By The Landlord
"Bring me sunshine in your smile,
Bring me laughter all the while,
In this world where we live there should be more happiness
So much joy you can give to each brand new bright tomorrow."
- Morecambe and Wise
"You've got the accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative,
Latch on to the affirmative, don't mess with Mister Inbetween."
– Johnny Mercer and the Pied Pipers
FIrst up, as we prepare for the Song Bar New Year's Eve party, a question. After all, are we simply bags of walking chemicals that splosh about at random, our moods also affected by invisible forces from within us, or without us, such as magnetic waves? I ask because it still remains a mystery why one day things in life can seem utterly atrocious, yet, all it can take sometimes, is a short stroll, a random kind word or joke from a friend or stranger, or doing something slightly creative, to utterly change that feeling, and the world suddenly seems a better place. Perhaps the reason, in the end, is simple. Life, to a large degree, is a matter of perception. And yet no amount of haphazard experimenting with just the right amount of exercise, food, sleep, or anything else, ever quite gets the positive perspective constant. Or does it? If you've got the recipe, then let me know, and we'll serve it up here, on the house.
And yet some people profess to have that solution, and there's a huge load of bollocks out there said about positivity – believe me. I've looked into it. But "the power of positive thought" is one of those cliches, in books, talks, or any other media, that actually sends me into a paroxysm of negativity. It makes me think of grinning motivational speakers with spray tans and blindingly artificial white teeth telling you how to think about yourself, others and the world. It also makes me think of smiling aerobics instructors ordering you to copy their wobbly, thrusty, butt-tightening moves. But that's probably unfair – that sort of thing, ie exercise, does make you feel better after you’ve recovered. But it certainly makes me think of the advertising world and much of our media. But from whatever source, is it right to appropriate, and commercialise what is essentially a free and available state of mind, accessible to all of us? Feeling good in body and mind is something everyone has a right to do, and you shouldn't have to pay for it. Unless of course that comes from acts of kindness that create positivity, such as helping the homeless or giving a surprise tip to someone in a restaurant who is criminally underpaid and overworked.
But vacuous positivity, such as that which underpins the commercial enterprise masquerading as religious movement, Scientology, doesn't in fact teach you to be positive, instead it teaches the very opposite, that you don't belong, that you want to and must, try to ascend to a higher plain or you are doomed, and the only way is by digging deep in your pocket. Scientology is perhaps just a very extreme example of how much of the world is marketed to us. Its underlying philosophy is not positive at all, its message is as if we are all, by nature, miserable and lowly. And that's a classic business model cast over society – telling us that women are unattractive without expensive clothes and makeup and a different body shape, that men are powerless without big cars and a large house, that if you don't keep up with the Joneses you will be cast into a pariah wilderness.
So as an antidote, in a very challenging time, this week, we're looking for songs that not only talk about being positive, but also make you feel positive in music as well as lyrics. This state of mind may come from or form and content, but here’s a key point I’ll come back to, being positive doesn't always mean the same as being happy, or indeed content. Positivity is all about energy. More on that too, in a bit. In the meantime, here's Johnny! That's Johnny Mercer and those Pied Pipers, tell us all about it:
OK, so now we've got that straight, let's actually be positive because, let's face it, we have to. In the current political and environmental climate, that's the only way, and it's a good way to start 2017. What's the answer? Well for a start, as the song goes, we should avoid dilly dallying, messing with Mr InBetween. Indecision is a form of depression. The difficulty is that at the moment with the world particularly depressed and divided, whether that is from voting for things we don't understand or are unprepared for, or for people who will take us backwards culturally, politically and economically.
But now, let’s balance perspectives. We could view the natural world, and the human race, as a kill-or-be-killed chaos of cruelty, suffering, and death, or as an eco system of effervescent life that we should strive to save. So we absolutely must, without hesitation, fight with tooth and claw to save the Paris Climate Agreement from being Trumped. And we could also view the world of business and politics as corrupt, greedy, flawed, and utterly unfair, and of course it often is, but it is also filled with talent, creativity, innovation and potential ways to improve the world. But don't take my word for it, let’s get into the music, let's open the doors of the bar, and see who's eager to order a drink, and tell us about positivity from a their perspective:
Striding in, fresh from a songwriting sojourn in the mountains, and turning every head, is perhaps that most positive of people alive, Dolly Parton. And already sitting at the bar, waiting for her, is that ponytailed sage, Willie Nelson. What is this? A country music convention? Not at all, but there are definitely positive vibes here tonight! Willie's first: "Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you'll start having positive results."
But I'm not sure how I can always do that, Willie. Should I smoke some of your specially grown marijuana? Are drugs the answer? Would they help? Meanwhile, what's the secret to your positivity, Dolly? "Well, darlin', I feel that sin and evil are the negative part of you, and I think it's like a battery: you've got to have the negative and the positive in order to be a complete person."
