Bum Notes

Ahead of starting my new “Composing Song Lyrics” module next semester, I wanted to do something different here and review the next album I listened to for the first time. That way, I’d have something to go with my review of the film Whiplash, which I posted here at the end of June. It was my birthday on Sunday, and at my request, Louis gave me one of the albums that I needed to plug a conspicuous hole in my vinyl collection – I was missing the final three Oasis records, of which Dig Out Your Soul is the last. Released in 2008, this seventh studio effort was also the seventh consecutive album by the Manchester icons to go to number one in the UK, and their last hurrah before their abrupt split in August 2009. As we have now arrived at the tenth anniversary of the event, it seems apt for me to tackle their last offering now, even if this did come about entirely by coincidence. Louis tells me that he chose Dig Out Your Soul because out of all my missing Oasis albums, “it had the prettiest cover”.

Dad plugged my record player back in – after it had spent the last couple of months in the garage following my return from university – and I listened to the album from start to finish with my notebook to hand. I tried to write something about every song, even if it was just a few words or a single sentence. For the opening track, “Bag It Up”, I wrote “raw, repetitive, lumbering juggernaut of a riff begins the album. Liam’s vocals are crisp but full of attitude.” As I soon discovered, those words presented me with a considerable problem – namely that I could pretty much say the same for every song. I’m not saying that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but as I got further into the album, I struggled to muster anything more adventurous, to the point where it felt like I was scraping the bottom of the barrel out of desperation at times.

I can see the decline in the notes I made. Of “The Turning”, the album’s second song, I was able to say that its opening was “soft and more subdued, with gentle drums and keyboards.” From this point, though, I can tell that I was gradually running out of any kind of valuable insight. All I could offer on “Waiting For The Rapture” was that it was “stylistically similar to the opening track”, and a throwaway reference to the fact that Noel Gallagher apparently wrote it about meeting his wife. It got even worse by the time of “Ain’t Got Nothin'”, another song full of attitude that only received a response of “typical Liam!” from me. I did redeem myself to some extent with certain judgements. I managed to specify that “The Shock of the Lightning” was “a great, unashamedly rock and roll anthem that would have been great to hear live”, and “I’m Outta Time” was a song that seemed to “unknowingly foreshadow” the fate of Oasis itself. Overall, though, my attempt to thoroughly review Dig Out Your Soul fell flat on its face – there were several songs about which I could say nothing at all.

I don’t think that’s a reflection on the quality of the album at all. There are only a select few records I’ve ever heard that I’ve categorically disliked. It’s more a reflection on my own reviewing abilities, and the fact that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the depth I was looking for. I didn’t feel confident enough to try using any musical terminology either, and the end result was a set of notes that couldn’t have looked less knowledgeable if they’d tried. They’ve given me a reason to go back to the drawing board, but I’m going to look at that as a positive thing. Maybe my upcoming module will give me the insight into the songwriting process that I need to confidently discuss how music is made. At the very least, it’ll allow me to think about adding another string to my writing bow, and including more reviews here. Mum has told me they’d be well worth doing more often, so maybe – for once – I should take her advice on board!

Mason

 

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Fade To Black

Towards the end of July, I wrote about a script for a short film that I was gradually developing from a short story I’d written last year, Warm Leather. Knowing how badly I procrastinate, I was doubtful that I’d manage to get it finished anytime soon, but I’m now pleased to report that I’ve broken the habit of a lifetime – I have a complete draft! I typed the words “fade to black” on Tuesday last week, and quickly shared what I’d done with a small group of friends. They may have been slightly biased, but the feedback they gave was largely favourable, so for now I will stick with the draft I have – my next objective is to send it elsewhere and see if I can find some more informed advice.

