Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The shallows of experience

Many years ago, at a late-night party in King Street in Aberdeen, I hated a man. Riders on the storm was playing loudly. I was singing loudly. This rush to perform, as every self-conscious young man will know, is a double-defence reaction: it makes you look more confident than you feel; and it shows that you know the lyrics to music which is cool. And, back then, 1983 or 1984, Jim Morrison was still cool. Long enough dead to be mysterious to a new generation, to young men who needed to rebel against the techno flim-flam of contemporary music. Hell, Morrison was even arrested for obscenity. He sang about killing his father and fucking his mother. He had read everything, he was a poet, a genius, a rock star, and he died like a rock star, glamorously, still young.

And so Jim and I were singing, and this shy, showing-off boy borrowed some of his long-dead friend's bluster.

There's a killer on the road,
His brain is squirming like a toad.


And then it happened. This man I'd never seen before, a post-graduate student, became the man I hated, because he laughed. And the very second he laughed I knew, despite how much I wanted to argue, to fight, hit him for insulting the genius Morrison, I knew that he was right. I'd sung those lyrics a hundred times and it had never dawned on me - they were shit, they were embarrassing drivel.

When we make idols we lose reason. Does it matter? My football team is St Johnstone. They're rubbish, they'll never win anything, but they're mine, my heroes. I know I'm deluding myself and I'm happy with my deception. Does it matter? Does it matter that Jim Morrison was a preening narcissist with a great line in casual cruelty and juvenile lack of control of language, who died in a bath, choked by his own vomit?

It matters in two ways, from opposing ends of the spectrum. Firstly, blind hero-worship of a football team is one thing. It's funny, it allows endless opportunities for self-deprecation and wistful shakings of the head. But swap St Johnstone for something equally inept - Mohammed, say, or Jesus Christ - and the joke turns sour. Unquestioning loyalty? Inability to recognise fatuity? Unthinking urge to impose beliefs on others? Violent response to challenge? Tendency towards hatred? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

And from the personal angle, how do you progress? If you cannot listen to 'His brain is squirming like a toad' and suddenly, one enlightened moment, realise that it is shit of the highest magnitude, how can you know that there is something else out there, something greater, something perfect that has to be reached for, searched for? Eventually you have to discover Bob Dylan; and then WB Yeats; and then Sorley Maclean. There's always more, there's always better, a trail of giants leading you towards discovery, as long as you don't squat in the shallows of the first doggerel-monger to attract your ear.

Those who refuse to listen, refuse to question, refuse to shift from a dogmatic position reached in juvenility, without the benefit of experience or knowledge, are living in a curious twilight world. RD Laing says that "I can never experience your experience of me." Those who live their lives in denial of the truth as it is now, rather than the truth they first defined, are unable to properly experience themselves. They are stunted. That makes them dangerous.

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