Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Memory and the unconscious

Not that long ago, I went to see Nick Lowe play, at Cambridge Corn Exchange — a one-night stand with a three-piece band.


It must be nearly forty years since I first saw him play, at Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall or maybe Southborough Royal Victoria Hall. He’s better now. Much. His clothes are better, too. Pastel frilly shirts never really suited his hawk-like frame.

The unconscious?

For one of the encores, he sung The Beast In Me, alone. To most, it’s a Johnny Cash song — or what passed for Tony Soprano’s theme song. But it was written for Cash by Nick — who, the man in black said, was his favourite ex-son-in-law.

That night in Cambridge, Nick sang it with such echoic meaning that the audience did what audiences tend to do when their hearts have been powerfully opened and operated on — nothing. When he finished, there was that rare, silent moment in which everyone draws themselves out of the emotional world they’ve just been through. Only then does the performer breathe and the audience applaud.

Later, I thought about the song and its lyrics . . .

‘The beast in me is caged by frail and fragile bars
Restless by day and by night, rants and rages at the stars.
God help, the beast in me . . .
They’ve seen him out dressed in my clothes,
Patently unclear whether it’s New York or New Year.

And I thought two things. One, it’s a song about the unconscious, the id, if you like, that bit of our brains that’s been around a little longer than manners and fine writing — but is still hanging around down there in our well, somewhere far below the cortical line. Two, that’s why Nick’s version so got to us all. Whatever the beast in him — and reliable sources attest to his historical propensity for beastliness — it’s in all of us, too.

Memory and the unconscious?

If you’d asked me about Nick a couple of weeks ago, I’d have made a point of pointing out that he was one of the only two famous people to have been to my school. The other was Bob Woolmer the cricketer.

Then, on the train to Cambridge, I read my old friend Will Birch’s book on pub rock, No Sleep Till Canvey Island. And I remembered that Nick didn’t go to my school.

It’s true that I knew Nick a bit when I was a teenager. He and his then band, Kippington Lodge were, in the parlance of the day, getting it together in a cottage in the hills of East Sussex. Me and my friend Steve would visit them. They’d smoke our dope and steal our girlfriends. The usual fair exchange between teenage boys and half-successful musicians a few years their senior.

Nick didn’t go to my school, though. That was Brinsley Schwarz — the guitarist, that is, not the band that took his name. I guess, my unconscious must have swapped Lowe for Schwarz, figuring out that it was a more impressive thing to chalk up on my internal CV. Not just a beast in me, then, but a beast with aspirations.

Next up White wine, olives, cheap cider and the narcissism of small difference

Monday, 1 June 2009

Jokes and the unconscious

A joke from the world of psychoanalysis. Which also, probably, offers an indication of why, in some seminars, I feel like I’m in The Life Of Brian.

Sometimes I feel I’m in the scene in which Brian drops his sandal and his band of followers argue over the theological meaning over it — does it mean we should wear one shoe like him or should we worship his dropped shoe as a religious relic.

Sometimes I feel like I’m in the scene on the amphitheatre steps in which the John Cleese character tells Brian that, as members of the People’s Front of Judea, it isn’t the Romans they really hate but the Judean People’s Front.

Which reminds me: I’m off to Israel for a few days later this week. Which in turn reminds me of something further. On the in-flight entertainment on British Airways, The Life Of Brian was always one of the movie choices. Except, as the entertainment guide solemnly pointed out, ‘on flights to the Middle East.

I always found myself thinking: God (Christ, whatever), what an achievement. Monty Python should feel very proud of themselves. Decades after the film came out, it’s still offensive to the very people it was meant to offend — religious nutters, that is, not left-wing splinter group nutters.

Anyway, here’s the joke . . .

It’s a universally acknowledged truth that if you walk down a corridor in a psychoanalytic institute, you can tell which kind of analyst is in each room.

If the patient is doing all the talking, it’s a classical Freudian.

If the analyst is doing all the talking, it’s a Kleinian.

If neither is talking, it’s an independent. Patient and analyst are having an ‘experience’.*

* If you sense a sneer in this phrase, you’re probably right.

Next up Nick Lowe’s beast; a new picture; an explanation of that joke