After so many years of only managing to write snippets of script, it means rather a lot to me to have committed to this one through to the end, even though it’s only 14 pages long (quarter of an hour in length, rather than the half an hour I had anticipated). It’s given me a solid starting point to develop and grow the story where necessary, and if nothing else, it’s been good practice for the “Creating Short Screenplays” module I’m starting in Winchester next semester. I couldn’t be happier with my progress so far, and if I can find the right place to send it next, then who knows? Maybe this won’t be the last update I give you…

Mason

 

The Lip In The Road

You’d think that now I’m rapidly approaching my 22nd birthday, I might be grown-up and mature enough not to overlook the important things in my life – especially not something as important as my wheelchair’s battery level. Sadly, though, it would appear that I still have much to learn, as that’s exactly what I did when going to and from work on Tuesday. The chair had supposedly been on continuous charge since the previous Thursday, when I’d last been out in it, so there was no reason for me to suspect that it would be anything other than full to the brim with power when I clambered aboard in the morning. That was, of course, until I turned it on…

The display told me that I only had five bars of power – two orange, and three red. That meant I had less than half a battery left, and I knew from previous experience that that was even less than it looked. Sure enough, as soon as I’d emerged from the garage and was halfway up the road, I was already down to two red bars – and they were flashing. Trouble seemed to be imminent, but I decided to continue on my way. I knew that the chair wasn’t designed to stop immediately when the last bar vanished, so I phoned Mum to update her, and then my workplace to let them know I would probably be late. The chair had never run flat in Winchester, with all its slopes and inclines, so what could possibly go wrong in the relatively flat Minehead?

The rest of the short journey to work passed at a range of speeds, since the chair tended to get faster and slower again at various points, usually depending on what the pavement was like. Going downhill, I found that gravity definitely helped – at one stage, an old lady with a walking stick moved over to let me past, and rather embarrassingly, I was as slow approaching her as she was approaching me! When I arrived at work, I reiterated my predicament to my colleagues, pulled up to my desk, and switched the chair off, knowing that it sometimes regained power when out of use for a while. Eventually, the time came to have lunch, and in hindsight maybe I should have stayed in the office to eat it, but I wanted some fresh air. Seeing that I had clawed back some additional power, I set off in the direction of the park.

As I had anticipated, I did lose much of that as I sped down the street, but I wasn’t going very far and there was only one road to cross. I’d do that, eat, get back and switch off again so that I would be fine to go home by myself. A foolproof and flawless plan, surely? Well, I was fully convinced that all would be well – until I’d finished my lunch and had to head back across that road again. By that point, the chair was covering most of my route at little more than a crawl – while it was just about still moving, there was no real power behind it. Imagine the true fear I felt, therefore, when I dismounted the kerb and the chair crept into the road at a snail’s pace, with a car approaching in the distance.

It stopped. I carried on, hoping that the camber at the side of the road would quickly flatten out so that I would speed up. Unfortunately, that took what seemed like an eternity, so opting to continue my day in one piece, I got back to the safety of the kerb, switched myself off once again and pondered my next move. I did try crossing at least twice more (with lengthy breaks in between each attempt), but I ultimately decided to give up altogether and send out an SOS. Another two phone calls to the office and Mum led to the latter coming to my rescue a few minutes later.

Once we were home, we set about trying to get to the bottom of the issue, which was still baffling me. I immediately plugged the chair back in upon parking in the garage and, as far as I was concerned, its display wasn’t lying – it was charging. So what was the problem? With some further exploration, Mum soon discovered that, in a nutshell, the charger wasn’t quite plugged in fully. Even though the readout was telling us what we wanted it to, the juice wasn’t going in as it should – so there you go. Everything that happened on that day came from one very small but crucial oversight. I’ll have to triple-check these things from now on, and I’ll make sure I push harder when I’m plugging in too!

Mason

 

Warm Leather: The Movie

The last few weeks have seen a marked lack of inspiration where this blog has been concerned, so for creative fulfilment I’ve had no choice but to write something else. With more scriptwriting modules looming next year, a screenplay seemed an appropriate project, and Warm Leather the short story I wrote just before Christmas – seemed to be the perfect source material to use. Before it existed as prose, it had been a very rough short film, and now that the story has given me a better idea of where everything in it is going, I decided that it was time to redraft it in its original form.

