Tag Archives: coldplay

With a Song in My Heart: X is for…

“X&Y” – Coldplay, 2005.

Well, you didn’t exactly think it was going to be Olivia Newton-John’s “Xanadu,” did you?  Though there aren’t a lot of “X” songs to choose from, this one fits the bill nicely.  It lends its title to Coldplay’s 2005 album, which features better known singles like “Speed of Sound” and “Talk.”  It was also the album they were promoting in the first rock concert my then-girlfriend and I ever attended together.  (Double extra bonus:  Richard Ashcroft was opening for them.)  Tickets to said show were her first Valentine’s Day gift to me, after we’d only been dating for a couple of months.  It was a measure, perhaps, of how quickly and deeply we fell in love, not just that she would buy me the tickets but be willing to stand in an ear-splitting din for three hours watching a band – two bands, really – she was relatively indifferent about but knew that I loved.  (The following Valentine’s Day, the only way I saw to outdo this generous gift was to propose.  A card and chocolates wasn’t going to do it.)

There is not much to the song itself; it’s a bit of filler sandwiched between the two more popular tracks on the middle of the album.  The second verse, however, is a fairly accurate description of the first stage of our relationship.  “I dive in at the deep end, you become my best friend.  I want to love you but I don’t know if I can.  I know something is broken and I’m trying to fix it, trying to repair it any way I can.”  Our connection was immediate, offering no room for half-measures, no games, no I’d-better-wait-three-days-before-I-call-back-so-she-doesn’t-think-I’m-desperate stratagems.  Up front, we agreed that we knew we liked each other and that we preferred not to mess around with the so-called rules of courtship (as exemplified by Swingers and every single episode of Friends.)  It was a tremendous weight off one’s shoulders, I must confess, after a year spent in and out of temporary dalliances with other women that were dominated by such frivolities.  Obviously we still harbored those same fears of being hurt, of committing and losing our way.  My professional life, too, was in tatters and I questioned where I had the temerity to enter into a serious relationship when I didn’t know whether I’d have the rent next month.  Something was indeed broken.

It came to the point after several months that the choice for me was to either sever another, damaging relationship or lose the one that was teaching me to smile again and that there was a sublime world beyond the borders of my small, inwardly focused life.  In retrospect, it was the easiest decision I ever made.  Seldom does a day pass when I don’t feel grateful that when I was drowning, she was there to throw me a lifeline.  I used to be quite cynical about humanity and human beings, entrenched in the opinion that we are doomed to destroy ourselves through greed, selfishness and spite, the stuff of any one of a hundred dystopian YA novels.  Maybe a great majority of us are, but my wife reminds me through her actions and her attitude that there remain a lot of good people in the world, and our side has a better than average fighting chance.  We have the plans to the Death Star of banality, we’re aiming a proton torpedo of kindness at the exhaust port, and we don’t need no stinkin’ targeting computer.

There is a line of spiritual thought, I’m not sure which, postulating that human beings were originally androgynous beings that were split into separate genders by the gods and have spent eternity attempting to reconnect.  As a single person you can’t even articulate what’s missing, you just know that something is.  The equation is incomplete and every fiber of your being is dedicated to solving it, to seeing how the story ends.  This particular Y needed an X.  I’d like to believe that in sharing themselves with each other, X&Y became a whole greater than the sum of their parts.  (Though I’m sure I could list a hundred ways in which my wife has made me a better person before I could name one where I’ve helped her.)  I was asked on the morning of our wedding what her best qualities were, and my answer hasn’t changed in seven years:  the giving nature that inhabits her every thought and deed; of herself, of her time, of her love.  Even now, as she waits for me to finish this post so we can watch Game of Thrones together (a show she does not really care for), I’m reminded of that.  I’m reminded of the Coldplay concert, swaying together to “X&Y,” feeling like she fixed me, and continues to fix what’s broken each day we are together.  It is something to feel like you won’t ever be able to fully repay a debt of the soul, but I figure I can at least start by letting her get through her episode of Orange is the New Black first.

