Friday, 25 January 2013

Goodbye Andrew

Andrew Cox: 14th July 1961 - 26th January 2009

I moved to Lewisham in south-east London in August 1990. Sue, my father's second wife, prompted more by the need to make conversation than any burning interest, had asked 'has that always been your dream, Lawrence - to live in Lewisham?'

It really hadn't, but it seemed roughly like a step in the right direction, and I don't think Sue was overly familiar with the various boroughs of south-east London. Had she been, she probably would have phrased the question differently.

The overpriced rabbit hutch in Ryecroft Road into which I squeezed myself and all my worldly belongings wasn't really the sort of place you'd associate with sane people. It was a large, five bedroom house with just myself and some conspicuously and understandably unhappy guy called Greg renting the two smallest rooms. The rest of the house sat empty - all tenants driven away by a landlord who was basically a massive arsehole - and the fridge was full of ants. It was therefore nice to get away at weekends, and within a month of moving I was on the train to Norwich to stay with my friend Glenn. Historically speaking, Glenn had achieved minor notoriety as roadie to Throbbing Gristle, then as a founder member of power electronics band Whitehouse, but his main thing had always been Konstruktivists - never really an industrial band, maybe more of a krautrock deal with a few other ingredients, and resistant to easy classification. I'd done record sleeves for Konstruktivists and Glenn had now asked me to play guitar, so we spent a few days working out some  material on his four-track recorder.

A couple of years earlier, Dave Henderson of Sounds music paper had compiled The Elephant Table Album, a double vinyl collection of tracks by a variety of left field musicians - Portion Control, Nocturnal Emissions, Nurse With Wound and others. Konstruktivists had a track on there, so Glenn had been sent a freebie of the 1989 reissue, which, no longer possessing a turntable, he passed on to me. As I sat reading the cover, I noticed that one of the bands had listed a contact address in Lewisham, presumably some place quite near the overpriced rabbit hutch of doom and ants. They were called MFH - I knew of them by name alone, some guys whose tapes I'd seen reviewed here and there in various fanzines, but that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge.

As I didn't actually know anyone in Lewisham, and here was this mutual interest in weirdy music distributed by cassette tape, I wrote to MFH as soon as I was back in London, and we met up in The White Horse, opposite the kebab place at the lower end of Belmont Hill. The two of them were waiting with a wooden duck on the table, the sign by which I was to identify them, thus avoiding embarrassing mix-ups involving any other experimental music duo who might have been in the pub at the time. Their names were David Elliott and Andrew Cox - by this point collectively known as Pump rather than MFH - and as soon as I realised this, the penny dropped.

Well, not really a penny of any great revelatory thrust, but Glenn had given me a tape about five years before, something he'd been sent in the post and thought I might appreciate: Methods - sixty minutes of droning home-recorded ambience by Andrew Cox. Of all the tapes to ever randomly settle into my collection, Methods had actually made a significant impression and so I'd listened to it a lot. Also, it turned out that David had once produced a fanzine called Neumusik which I recalled as having been praised in at least a few of the fanzines I'd read. So whilst there were gaps, there was surprising acreage at the intersection of our Venn diagram. We hit it off immediately, although I grew to know Andrew better being as David was soon to marry and move away from the area.

Andrew worked as a programmer at Cazenove which, for better or worse, paid well enough to feed his wine and song habit - ten or more CDs a week I seem to recall in regard to the latter. It wasn't that he had any particularly Bacchanalian tendencies, quite the opposite in fact - Andrew led a solitary lifestyle. He was a man with, as we say, issues, and had taken to quietly drinking himself into a relatively happy place more or less each evening. The thing is, as his friends none of us ever quite fully understood what those issues could be, only that they were serious for Andrew, as suggested by his having severed all lines of contact with his family some years before. Like many who struggle with genuine psychological obstacles - as opposed to the sort of whining crap associated with self-help literature and a pathological need to tell anyone who will listen - Andrew didn't really like to talk about it, and got along as best he could with little complaint.