In order for me to get at least one new draft finished, the script currently sticks as close as it possibly can to the story. I have removed certain lines of dialogue that feel awkward in hindsight, but otherwise I am simply imagining each scene as if there were a camera present. At this moment in time, I’m almost eight pages into a film that I wouldn’t expect to last more than half an hour if I was actually making it. That might not sound like a very long script, but as a general rule of thumb, one page equals approximately one minute of screen time – so the completed product should be around 30 pages long. Don’t forget that as I have an alarming tendency to procrastinate, eight pages is arguably quite an achievement!

As is the case with many other projects, I’m hoping that if I maintain some kind of routine, and write a little bit more of the script every day, I’ll have a draft done very quickly – something complete to show for my efforts if anyone asks to see it. Then I can re-examine it more closely, and make any initial improvements. That seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Surely I can stick to that plan…

Mason

Solid Proof

I may only be at the end of my first year of uni, but it’s never too early to start looking to the future. I’ve recently started thinking more and more about what my next move will be post-graduation, and it seems that one particular area may end up providing the answer. Obviously, my ultimate goal in life is to be a writer for a living, but that’ll have to be a target I work towards over time. If I’m to reach that stage, I’ll need to look for something that is relevant to both my ambition and the skills I have, and that also provides good experience. Having done some research, it transpires that proofreading may be just the thing.

It’s something that has often been suggested to me for a number of years now. As I’ve always been so focused on writing, I’ll admit that I haven’t always been warmly receptive to the idea, but since the start of my degree it’s become increasingly clear that it’s definitely something to consider. I’ve definitely been a stickler for good spelling, punctuation and grammar for as long as I can remember! My research into the matter began, as always, with some simple Google searches and emails. The former revealed that most professional proofreaders and copyeditors take industry-recognised qualifications before they begin work – and I quickly discovered that there are many on offer to novices like me. Those that seem to be especially well-regarded, however, come from the Publishing Training Centre and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Both were heartily endorsed by the people I emailed, including a lecturer from Winchester whose name had been passed to me by a friend.

These two institutions are therefore my next port of call, and I’m glad that all of my original options have been narrowed down to make this process easier. I need to look carefully through both websites to see what they can offer me in terms of distance learning, since that’ll probably be easier than attending a workshop (which is also more expensive). From what I’ve seen so far, they could both be excellent choices, so there’s much more digging to be done if I’m going to pick one over the other. The ball is now rolling, though – so you’ll have to watch this space.

Mason

Whiplash (2014)

From the very first scene of writer and director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, budding jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is presented as a man under pressure. Before we see him, we hear the rolling of his drum kit, getting faster and faster as he pushes himself to the limit, determined to improve and impress. When he is subsequently introduced to his formidable tutor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), he stops playing to greet him, only for Fletcher to ask why. He begins again, only to be challenged once more. Eventually, when Fletcher asks to hear Neiman’s rudiments in double time, he obliges, but becomes so engrossed that he does not initially see Fletcher leave the room. It is clear from the outset, then, that Neiman is not destined for an easy ride, and it’s this exchange that begins a dramatic student-teacher relationship. I was immediately both hooked and emotionally invested.

I felt my chest tighten seeing just how much pressure Neiman was under to succeed, as much from himself than anyone else. I shared in the intimidation he and his fellow Studio Band musicians felt in Fletcher’s presence, particularly when he is unleashing the full force of his fury upon them; Chazelle told Simmons to be “a monster, a gargoyle, an animal” during filming. He is established as a firm perfectionist who won’t think twice about punishing the band for rushing or dragging even by a fraction. His abuse is both physical and verbal, and we learn that a past student of his, Sean Casey, was driven to suicide as a result of his aggression. Nobody’s position in the band is safe, and many of the musicians are deliberately pushed to their physical limits in order to prove themselves. There are multiple scenes of sweat, blistered fingers and blood on the drums as they strive to play harder and faster to perfect a piece, and the sheer pain involved induced many a wince in me; I had never realised just what such determination can drive people to do. The strain is mental as well as physical; Neiman breaks up with his girlfriend and crawls out of the wreckage of a car accident in order to join the band at a performance, even though he is covered in blood and severely injured. The latter incident demonstrates just how Neiman’s priorities have changed as he looks to achieve greatness, and it also pushes him over the edge, as Fletcher’s lack of compassion leads Neiman to physically attack him on stage and get him fired.