In like a lamb

A perfect metaphor for March 1st, 2012.

Elmore Leonard’s first rule of writing advice is, never open your book with weather.  So with apologies to Mr. Leonard and his learned wisdom, I’m starting off March with a few comments about the state of the climate.  It was not that long ago that I recall temperatures plunging to the minus twenties in the middle of February, jagged sheets of ice coating my apartment windows and blocking the view of the mountains of white beyond.  I’m not going to complain about a more modest than usual February heating bill, but this is ridiculous.  I’ve had to shovel the driveway exactly twice this entire winter.  I missed doing it so much I actually shovelled both my neighbours’ driveways just to get in the extra few minutes of cardio.  My better half’s allergies have been in overdrive all season as it never got cold enough to kill off the mould and spores of autumn rot.  And we did double-takes this morning when birds started chirping outside.  The geese have figured it out – they never flew anywhere this winter.  Think there could possibly be a relation to, well, I don’t know, um, global CO2 emissions being higher than ever before?  Nah, it’s sunspots.  We’re actually in a cooling phase.   It’s just Al Gore, Solyndra and the Islamofascisocialists trying to sell you solar panels.  Think I’ll fill my Hummer with Super-Hi-Grade and then run over a spotted owl.  Suck it, Mother Nature.  FREEDOM!!!

Yep, it’s gonna be one of those days.

I love the Search Engine terms tracker on the WordPress dashboard.  It is genuinely amusing to see how people find me, and I can’t help imagining the tremendous disappointment that must occasionally result.  I’ve been fortunate to get a lot of hits from people who saw The Grey and are looking for references to the “Live and die on this day” quote – that at least relates to something of substance.  I get a few from people searching for My Little Pony, The Verve, Coldplay, other search terms that happen to coincide with some of my random word strings, like “grahams wall of sound”.  But some of these other search engine terms are just plain bizarre.  The one that really made me laugh was “kesha good looking”.  Someone on the hunt for images of Kesha for what I’m certain are nothing less than the purest of purposes ended up here?  Granted some of what I write can hopefully be very thought-provoking, but those are definitely not the thoughts I’m trying to provoke.  Eeeww.  We won’t have none of that ‘ere, mate.  Keep calm and carry on.  Besides, silly rabbit, you should know that “Kesha” and “good looking” are not terms that relate.  Ooh, how catty of me.  Thanks, try the veal.

I wonder what it must feel like to have a voice that other people love to impersonate.  Do they ever listen to themselves and think, “good God, do I really sound like that?”  My own voice is quite unremarkable, so I enjoy dressing it up with different accents whenever the opportunity arises.  The other day I was watching a YouTube clip of Michael Caine doing an impression of himself, or more accurately, Michael Caine doing Peter Sellers doing Michael Caine.  It was all in good fun, of course, but how frustrating must it be that almost everyone you meet will be some wag who thinks he can “do you”?   As I’m certain even ordinary lads from Glasgow or Belfast must roll their eyes at attempts by continentals to affect their unique, history-nurtured tones.  One of the cardinal rules on whatever film set he happened to be working was that no one was allowed to impersonate Sean Connery, which I’m sure didn’t stop them from trying to slur “Missh Moneypenny” behind his back.  That is the problem, naturally – everyone thinks they can mimic Sean Connery and almost no one can pull it off.  The same goes for John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Johnny Carson and most of Rich Little’s repertoire.  Voice actors, I’m told, often start from a celebrity impersonation when they’re working up a new character.  The scratchy warbles of The Simpsons’ Moe the bartender began from what his performer Hank Azaria called a bad Al Pacino impression.  Somehow I doubt anyone will ever be accused of doing a bad Graham Milne impression – except maybe myself.