We would meet in The White Horse, initially every day around five, later rationalised to Wednesdays and Fridays when I realised that three or four pints a night was beyond the capacity of both my liver and my weekly wage. Andrew would always be immaculately dressed, usually with carrier bag containing a bottle of wine and whatever he was planning to heat up for the evening; and for a guy with problems, he was rarely anything less than great company up until the point at which I'd notice he was pissed, and with the monosyllables home and then food, he'd trundle off into the night. We would talk about music, anything from Schoenberg to The Ramones to Nurse With Wound - Andrew having been one of the many guests on their Sylvie and Babs Hi-Fi Companion album in the case of the latter. We would talk about books, films, writing, science, philosophy, art, mutual acquaintances from other realms of our shared cassette culture Venn diagram. He introduced me to the writing of Charles Bukowski, Jean-Paul Sartre, P.J. O'Rourke and Bill Bryson; to the music of Tad, Wire, Curve, My Bloody Valentine, L7, Karl Blake, and others. We covered just about everything because, for all that he was often withdrawn and always softly spoken, Andrew was one of the most interesting people I've known, incapable of being boring, and often very, very funny. His puns alone were of such strength as to interfere with radar and bring down low flying aircraft. Within the space of an hour and roughly two pints he could reduce me to tears with some random observation - a hypothesis that the landlord's son being conspicuously and suddenly in possession of a girlfriend could only be explained by possession of a penis the size of Norfolk - then effortlessly segue into an explanation of Kierkegaard's most tortuous assertions without coming across like a dick. It seems fair to say that Andrew was very much unique.

I was still distantly involved in the cassette thing, and I had this somewhat nebulous plan spun from the fact that both David and Andrew vaguely knew Glenn - a tape of both Konstruktivists and Pump Live at The White Horse, Lewisham which would just be the four of us sat around a table, getting pissed and talking bollocks for ninety minutes. Thankfully, it never happened, although I did collaborate with Andrew in a musical capacity on a couple of occasions, notably sarcastic renderings of Whitehouse songs for Impulse magazine's White Stained Covers compilation. Also I'd played cardboard box drum kit for Henry during one rehearsal; Henry comprising Andrew on guitar and Paul A. Woods as east London's Johnny Cash - Johnny Readies, I suppose.

Eventually, girlfriend number two showed up at my slightly roomier rabbit hutch in Boyne Road, so I took a break from bachelorhood and moved to East Dulwich, still popping over to Lewisham for the roughly weekly drink because it would have been strange not to do so. Andrew's nightly bottle of wine had by this point begun to exact something of a toll, and he was ordered to pack it in on peril of his liver exploding. Cazenove turned out to be the sort of company that valued its employees, or at least valued Andrew, paying for his private care, drying out, recovery, retreat and so on. It worked, and we all adapted to the peculiar routine of going to the pub with Andrew same as before, except we'd moved to The Watch House as our beloved White Horse had been refurbished in order to appeal to arseholes, and Andrew was now downing three pints of Red Bull before departing with the promise of home and food.

On one occasion I went back to Andrew's flat to borrow a DVD and realised that something really was wrong - not always apparent from his generally smart appearance and cheerfully sober temperament maintained even whilst obviously three sheets to the wind. It was a nice flat, but movement within was difficult due to every available surface, including even those in the bathroom and in the tub itself occupied by skyscrapers of books, CDs, cassettes, newspapers, and empty wine bottles. It wasn't exactly unclean or dirty, but seemed like a slightly crazy person had been turning their living space into a scale model of New York City. It was worryingly easy to imagine this spectacle as resembling the contents of Andrew's head.

Unfortunately, the amazing and convincing recovery was not to last. For whatever reason, Andrew just coped better with booze; and it became increasingly difficult to stay in touch given that he'd always been solitary to some extent and was someone you rarely saw outside the context of alcohol. Medically retired, or at least ordered to avoid work until he was better, he moved to Portsmouth and was further reduced to an internet presence which, in February 2007, reported:

I am indeed still alive. Life has, as ever, been something of a roller-coaster ride, involving a fractured kneecap, a noisy neighbour, clinical depression, moving house, a stay at the loony bin, and Zen Buddhism. I was off work for eighteen months, but am in the process of returning at the moment.

