By The Landlord
"When I see a dolphin, I know it's just as smart as I am." – Captain Beefheart
"Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most." – Ozzy Osbourne
So then … evolution, where is it taking us? This week it’s time to get brainy, but not let the brains get to our heads, unless of course that’s in a song. But what has happened to the human brain? It could be argued that we are now in both the most stupid of times, but also the smartest. But what does smart mean? Is the technology smart, with fridges automatically ordering our milk, algorithms analysing data about traffic, smartphones and social media gathering marketing information about us, but not us, the people, now constantly distracted, who use it, or are used by it? As the Canadian writer and wit Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) put it: “Advertising: the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.”
What is military intelligence? Smart bombs? Launched by oxymorons? And on the political front, the current trend seems heavily against anything resembling intelligence, or is it the trend to only appear stupid in order to appeal to as many people as possible and get elected, whipping up some kind of frenzied affinity over ignorance and prejudice? So is it therefore smart to appear stupid, or if you do this so much, does the world become even more stupid too? As another writer, Will Rogers said, “a fool and his money are soon elected”. And as that most clever of idiots, Shaun Ryder, put it: “You used to speak the truth, But now you're a liar, You used to speak the truth, But now you're clever.”
Intelligence is an ever-morphing mystery. It is still mind-boggling that we might have more neural connections in the human brain than there are stars in the universe. Though that might be a stupid thought. Brains are both a bonus and a burden, and perhaps this double-edged definition is what we explore most this week as a song theme. So your song suggestions might perhaps be about the burden of being, or not being, clever in oneself or others.
And, now, boy oh boy, do we have some brainy people in the bar to talk about it! Who’s this wanting a round of strong coffees, plus a flagon of wine chaser? It’s only Socrates! “I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing.” Always the humble one, that philosopher! His new friend Stephen Hawking wheels up the bar to chip in: “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.." Now Albert Einstein gets in on the act: “The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.” The woman next to him gives him a nudge and a smile. She knows that all too well. It’s his wife Mileva Marić the Serbian physicist, brilliant mathematician, who it is thought made a very significant contribution to his theories. Perhaps she was the real brains behind the operation.
History and male prejudice have often forced or women to hide their intelligence, because for some reason it has been regarded as unsexy, yet the brain is really the sexiest organ in the body. Now here’s the one and only Leonardo da Vinci in the bar, remarking, with a glint in his eye, that “intellectual passion drives out sensuality”. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that every sexy woman, or man, is brainy. In an interview a few years ago, the supermodel Claudia Schiffer, who might hide her brains very successfully, was asked whether she minded having the nickname Schifferbrains. He looked back at the interviewer, confused. “Schifferbrains?” she asked. But then again she might be supremely bright.
But let’s get back to intelligence. Stephen Hawking has more to say about technology: “There is a real danger that computers will develop intelligence and take over. We urgently need to develop direct connections to the brain so that computers can add to human intelligence rather than be in opposition.” He is right. Intelligence is all about connections. If only Ada Lovelace was still alive. Now there you have a real genius, daughter to Lord Byron, and essentially the first computer programmer, much of whose credit was nicked by Charles Babbage. She could have built an engine that made a real difference.
It’s a conundrum, though, that smart technology can be detrimental to us too. The author, Mark Kennedy, points out: “Of all the biggest technological inventions created by man - the airplane, the automobile, the computer - says little about his intelligence, but speaks volumes about his laziness.” Has smart technology not only taken away our attention span, but also an ability to make decisions? Maybe. And now even Mark Twain has swaggered into the bar, and makes everyone smile: “I must have a prodigious quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week sometimes to make it up.”
Intelligence can make you lazy, and indecisive, but it also goes hand in hand with another form of oddness. The great pianist Glenn Gould, master of the art of playing the fugue, used to make grumbling noises has he played, and was socially awkward in the extreme. But in this clip he reveals his phenomenal musical intelligence, and passion, when talking about that other genius, JS Bach, and “his harmonic modulation … the family ties of one key to the other … and his work, with all its eternally undulating flow of harmonic motion, seems to suggest all the transient suspended unknowing condition of man.” Poetry and intelligence in true harmony.
