m sure you can all tell me of a time when you grew your hair, got a tattoo or rode pillion on the back of a motorbike to an all night rave.

Anyway, now that we are all adults (at least in body if not mind) do you think about conformity? It’s so easy to fall into line and end up following the pack. We select which group to fit into (hipster, adventurer, business person, sports fanatic, yummy mummy), we purchase the uniform (converse trainers, jeans, designer labels, latest hairstyles, cool cars) then we use up all our energy trying to blend. It’s exhausting!

As you know, I’m about to finally record my debut solo album and I am in the midst of the ugly realm known as self promotion. I have a photo shoot booked and my wife has kindly insisted I go to get my hair cut and have someone attempt to spruce me up before I get in front of the camera. It’s hilarious. I’ve been using moisturiser and everything! I’m still not sure what sort of look I’m trying to pull off but I know that at some point I will have my picture taken. I’m stuck between trying to be myself and also having the album cover visually appealing. It’s tricky to be plonked in front of camera and someone say “okay, look natural, but also look amazing!” Should I try to conform to the current album cover fashions or try to do something different and perhaps a bit weird? I’m essentially having a crisis of confidence and a “what the hell shall I wear?!” moment.

Looking unimpressed at the hairdressers. Still, they gave me a beer! 

I think as artists we not only have a different way of thinking but it is our job to show people that there is a different way to think. In an age of social media, ‘fake news’ and propaganda, it’s more important than ever to not be swept along, particularly when it comes to strong views of nationalism and the growth of fear and hate. That’s about all I want to say on politics as I don’t usually dip into that subject. Returning to more practical and creative uses of non-conformity that you can implement, I would suggest you show people who you really are. Wear what you like, say what you like and speak up when you disagree.

Here are some of the methods I have used in the past:

  • Loud shirts. I think someone has coined the phrase ‘peacocking’ which refers to the peacock’s display of brightly coloured feathers to attract a mate. Now that I’m happily married this doesn’t apply but it still gets a bit of attention.
  • Wearing pink. Boys in blue and girls in pink? Rubbish.
  • Feigning ignorance to popular culture. I love using this one. If someone requests a Justin Bieber song I ask who he is. It amazes people to the point of being angry that I don’t know who these ‘so called’ famous artists are. Too be honest I’ve heard of them but I don’t pay too much attention to what they produce. The same goes for mainstream television shows or more recently when people say I look like Jurgen Klopp. Why should every person in this country know what a football manager looks like?
  • Eating a sugared donut. Only one rule…no licking your lips!

Here are a few ideas I’ve heard but haven’t been brave enough to try yet:

  • Drawing a black square on my forehead and resisting the temptation to rub it off after people point it out to you.
  • Wearing something radically out of fashion or inappropriate. This is a famous stoic experiment which causes you to brush aside people’s opinions of you.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love fashion and I love a lot of popular culture, but I don’t need to be spoon fed everything. I want to select what I like and dislike. More importantly, I don’t want the decisions I make to be determined by other people’s thoughts and expectations. This applies for music too, of course. Someone asked me recently why I didn’t write normal songs with a singer and lyrics. “Surely you’d make more money and get more people following you if it was more commercial?” Yes, maybe, but it’s not really why I’m doing it. Writing this music had no agenda other than the pleasure of creating exactly what I wanted and I feel proud that I now have some music that not only I like, but a few other people too.

What’s sad is when you strive to fit in or please other people and you end up losing who you are. I was reminded of how difficult this can be yesterday, when I saw a boy at a school who has freckles, pale skin and, until recently, bright red hair. He now has dyed jet black hair in what I can only think to be a desperate attempt to not stand out for being genetically different. Red heads have a hard time and kids can be cruel.

The coolest people in my mind are the people that don’t care. Not in a ‘giving up on life’ sort of way, but a ‘I am who I am’ approach. I love people who spend all their energy on the things they love and if that means they don’t keep up with the Jones’ then who cares? I love musicians who make music for themselves and that it what I’ve decided to do. Besides, nobody buys CD’s anymore anyway!

So now that I’m confident in my approach to recording my tunes, lets hope I can transfer this attitude to the photo shoot this weekend!

As for all of you? Go out there and do what you want to do.


Post a comment below (I read them all)


2 Comments Add a Comment
  1. Roger
    February 3, 2017

    Well said mon ami. Me, I was the other way round, I loved school because I was so much the rebel, long hair, mucked around, played ice hockey at the local rink at weekends in to the wee small hours and drank vodka and lime in the bar from the age of 15. Loved it! Quiet how I became head boy, passed my O levels and got in to sixth form let alone university is still a mystery to me. Did my utmost to throw my education out the window at sixth form. Hated university and really struggled with my identity (least said about that the better!). Got a job at Land Rover and found I had to conform, got a hair cut :( bought a suit and “knuckled down”. Boring! It’s fair to say I then just rode along in the bus of life as a passenger rather than the driver, or better still, the navigator.

    When I took up playing the clarinet at the age of 40+ and now the sax, I finally found a way to achieve some peace and harmony in my daily life. I took up playing initially because I’d always felt that I’d missed out, I’d never had the opportunity at school to take up music and there was no impetus from my family. It was really watching my then 11 year old son achieving so much playing his sax, that I realised age should not be a barrier to doing something new, something different. And as I started to play I realised that finally I’d found something that I could lose myself in. When I play time stops, I’m somewhere else. I find I play for me, not others, if they don’t like what I play – tough. I’m not doing it to please them. Yes I want to improve, play more complicated pieces, understand the science and theory, sound better etc, but I’m doing that for me, so I sound better to myself.

    Now I’m getting in to playing in front of others, scary stuff? perhaps. Why? Well it’s not to fit in, and I don’t think it’s to entertain those listening, if they like what I play and clap, fine, if they don’t, again fine. At this stage it’s because I’m being selfish and learning about and enjoying playing with real people, not a manufactured backing track. I can see how it could be become addictive.

    So you go ahead, record what pleases you because if you don’t, how can it be authentic? More importantly how can you be authentic to it?

    • Jay
      February 6, 2017

      Love it Roger. Thanks for responding.

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