I'm also back on the booze, but not in an over-the-top way. And the meds I'm on seem to prevent me feeling shit the next day, which is nice.

Serendipitously I received the new single by The Cravats and Paul Hartnoll today, and lo it is good. Surely this is a sign...

Sadly it wasn't, and in January 2008:

Sorry that I haven't been in touch for some time, but life has been shit. I've been in and out of the loony bin until my medical insurance ran out. I'm currently on some seriously heavy medication, and drinking a litre of vodka a day.

The news we had all been expecting came a year later when David Elliott wrote to me:

Although there was a tragic inevitability about it, I'm still greatly shocked and above all hugely saddened. I knew Andrew for nearly thirty years. I can still remember the day we first met, at Sussex University in October 1979. We shared a passion for music which led to recording our own stuff on-and-off throughout the 80s and a little beyond. I treasure our times in pubs planning art projects, writing, talking about literature and life... for a time with you too. He was both incredibly intelligent and highly creative.

Sadly, he had his personal demons and the way he chose to battle them was through drink. I was relieved when he went teetotal in 1998 and have happy memories of an outwardly contented, sociable friend at Liz and my wedding a year later - just before work took me to Japan and Thailand for most of the last decade. Distance and my family meant that we didn’t see too much of each other during that time but I always tried to see him on trips home and we corresponded regularly. The last couple of years had seen Andrew spiral back into alcoholism and depression and in the last few months his emails got increasingly desperate. I visited him in March and July last year; he knew how perilous his situation was, yet seemed calm and almost optimistic. I’m just so sorry I couldn’t help him more.

Four years later I'm still not sure I've entirely processed any of this.

About a month ago my wife and I went to the CD & DVD Exchange and I picked up the Lazer Guided Melodies album by Spiritualized, recalling that Andrew had taped it for me over a decade earlier. We played it in the car on the way home, and completely unexpected, as it got to the track 'Shine a light' - always an emotionally potent number - I realised I was crying like a baby. Not having heard the album since Andrew was alive, the song had somehow become instilled with his presence; and for a few minutes it seemed like the whole world had gone wrong.

I still don't know what to say except that it hurts, and that he, of all people, really should have had a better life, and that he should still be here.

Andrew was barely a blip in the great scheme of things, but he was a major, major event in my own faintly ludicrous narrative. The list of influential artists, musicians, and writers whom I discovered through Andrew is astonishing. He bought me Terror of the Autons, the Jon Pertwee era Doctor Who serial for my birthday when it came out on VHS, thus - against all expectations - reintroducing me to a show about which I had all but forgotten; and that led to the books, which inadvertently led to an interest in Prehispanic Mexico, which ultimately led to my moving to Texas and getting married, and to my writing Against Nature - roughly speaking my third novel and the first to be published.

In short, I can't even begin to imagine where I would have been right now were it not for Andrew. I only wish he were here too.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Doctor Who and the Jane Eyre

Literature is all very well, but as many Doctor Who fans will testify, the problem with most novels is that on average very few of them delineate the adventures of that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor. Stroll into any high street book store, pick a book at random from the nearest shelf, and it's statistically unlikely that it will proudly sport a Doctor Who logo on the front cover and its quality must therefore be called to question; perhaps even requiring that one should spend precious time reading the thing before being able to make a judgement so as to deduce whether or not it is worth reading in the first place - a paradox worthy of Stephen Moffet himself! It's madness, plain and simple, and whilst you're dutifully ploughing through Crime and Punishment or The Unbearable Lightness of Being or whatever, wondering just when the action is going to begin, think on - that time could have been spent reading a brilliant Doctor Who novel or watching some exciting science-fiction on television.

Only recently, both Michael Moorcock and Stephen Baxter wrote brilliant novels featuring that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor. It turned out that both of these Doctor Who authors were already published, although none of their previous work featured that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor; giving rise to many serious questions.

