I’m getting old.
Yesterday was St Patrick’s Day. I did get to the Celtic Club down the road for lunch, but when I ordered a Coke the double take I received from the guy behind the bar was Herculean in nature. There were a couple of Irish Government ministers being introduced to some of the punters to ask about their part in the Irish diaspora, and of all of the emerald-clad, stout-drinking, oversized-novelty-leprechaun-hat-wearing crowd present the G-men went straight for the two business-attired folk – my mate and I. And instead of shifting the green gears into 5th last night by giving my drunkenest rendition of The Irish Rover, I was at home. Kids were in bed, wife was out practising her choiring, me sober as a whistle. Then the TV told me that it was Monday night, and Monday night on the ABC is Q&A night. And the episode of Q&A to be aired in an hour’s time had within its panel one of my all-time heroes: Billy Bragg.
I lost my shit!
Ever since my university days Billy’s music, ideology, humour and compassion for humanity have been not far from the surface in the ocean-going vessel that has been my life. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him live on many occasions, and every performance has been as essential and relevant as any in his storied career – maybe more so given our current Government.
The aforementioned aging admission makes me partial to Q&A, particularly the interactive tweeting to the programme – the Letters To The Editor of the 21st Century. So in the hour prior to Q&A beginning I fired off some tweets using the show’s #QandA hashtag, mostly about my loss of shit at the impending arrival of the Bard of Barking on my TV, as the below examples illustrate…
My anticipation rose with each passing pun, Billy’s back catalogue providing ample material for the passage of the intervening hour – both aurally and in tweet fodder. And as the show’s host announced the assembled panelists I had settled in for the following hour of opinion, debate and learning. The topics ranged from arts funding to marriage equality, from the value of early childhood educators to gender roles. Then around halfway into a theological discussion… BOOM!
I found a vast reservoir of shit, and lost all of it. ALL. OF. IT.
I jumped around the lounge room. I was a fist-pumping, heel-clicking, pet-cat-high-fiving fool. [Yes dear Reader, I did give our cat Millie a high five… well it was more Millie freaking out at my euphoric shouting, trying to swipe at me with a clawed paw to try and shut me up and my instinctive defensive response of covering my face with my hand making for an impromptu human-feline high five. Same same.] It may only be a tweet on Q&A, but it was MY tweet! My twitter handle! My five minutes of fame!
As soon as I had sat down after my lounge room lap of honour and caught my breath, I rechecked my twitter account to see what accolades would come to a Q&A tweet publishee such as myself. What I did see however was somebody who I follow complaining to the Q&A page, claiming that they had been plagiarised by the tweet of mine which they had aired, and duly posting a screenshot of their version of the tweet. If my euphoria was a bubble then this person was surely the prick that burst it. Deflation set in, as those of us predisposed to riding the black dog tend to get irrationally cranky at these sort of things. I raged against the laptop; lamenting that somebody who writes and presents what they think for a living to an audience of thousands (both as twitter followers & as radio/TV ingesters) would stoop so low as to try and steal my five minutes of fame from somebody with an audience 150 followers, one wife, two young children & a cat that was still being coaxed from the ceiling. Even an item as pesky as a later time stamp wouldn’t stop them from claiming the moral high ground.
It was at this point thankfully that common sense prevailed, using the unlikely conveyance of irony as its Trojan Horse. The disputed tweet is of course paraphrasing ‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards’ which, for those of you not versed in Billy Bragg’s body of work, is the title of one of his more well known songs. And this title in turn was a reference by Bragg to the Chinese Communist Party’s social & economic policy of the late 1950’s to early 1960’s. So really it wasn’t my five minutes of fame after all… more my five minutes of somebody else’s fame. I was just minding it for Billy, who was minding it for Mao, who I’m sure was minding it for somebody else.
And I think that this is the lament of any writer. Whether it’s me and my cathartic blog posts or pun-laced tweets of limited release, my nemesis of 140 characters broadcasting his sporting life to his thousands of followers, or a 30-plus year veteran of the singer-songwriter World such as Billy Bragg, the pursuit of the next truly original conurbation of words is terminally Quixotic.
What I’m trying to say is that there are no new things to say, all we have left are variations to the theme that we try to get as close to the event horizon of originality without falling in; dissolving into the writings of others. Somebody who could consistently join a bunch of often-used words together in order to make them something unique, something far greater than the sum of its parts, something that tells us what we have never heard before but instantly recognisable once we hear it. That person deserves to lead us up onto a higher level of enlightened collective consciousness as the late comedian Bill Hicks would say; a man who himself was probably one of the last truly original writers, and one whose voice is solely missed in today’s society.
After all of that then, by the end of the night what did I take out of St Patrick’s Day 2014?
- We are merely custodians of the written word. We own them like we own the planet [hint: we don’t];
- Originality is a relative concept, dependant upon the audience. If you haven’t come across something before, it’s original to you;
- You don’t win friends with soft drink;
- There’s no point in getting overly upset at anybody for using the same words as you; and
- I got a tweet on Q&A that had Billy Bragg on the panel!
So join the struggle while you may, the revolution is just 140 characters away… [NB: For those interested here is a link to the Q&A episode in question. And answer.]