Highly intelligent people sometimes do have major shortcomings with empathy, and their intellect lacks what some call emotional intelligence. Fictional characters can bring out this form of autism with a degree of entertainment, as shown in the sharp rendition of super sleuth Sherlock Holmes acted by Benedict Cumberbatch:
So being intelligent, while it gets you places, doesn’t make you happy. “One of the indictments of civilisations is that happiness and intelligence are so rarely found in the same person,” says the author William Feather. Or to put it another way, here’s Marvin the paranoid android, from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, stuck with menial tasks when he has a “brain the size of a planet”:
A real-life equivalent of the miserable Marvin is Morrissey, who has had his brilliant moments when not talking nonsense. Let’s take a sample of that with Rubber Ring, where he advises: “But don't forget the songs /That made you cry / And the songs that saved your life / Yes, you're older now /And you're a clever swine /But they were the only ones who ever stood by you … (everybody’s clever nowadays)”.
Unfortunately the notion of intelligence also brings out it’s shortcomings. In the past, the topic of stupidity has been touched upon, but the two are of course linked. Let’s get a taste of those ironic indie boys Art Brut, who protest, humorously against the notion of difficult and clever jazz: “Clever, clever jazz, man/ Sorry that it doesn’t sound like it’s planned,/ Clever, clever jazz, man/ Can’t you see we’re doing the best that we can?”
We’re all intelligent in one way or another, and most of use can, or could have achieved so much more. ZZ Top tell us how it is: “I could have built the Golden Gate Bridge, Been Einstein's nemesis, I could have been a derby jockey, But it's all come down to this … Me so stupid …What is my IQ?”
So what are we going to do about it all? How are we going to use our intelligence? On a briefly serious note, Barack Obama has popped out of the government limo and into the Song Bar to advise us about using our brains: “We cannot possibly succeed without extraordinary international cooperation. Effective international actions require the highest degree of intelligence sharing, planning and collaborative enforcement.” He is talking about anti-terrorism, but intelligence sharing applies to everything, right? So that’s why a collective intelligence can achieve so many things. That's what animals do, from ants to dolphins, cats to wolves, and the intellect of an octopus, that's something else ...
Now the bar is filled with a cacophony of famous figures, everyone from Ian Dury to Derek Smalls, shouting out their wisdom and trying to get served:
“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him!” says Niccolo Machiavelli.
“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings!” says Salvador Dali.
“Always be smarter than the people who hire you!” says Lena Horne. Really Lena? Well, that’s got me in a bit of trouble at times …
“Humanity? I love you because when you're hard up you pawn your intelligence to buy a drink,” says the lower case poet ee cummings. Nice one ee, but can you buy something now from the instead of drinking that tea all day in the corner, you tight arse?
And what of genius? “When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him, says Jonathan Swift. “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see,” says Arthur Schopenhauer. “Yeah, but genius might be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way!” shouts Charles Bukowski. Bukowski’s in the bar? Blimey, we’d better order in a few more barrels. No fighting! And who is this moustachioed fellow, with a briefcase and a pencil? It’s George Orwell. “Charles, you may be right,” he says. And now he turns to the current (ever current) political situation. “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” “D’accord!”, says Voltaire. “Common sense is not so common.”
And now three other customers remark that it’s all very well being intelligent, but that means nothing without doing something about it: “Action is the real measure of intelligence,” says the US author, Napoleon Hill. “Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain,” says psychoanalyst Carl Jung. “The brain is like a muscle. When it is in use we feel very good. Understanding is joyous,” says the great cosmologist, Carl Sagan. Now there’s the human brain and the universe both talking together. Wow, what a party we have going on here.
So where does this all lead us? Well, with a combination of Maya Angelou and Amadeus Mozart of course. First up, the great American writer calms us all down with these intelligent and wise words: “I'm grateful to intelligent people. That doesn't mean educated. That doesn't mean intellectual. I mean really intelligent. What black old people used to call 'mother wit' means intelligence that you had in your mother's womb. That's what you rely on. You know what's right to do.”
And now Mozart giggles a bit, sits down at the old pub piano, and before he plays us a few numbers, tells us what genius is: “Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.”
Obvious, but true. Now play us a song, Amadeus. And he does. With Dinah Washington singing these words:
"Call me irresponsible/ Call me unreliable/ Throw in undependable, too/ Do my foolish alibis bore you? Well, I'm not too clever, I just adore you."
And with that brainstorm in the bar, I turn to this week’s perfect guest guru, ParaMhor, who will doubtlessly show a sharp intellect, as well as emotional intelligence to sort out your songs all about being, or not feeling clever, smart, savvy, many, brainy, having clout or using your loaf. Deadline is Monday evening (probably 11pm) for playlists and write-up published next Wednesday.
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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.