Just who were these men?

Would they be able to do justice to the adventures of that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor?

Would their work measure up to the standards already set by important Doctor Who authors such as Mark Morris and Terrance Dicks?

Doctor Who and the Jane Eyre is the first of a brilliant range of Doctor Who novels reclaiming the greats of literature from the obscurity to which they have been unfortunately relegated, updated for a new generation of readers eager to read further exploits of that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor and those other mysterious travellers in time and space known only as the companions of that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor.

The idea sprang from the recent successful stage production of Doctor Who and the Dumb Waiter wherein Harold Pinter's psychologically fraught theatrical masterpiece was enlivened by the silent presence of Matt Smith's Doctor pulling hilariously eccentric faces and making balloon animals at one side of the stage for the duration of the performance. Everyone said that it was brilliant, particularly Matt Smith's portrayal of the Doctor, and so from one brilliant idea was born new hope for a dead medium as reading became cool once again.

Doctor Who and the Jane Eyre tells of the life of Charlotte Brontë's mysterious governess at Thornfield Hall known only as Jane Eyre, her difficult and unhappy childhood at Lockwood School for Girls, her tempestuous relationship with Mr. Rochester, and the culmination of her quest for happiness, complete with occasional observations made by a mysterious stranger living in the grounds of Thornfield within a mysterious blue police box from the future, and the intriguing possibility that Bertha Mason - the proverbial mad woman in the attic - may actually be the Master (a theme which will presumably be examined further in November with the publication of Doctor Who and the Wide Sargasso Sea)! Furthermore, newly reimagined by a team of seasoned Doctor Who authors (the cover credit to Terrance Dicks serves to indicate the sort of excellence readers may expect rather than any literal authorial credentials), the quality of this obscure classic is guaranteed, as all discerning Doctor Who fans will be able to tell from the following excerpt:

"Shall I?" I said briefly; and I looked at his features, beautiful in their harmony, but strangely formidable in their still severity; at his brow, commanding, but not open; at his eyes, bright and deep and searching, but never soft; at his tall imposing figure; and fancied myself in idea his wife. Oh! it would never do! As his curate, his comrade, all would be right: I would cross oceans with him in that capacity; toil under Eastern suns, in Asian deserts with him in that office; admire and emulate his courage and devotion and vigour: accommodate quietly to his masterhood; smile undisturbed at his ineradicable ambition.

"Jelly baby?" asked that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor grinningly, a crumpled paper bag in his hand.

The tradition of western literature comprises a great wealth of material ripe for elevation to the grand status of Doctor Who novel, so this is really only the beginning, but Doctor Who fans can be assured that the misery of dull plodding books with no Doctor will soon be a thing of the past, a past that not even that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor will be able to visit in his amazing Tardis!

Hooray for Doctor Who and Doctor Who books featuring that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor!

Currently available: Doctor Who and the Jane Eyre, Doctor Who and the Gone with the Wind, Doctor Who and the Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Doctor Who and the Carpetbaggers.

In Preparation: Doctor Who and the Tale of Two Cities, Doctor Who and the Star Trek Annual 1975, Doctor Who and the Art of War, Doctor Who and the Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters, Doctor Who and the Man's Search for Meaning, Doctor Who and the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles - Fourteenth Edition, Doctor Who and the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Texas Cow People

Over the course of the last eighteen months I've grown somewhat protective, even defensive regarding my adopted home state. Now that I'm living here, I've become painfully aware of how Texas and its people tend to be viewed by uninformed morons. As we all know, the American Civil War was fought because Lincoln wanted to free all the slaves from evil southern types with their moonshine and their Lynyrd Skynyrd albums on eight track, and that's the only reason, and there were no other factors involved. The north loved freedom and improvised jazz and all that good stuff, and the south has always been as you would expect it to be from reading comic books by award winning Quentin Tarantino karaoke turns like Garth Ennis: barbecues and lynchings mainly.