So what are my goals for this month?  Thirty-one days of possibility lie ahead, full of opportunity for both triumph and tragedy.  Gonna try to keep blogging as close to daily as I can, have a new screenplay to start working on, and, because I find that putting it out there publicly is a good way to motivate myself, I’m going to begin sending out my long-gestating novel to agents and publishers.  Hopefully the response will be as promising as that which has greeted my musings here.  If all goes well, maybe, by the 31st, I will, like the lion, have a good reason to roar.  Stay tuned!

Don’t worry Coldplay, I still love you

Fun-loving guys, not that you’d know it from the humorless Anton Corbijn photograph.

What’s with the Coldplay hate?  Google “Coldplay criticism” and you’ll find oodles of articles and blog posts slagging the successful English pop quartet for any number of ills including but not limited to vapid lyrics, uninspired melodies, unabashed sentimentality, and that most lethal of sins in the music world, being popular.  I suppose the pile-on of sour grapes might be understandable if Coldplay were a bunch of pretentious, unapologetic douches (a la Chris Brown), but that certainly isn’t the sense you get from them in interviews, or more importantly, in performance – no walking off the stage in a huff of profanity mid-set because there were brown M&M’s in the candy bowl.  No one, even their most ardent supporters, will claim that Coldplay are edgy, envelope-pushing avant-garders, but I’m not convinced that’s what they’ve ever wanted to be.  They are not tortured Van Goghs forcing music out through their pores in relentless emo wrist-cutting agony.  Throughout their career, they have never failed to lose sight of the goal that most musicians, ostensibly, set out to achieve – to entertain.  Last summer I wrote about seeing Hugh Jackman’s show and how his sheer love of his job elevates the act of performance into an unforgettable experience; Paul McCartney at 70 is the same, and so are Coldplay.  After every few songs, frontman Chris Martin will pause to ask the crowd, and not insincerely, “Everybody okay?”  You get the sense that if but one person were to answer in the negative, Coldplay would take it personally.  He and the band recognize, unlike many embittered bands that have gone before, that they are there because of the people smiling back at them, and they owe it to every ticket buyer to give it their all.

Martin himself is an unlikely rock star – a thin, thoughtful, fairly good-looking English kid with a decent but not exceptional voice vaulted almost against his will into the stratospheric realm occupied by the likes of Bono.  Like U2’s leader, he struggles to reconcile his absurd success and wealth with the plight of the less fortunate through activism, stumbling to follow in the footsteps of the one who forged the path and continues to cast an ever-imposing shadow over both men:  John Lennon.  Lennon went through his period of evolution too, once he got the silly love songs out of his system and turned his focus first inward, then outward at the craziness of a war-obsessed world, finding a way to unite both that remains unmatched.  As a songwriter, Martin’s focus has always been on his feelings, and his lyrics have struggled to articulate the complexity of relationships, sometimes, as even he will admit, with rhymes that don’t quite gel.  Any good storyteller knows the key to creating resonance is to focus on the emotions that we all share, and Coldplay would not connect with so many fans were Martin not on to something with the words he sings.  But even Dylan wouldn’t have gone anywhere had he not been able to put the words to memorable tunes, and this is where Coldplay truly shines.  Taking a cue, perhaps, from Phil Spector and the kitchen sink approach of the Wall of Sound, Coldplay have, in their best songs, crafted melodies that are symphonic in their scope, using piano and string craftily without overdoing it, without tipping into syrup.  They think and act big.  “Viva la Vida” became their biggest hit because of its cinematic feel – to extend the movie metaphor, it was like a polished Cecil B. DeMille epic sprung on an era accustomed to smirking, Dogma 95, stripped-down, low-budget garage angst.  And in subject, Martin veered away from the plight of the heart, tiptoeing into the Shakespearean realm of the lament of fallen kings.  Overwrought?  The potential was there certainly, but it never materialized.  Coldplay were smart enough not to make the whole album sound like that, which made “Viva la Vida” that much more special.

