Jay Brannan has recently released a new album, Rob me Blind. It’s treat, Jay always delivers meaningful, thoughtful lyrics that can take you from a smile to tears and back again within a chorus. One of the songs on the album is called The State of Music and he launches a fun but stinging attack on The State of Music (in 20 seconds, can you scream something for us, and in 6 seconds arrive at the chorus?) but he ends the song with a touching recognition of the musicians that have influenced and inspired him.
My brain has been whirring on this blog post for a couple of weeks and I’ve needed to settle and actually write it. Trying to unpick my own pantheon of storytelling inspirations has been fun and all roads lead back to Canterbury and my first year at University. Even more specifically than that it seems all roads lead back to my “Modern Theatre: an overview of the post-modern landscape” module. So much of the theatre and performance art I saw and read in the Spring and Summer terms settled to form a bedrock of style, intonation and content for me.
When I worked at the Guild of Students one of the sabbatical officers led some health and safety training with me. Afterwards she stopped me and said it was “breathtaking, it was like you were permanently about to reveal something surprising and shocking”. High praise indeed for asides in what can seem like dry training.
During my first year at uni I had a cassette (yeah, I know!) of Definite Article and Glorious and played them pretty much on loop for the whole of the year. I loved Eddie Izzard for all the same reasons everyone else does. What stuck for me was the rambling delivery and the joy of ideas colliding in ways that shouldn’t ever. I think I loved Eddie Izzard too much and hid a little behind his delivery for a few years and this wasn’t properly challenged until I was on a series of workshops run by Improbable Theatre and the lovely (talented, funny, wise etc etc) Phelim and Lee picked it up. They fixed my in the eye and said “That’s a nice Eddie Izzard parody but what are you like underneath…” Just had a repeat of the same sink in my stomach as when they caught me out but that was the kind of workshops that were being run, stuff got aired, things were challenged and unpicked. It was a supportive, collaborative, therapeutic environment where you could honestly say to the group “this is me”. (I miss the Improbable Workshop kids, they were impossibly cool, creative and wonderful.)
I’ve written before about actually meeting Tim Miller in the flesh but not talked specifically about the huge influence his work had on me. The first piece I read by Tim was a section from Shirts and Skins about the first houses in New York he lived in (aka The Maw of Death!). Tim’s writing/performing is deeply autobiographical, unashamedly sexy and rooted in his activism and it was intoxicating to 18 year old me. (And it still is. Tim’s theatre and books continue to inspire me) I wrote a bit of a fanboy email to Tim when I scouted out his email address online somewhere. Couple of years passed and he was performing as part of the Fierce Festival in Birmingham and I made sure I was there. Afterwards I approached Tim and said “Hello, I’ve emailed you before you can’t possibly…” and before I could finish my sentence he said “Ben? You’re Ben!” all I can manage is a blushy nod. “Well Helloooooo”. (Cue melt, flush of embarrassment and a thrill that he remembered my fanboyish email. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how every fan should be greeted. I know it’s not possible but I got lucky)
I’m a HUGE Jeanette Winterson fan. I’m greatful to Jeanette Winterson for writing it but also equally thankful to Mrs Lavedera for setting it for my English A Level group. (I could easily have ended up reading The Collector by John Fowles and then where would we all be?) Oranges are not the only fruit helped. Here was autobiographical fiction or a created past or reality filtered through allegory… Truth hidden behind a knotty fence that you could peer through and catch tantalizing revelatory glimpses. Oranges… was a story I could relate to, it’s a story that helped me realise I wasn’t the only person who felt the way I felt and also offered the promise of survival. I enjoy her novels and am so thankful she’s written them and I’ve read them.
The word I seem to keep banging on and on about is revealing/revelation/revelatory. Apocalypse is something I’m known for being a fan of (in an end of everything way) I also enjoy that apocalypse is a revelation of something hidden. Naturally I think some of that goes to my nature as a person of faith, my faith journey is one of continual growing understanding and mystery. My understanding of myself is continually unfolding and developing too.