I'm joking, or at least employing a somewhat acidic brand of sarcasm, but sadly there are quarters where such views are held in earnest. People who've never been here nevertheless feel amply qualified to offer their uninformed opinions on the grounds of having seen a television programme about George Bush, or having met some guy for five minutes back in 1987, or being English and therefore eminently qualified to confront strangers with the error of their peculiar foreign ways, what with England being the fount of all culture and civilisation. Even people from northern states join in the fun, quipping about how much better America would be if we could just get rid of Texas, although being as that sentiment seems most often expressed by residents of New England, it's probably not worth taking too seriously.

Texans, I have found as a generalisation, are among the most pleasant people I've met anywhere in the world with the possible exception of Mexicans and the French. Texans, for the most part, conduct themselves with dignity and good manners without any apparent need to prove anything. When I walk around San Antonio I see faces of all colours, mostly either content or just getting on with it, no white pointy hoods, conspicuously born firearms or burning crosses; none busily making online pronouncements regarding the supposedly unsavoury national character of an entire country based upon the foreign policy of its government; none so repellent or inbred as the milk-souring gargoyles I used to watch braving the shitty English weather, faces twisted by some pathological need to make everyone else as miserable as themselves, skin the colour of blu-tack. Without further expanding this brief disclaimer into an essay on why I prefer Texas to, for example, the country that gave us Simon Cowell, Jeremy Clarkson and the Daily Mail proclaiming Hurrah for the Blackshirts, I'll leave it with the summation that I'd rather live in a fucking cake tin in San Antonio than a luxury apartment in London.

It therefore causes me great pain to write of the Cow People, one aspect by which the state of Texas has somewhat let itself down. Cows are amongst my favourite dairy animals, so I should probably make it clear that I'm not referring to either them or to the esteemed agriculturalists who provide their care, or at least who provide their care up to the point at which they are converted into beefs. Cow People tend to be bright pink, around seven feet tall, and can be seen slowly cruising the aisles of major supermarket outlets in search of meat. Their top cruising speed levels off at about one mile an hour which, because they often visit stores as a bonded pair sometimes with one or two Texas Calf People in tow, and because some of them may also grow up to seven feet in diameter, presents a considerable impediment to the more conspicuously mobile members of the community. Anyone reading this in some part of the world specialising in small people and thus having trouble imagining such a scenario can recreate the experience by attempting to shop whilst having groups of friends slowly propel couches up and down the aisles of the store. The best way to avoid Texas Cow People whilst shopping is to steer clear of sections stocking meat or barbecue supplies, these being where they tend to congregate. Cow People, I am forced to surmise, consider cooking a bit fancy and thus favour the simpler method of setting a big pile of meat on fire.

If inconvenient, this tendency towards obstruction is not so annoying as what happens once the Cow People have purchased their meat and take it out to their truck; because it's always a fucking truck, because just as the universe is essentially recursive with the same forces which spin galaxies into fractal configurations similarly prescribing the subatomic interplay of gluons, muons, and mu-mesons, pointlessly enormous people must go from the place where meat is sold to the place where meat is set on fire by means of a pointlessly enormous vehicle.

Trucks are the most obvious visual clue as to the presence of Texas Cow People, the factor which differentiates Texas from Catford in southeast London, a borough similarly blessed with a puzzlingly massive branch of humanity. I know I've left Texas when I am no longer able to see trucks, because out of every ten vehicles on a San Antonio highway, seven will be trucks the size of cruise liners. Of course, not all of these trucks are driven entirely without  justification. There are trucks favoured by landscape gardeners carting their lawn mowers around, or the few farmers who drive into town to pick up supplies - timber or whatever - but the other six of those seven drivers will be people employed at banks, stores, warehouses, or some guy called Chet who kind of has a job working for his billionaire father, except it isn't paid, but then he doesn't really need the money, and no-one seems to know what the job entails or where he goes when he isn't having one of his many days off. These people need a truck the size of fucking Belgium like I need my feet surgically removed and replaced with wheels. They don't have anything huge requiring transportation, excepting possibly themselves, and no-one in Texas farms elephants to the best of my knowledge, so rounding up escaped Jumbos should not be an issue. Texas has trucks in much the same way as certain parts of south east London have those off-road land cruisers by which yummy mummies drive their single tiny child to private school; and it's annoying.