Their latest album, Mylo Xyloto, continues their collaboration with U2’s veteran producer Brian Eno, who is succeeding in pushing the band to go big without, as U2 sometimes does, forgetting what made them what they are in the first place.  Coldplay will always be Coldplay, and there is something comforting in that, like the favourite sweater you love pulling on after the work week is done.  Hipster music critics forever trying to elevate thoroughly mediocre bands to undeserved pedestals (The Strokes, anyone?) detest guys like Berryman, Buckland, Champion and Martin because they defy the expectation that real music must always come from a place of pain, and that true musicians are somehow better than the rest of us mortals – that they are more plugged in to the soul and how to express it through song.  Where Coldplay get it right is recognizing that amidst all the existential suffering, the soul wants to be happy.  It wants a reason to smile.  Why not then indulge that – make music that makes the listener feel as good as the performer?  If I want to be depressed and think that the world is an empty, meaningless, cynical place, I’ll put on the Lou Reed record.  I’ve always been more about the hope that things are better than I think they are, and for that purpose, Coldplay is ideal.  When Chris Martin asks “Everybody okay?”, he’s letting us know that he and his bandmates truly do care that we are.  I think that’s something to celebrate, not sneer at.

Fun with words: What’s missing?

A dollop of fun today, a touch dissimilar to rants past.  Your mission, and I think you’ll find it amusing, is to scan my paragraphs and unmask what’s missing from my words that you would normally find abundant.  It is my task also, to suss out if I can do it whilst maintaining a gripping account for visitors to my blog.  Why do I do this?  Curiosity, mainly; to find if it is at all within my writing skills.  Do I fancy my output as wordplay on par with that of a craftsman such as, say, Nabokov?  Hardly.  Most vigorously not, in point of fact.  Triumph in this pursuit, or falling short, will signify nothing important, or lasting.  It is, truly, just for kicks.

Pray, what to talk about today?  Our world is a cornucopia, rampant with judicious topics:  a sampling might contain a follow-up to All Hallows’, political turmoil abroad and on our own soil, institutional ramifications of Kim Kardashian’s imploding nuptials, or sonic vistas from Coldplay’s album Mylo Xyloto.  Or my familiar go-to if nothing can catch my imagination on that day, Aaron Sorkin’s vast portfolio of writings.  Anyway, I’ll go for a story I find particularly irritating.

Much was said about Ms. Kardashian’s 72-day sham, mainly and rightly, that it is folly to proclaim in this day of our ongoing commoditization of stardom that any should look upon gay unions as a singular hazard to that most holy (said with sarcasm) institution of matrimony.  Is it not individuals such as Kim who turn such important rituals into ridiculous “shows” for cash who should catch our communal scorn?  Why do loyalists to a particular political inclination go on fighting to bar gay unions if straight Kim and company can flaunt what is so important to so many loving pairs with such disdain?  A high point of hypocrisy, I would think.  Not that it’s a shock coming from such sorts.  It’s always about “saving our morality,” a worn-out justification to attack things out of favour with a diminishing group of old right-wing layabouts.

A propos of our villain in this saga, you cannot totally fault Kim.  Truly, all of us must swallow our own wrongdoing in popularizing Kim’s antics and crafting a mass craving for additional clowning around; purchasing stacks of flimsy publications thanks simply to Kim’s mug only adds to this “famous-for-nothing” lady’s kingdom of public domination.  It will not stop until common man opts to turn his focus away and to topics of vital import.  Until that day, Kim Kardashian and ilk will maintain an unnatural hold on our discussion and grow rich, with a continuing sum contribution of nothing to civilization’s gradual growth (or stagnation).

I shall stop my rant at this point and ask you again to look back at this post and say what is missing.  For my part, it was good fun to craft.  You may submit your thoughts in our usual way.  Alas, naught but bragging rights to our victor.  Good luck though, and happy hunting!