At this point, relieved that Neiman’s torment was over, I assumed that the film’s conclusion would be smoother for him. The emotional rollercoaster continues, however, when Neiman, having subsequently abandoned drumming, re-encounters Fletcher at a club. They chat in a manner that is almost friendly, but I was convinced this was too good to be true. Sure enough, when Fletcher offers Neiman a drumming spot at a local festival, he reveals he knows Neiman got him fired, getting his revenge by forcing him to play a piece he has not learnt. Fletcher’s status as a total villain is sealed, as it seems he has humiliated Neiman in front of an audience. Neiman hits back with a performance that eventually earns Fletcher’s respect, and in the closing moments of the film the two exchange smiles. It’s a satisfying ending to something that toyed with me from the start. It’s what Chazelle and his cast do so well; I felt fear, anger, determination and disappointment, all alongside our protagonist, and that is surely the mark of a truly great film.

Mason

Hooked

When I went out for lunch with Will recently, he asked me about a film I’d reviewed for Creative Non-Fiction a little while ago – the critically-acclaimed Whiplash. As we discussed our shared enjoyment of it, it occurred to me that I have never published a film or TV review – or at least a post of appreciation – here before. What I wrote for that film may yet be uploaded, but for this post I’ve decided to focus on Speechless, an American sitcom that has only just arrived on British screens. There’s so much comedy on offer to us nowadays that the good examples must really shine in order to stand out, and Speechless had me intrigued from the very first episode I saw. It’s being broadcast on E4, but I knew straight away that I had to dig deeper to make the most of it, so I found the rest of its three seasons on YouTube.

In case you haven’t seen it, Speechless follows the exploits of the weird and wonderful DiMeo family, consisting of mum Maya (Minnie Driver), dad Jimmy (John Ross Bowie), and their three children, Ray (Mason Cook), Dylan (Kyla Kennedy), and JJ (Micah Fowler). The latter is the one around whom all their lives revolve. Like me, JJ has cerebral palsy, albeit in a more severe form than me or the actor who plays him. He is given a great deal of physical assistance from both his family and his aide Kenneth (Cedric Yarbrough), with whom he forms something of a double act. The show’s title alludes to the fact that he does not speak – instead, he uses a laser pointer and word board to communicate, and Fowler had to learn to use both of these prior to taking his role. The result of this is a wide array of reactions and expressions, all of which allow the viewer to connect and laugh with him, without ever needing to hear a word. Of course, it is immensely satisfying to see that despite his differences to others, JJ is accepted and engaged with like any other teenager by his peers. So far, I’ve seen him join his school choir (using Kenneth as his “singing voice”), get drunk at a house party and find love, and I can’t wait to see him get up to more mischief – he isn’t made a total saint…

What’s even more pleasing to see, though, is cerebral palsy itself being highlighted so prominently on TV, and so brilliantly by Fowler. Whilst I have seen disabled characters and actors before (albeit not often enough), I can scarcely remember another occasion when I have seen someone with my condition. I’ve never met anyone whose cerebral palsy affects them in the same way mine does, such are the differences between cases, but to see it at all means a great deal. It’s therefore such a shame that Speechless has literally just been cancelled – I can’t help but feel that this important, entertaining and very much cherished show has been cruelly snatched away from me just as I’m getting hooked on it. Nevertheless, there are plenty more episodes for me to devour just yet!

Mason