The vehicles look absurd, Claes Oldenburg versions of the Tonka trucks I played with as a kid, the automotive equivalent of 58" silicon breasts sold via a direct psychological hotline to some guy who hasn't yet noticed that he's no longer six. When I stop at a junction on the bicycle I ride due to being too stupid to have ever got around to learning how to drive, often I find I am unable to turn as desired, not due to oncoming traffic, but due to being unable to assess the state of oncoming traffic, my field of vision being blocked by some overinflated Ford or General Motors balloon toy obstructing my view of half of the entire universe and driven by someone whose favourite television show is a clip of a man falling over to a soundtrack of uproarious laughter.

Texas, I'll be forever grateful for your letting me come to stay, and I can hardly begin to express how glad I am that almost everything I'd heard about you has turned out to be complete drivel; but we really need to do something about these Cow People.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Steve Parsons

Back in the late seventeenth century prior to the beginning of my career as a fat old man with all sorts of fascinating stories about the good old days when industrial music meant a gentleman in a wig reciting an amusing ode about serial murder whilst his accompanist rummaged around inside a harpsichord, I involved myself with the independent cassette scene. It began with an advert in Sounds music paper, and took me to all sorts of strange and wonderful if not particularly tuneful places. Still at school, every other day would see the letter box bulging anew with tapes, letters, and fanzines from all sorts of people all across the globe, and even the worst of them had more integrity in a single crappy C30 of some bloke moaning about Thatcher than in the entire run of America's Got the X-Factor in Their Eyes; and about half of those envelopes, once open, would invariably loose a pile of flyers for other tapes and fanzines onto my living room carpet, amongst them adverts run off on an old spirit duplicator for Big Banana Productions.

I met Steven Parsons, the man behind Big Banana Productions about a decade later. By then his tape distribution label had simplified to the less conspicuously wacky BBP Productions, and had expanded to the emission of vinyl records. I was playing guitar and keyboards in UNIT with Andy Martin, Dave Fanning, Nathan Coles, and Pete Williams, of whom the first two I initially encountered through that previously mentioned network of people like ourselves making and sending tapes, letters and fanzines to each other. We spent about a week in a studio in Brixton recording a pile of songs which BBP released on 7" vinyl as Richard Dawkins is Together With Us. That record still sounds good to me, and it was a very enjoyable week hanging out with Ian McKay - who had produced Skullflower and Ramleh amongst others; and Steve Parsons, or Gogs as he was known due to the glasses - who was there because he was paying for it; playing pool upstairs in the studio whilst Pete battered his drum kit into fragments; and finding myself ridiculously starstruck by a random encounter with Mark Perry of Alternative TV.

Anyway, I've just heard from Andy that Gogs died on Christmas Eve after the sadly typical lengthy battle with cancer. He wasn't my best buddy, anyone I knew particularly well, or even someone I've actually seen since about 1995, but that doesn't make his passing seem any less sad. He was one of those people who did stuff in an era when it actually required work to do stuff rather than just sitting there clicking on a mouse. He made the world a better place than he found it in some small way, and certainly made mine briefly exciting when the first copies of the UNIT EP turned up.

Rest in peace, matey.

Friday, 4 January 2013

The Principal Speaks

What is the magic of this thing we call freedom of speech?

'Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls; it emproudens and nobilizes  my heart that one such as I who is but a humble man with the very great privilege to call himself a tool in the workshop of Our Lord should be so enblessed with the joyous task of welcomizing all of you good folks here today to this, our 126th annual holiday pageant as we raise our voices in song and ask what is the wonder of this thing we call the San Antonio Academy for Prestigious Children.'