That's interesting. And is it from that battery how you get your energy? "Sure is, darlin'!" she says, beaming back at me, and I suddenly feel very positive indeed. The room is now very charged. But no charge, drinks are on the house! So being positive is all about understanding the balance with its opposite. Nobody can smile all the time, can they? Here comes Alicia Keys, to explain more:
"I'm a very positive person, but this whole concept of having to always be nice, always smiling, always happy, that's not real. It was like I was wearing a mask. I was becoming this perfectly chiselled sculpture, and that was bad. That took a long time to understand." Hmm. So being positive, doesn't necessarily mean being happy? I thought so, Ah then, now that makes me much happier.
And then I begin to feel even better when I hear an extraordinary laugh. It's Flavor Flav from Public Enemy, checking his clock and chuckling, and with him the wise Chuck D now both in the house! I ask the same question, and Flavor, as animated as ever, shouts, "Right boooyyy! Chuck'll tell ya! Teach him Chuck, teach him!" And so Chuck also plugs into Dolly's battery metaphor but then takes back into a mountainous area - it seems more than appropriate: "Being positive is like going up a mountain. Being negative is like sliding down a hill. A lot of times, people want to take the easy way out, because it's basically what they've understood throughout their lives."
Thanks Chuck! So there's no easy way for me to manage my positivity, though if I keep ascending, I can make it. Still, as mentioned at the top of this subject, just a quick chat with someone, and the world is a better place.
And sometimes positivity comes from out of nowhere, when you catch yourself smiling or laughing. Now we've even got a visitor to the bar playing a song for us, it's Dave Wakeling from the Beat, doing an acoustic version of Ackee 123.
Over the Christmas period I'm reading Set The Boy Free, the new autobiography of Johnny Marr. I'm amazed at the how focused and positive he has always been. He always knew what he wanted, playing the guitar from the age of five, he met his true love, Angie as a teenager, and always knew what he wanted, studying the musicians he liked, searching eagerly for the music he wanted to make and who to make it with. It's very life affirming. And although he doesn't drink, he pops in to tell us: "I think good artists know when they're on a roll, and they recognise when lightning is striking. It's a very fortunate thing to have that inspiration and not to overanalyse it or mess with it; you just follow it if you love what you do."
Of course his key writing partner, Morrissey, perhaps operated like the other side of the battery, and together they were enormously creative and energised, with Johnny's beautiful, uplifting guitar innovations alongside those Moz lyrics. And now that famous miserabilist, the man who grew up in a house less than 200 yards from where I did in Stretford, Manchester in the 70s, has done us the honour of a visit. What do you say about this subject, Stephen? He rolls his eyes at me, and retorts: "Well, I'm capable of looking on the bright side, you now. I am. I just don't do it very often." And then, with droll nonchalance, off Moz goes.
But there's still many others at the bar, bursting to tell us about positivity, and Queen Latifah confirms why it's great to have a community of good people around you: "A lot of people are crazy, cruel and negative. They got a little too much time on their hands to discuss everybody else. Look at people for an example, but then make sure to do things your way. Surround yourself with positive people."
And here's Mavis Staples: "My purpose: to lift your spirit and to motivate you." You can come here every week Mavis. And towering over here, ducking under the door, here's a surprise visitor, the huge frame of basketball player Kobe Bryant: "The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do." A lofty goal, but one we can all take a shot at.
I suspect though, that being positive is naturally difficult for the human race. I mentioned, once before that several years ago I worked for a time on the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, and there I find the evidence. Containing 800,000 word definitions, it was finally completed in 2009 after 44 years, and contains the most obscure of words from Old English to the present. I helped research two primary sections – happiness and suffering. It says a lot about human nature that the suffering section contained around nine times as many words as happiness. There is always more to say through suffering and misery, even if we no longer use 100 different words for different kinds of axe wounds. Being positive, and writing songs can be painful (if not as painful as axe wounds), but it is a step towards happiness once you have decided that positive is the way to go.
So this air of positivity is now so strong that it's attracted Henry Rollins is back at the bar, making a right old racket: My optimism wears heavy boots and is loud," he says. John Lydon, that famous sneering but hilarious punk icon, even joins in on this limb theme: "If my leg falls off, I'll get a prosthetic. There'd be no deep sadness about. I'd just get on with it! It's called life, and I love life. You have to be positive, and you have to crack on no matter what." Blimey, and talking of parts of the body coming off, even Vincent Van Gogh, has popped in, and sort of says something positive. What do you have to say that'll cheer us up, Vincent? "I often think that the night is more alive and more richly coloured than the day." Good try, good try.
So whether you songs talk about being positive, or their sound and aura has that effect on you, it's time to load them up into our comments section below, so we can all join together in a force for the better, fortifying us for the challenging year ahead. This week's guest to help perk us up, and protect us from negativity, is the talented TatankaYotanka, who will charge us all up with playlists published next Wednesday after a nomination deadline, last orders on Monday. All of which remains for me to do is wish you all, merry readers and contributors a happy and positive new year, to thank you for your many visits, and I'll see you next year. Why? Because, courtesy of Mr Bowie, we can all be heroes.
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.