The Principal clasps his hands and beams Osmond teeth at the assembly as a mote of Disney™ magic sparkles off the wonder of these things that are his spectacles. He's Carl Sagan but with the precocious offspring of millionaires as his subject rather than the cosmos of which Texas is quite obviously the heart; and he works his audience with the confidence of one who knows that not one bottle of snake oil will be found unsold within the wonder of this thing that is his metaphorical covered wagon by the end of the hour.

'Now it seems like it was only yesterday that I was myself just an eager first grader carrying my Lone Ranger brunchbox from class to board meeting, and today as we participize in this gathermentation of the mightiest, most powerful children that San Antonio hath ever known in the singing of praise for this holiday season, hoping maybe Santa will bring us that game we wanted, maybe those junior stocks and shares, those Forbes magazine movers and shakers action figures, we must pause to give thanks and to substantially donate to this, the wonder of this thing that we call our esteemed institution where the young men of tomorrow's America, statesmen and senators, deck the halls with charming and enchantmented hopes that they too might one day become men of great weight and moment much like ourselves by the bounteous gift of the wonder of this thing we call learning and understandment to be lawyers and award-winning surgeons.'

He smiles, an informal nod to those fathers who, being of such immense importance, persons so critical as to be directly responsible for the fact of the Earth continuing to revolve in the heavens so generously granted by the wonder of this thing we call God - although this being Texas, we pronounce it Gahrd, sort of like John Wayne in The Greatest Story Ever Told - those fathers who have come all this way to hear little Winchester Smorgasbord-Levington IX run through an enthusiastic if not entirely tuneful rendition of 'Pop Goes the Weasel', coming forth direct from the surgery and the business of saving the lives of men of great import, statesmen and senators, brain transplants, rocket surgery and unto all that sort of business - so damn important that they haven't had time to change out of their hospital scrubs and are thus sat upon the bleachers in mighty and ostentatious green, because each and every one of those men may be called away at any minute to prevent the universe from exploding. That's how important they are, let me tell you, these fathers to the future of greatness.

'Well, the boys have been practising hard, learning their instruments,' - he nods to the teacher responsible. She's nineteen years old and came here in the belief that it would be cute to teach grade schoolers about stuff, plus it was kind of boring and stuff sitting around on that ranch with her husband, octogenarian Jedediah Sterling III away in either Vegas or hanging around the oil wells all the time; plus it wasn't like she actually needed any sort of teaching qualification or stuff; so she smiles back, acknowledging the approval of her commander in chief, definitely looking pretty damn hot for his age, not that that's a problem, obviously - 'so I know they have a wonderful selection of songs to perform for you as we celebrate the wonder of this thing we call the holiday season, the most magical time of the year, looking forward to the future as we join together emproudened as one and grateful for those we love as we recall with humilification that true riches are not to be found in our mansions, or the many, many motor vehicles we may each of us have at our disposal, or even our stocks and shares, statesman and the wonder of this thing we call senators...'

Now he's just emitting random adjectives like some sort of human pulsar, enchanted Disney™ castles of wonderment reflected in each pupil, eyes welling up as unto those of a Dickensian orphan afforded the wonderment of his first thanksgiving turkey by a generous and important surgeon who, having just saved the life of a beloved millionaire, now understands the true meaning of Christmas. The audience don't seem to mind. The wives smile as one, parallel evolution - well okay then, parallel intelligent design - drawing them all towards a single ideal, face-lifting them all towards the perfection of the wonder of this thing we call Pamela Ewing from the CBS night time soap opera Dallas running from 1978 to 1987. This is a process known as the Victoria Principle. Ein volk, ein reich, ein gesicht...

'Excellence... achievement... heritage... faith...' He's been speaking for less than a minute and hasn't actually said anything at all, from zero to perfect no content null calorie rhetoric in just under thirty seconds, a montage of words forming an impressionistic effect that roughly serves for meaning. It doesn't really matter what is said so long as it sounds about right, which also seems to be how the school operates, possibly part of some larger push by a culture which appears to be in the process of performing a contentectomy on itself.

This is nothing new to me. It's just surprising to see it happening up close, and from this angle.