By The Landlord
"There's no such thing as multitasking," said Dr Jim Loehr, US sports and performance psychologist, motivational speaker, ‘Goodlife Revolution’ energy management trainer, TV pundit, and, quite clearly, a multitasking author of many books. So how does that work, then? But admittedly it’s very likely we can't undertake different tasks at the same time and expect to do any of them properly. We have to compartmentalise, switch between and focus. That's all very well, but it's easier said than done. I find it hard to do one thing properly when something else is weighing heavily on my mind, and when there are two major preoccupations or problems, they battle it out in my sleep like two boxers slugging it out on a not-so-merry-go-round whizzing at 90mph. And there are no winners, me cling to this spinning carousel for dear life, failing to relax at all. A rampant imagination doesn't help either. Oh to be able to switch off sometimes.…
And sometimes it's good to accept help with your multitasking, otherwise the wheels can come off:
But is that just the modern disease, the endless distractions, the to-do lists, the bright screen of anxiety illuminating the dark, pulling and pushing our eyes and minds in different directions, whether that be work and all of its politics, family, health, the home, social media, travel, and all the constant chores that pile up? What happened to doing one thing at once, and living in the moment? Is that just what childhood is for, something we had time for then, didn’t appreciate, but have to leave behind, or something you can recapture with meditation, yoga or "mindfulness"? Or simply by being organised? Even as I write this, a large paw has appeared around the side of the screen, followed by a nose and a furry face. Someone wants feeding. No I don't have a pet monkey. It is indeed a cat. And now I think I need a snack too …
So what we're on the look out for today is songs that refer to being pre-occupied with tasks or thoughts, being or feeling busy or feeling stretched. This could be both physical or psychological. And more often that not this has nothing to do with work (a specific topic covered a long time ago), or only partly to do with it, because many other things in life make us busy, but are a form of work too, as any mother, for example, will confirm. Or the mind can be busy with other events, social life, or relationships. And, in my experience, it's also quite easy have a hectic day, but actually achieve very little, because of the state of mind of indecision stirred from the sheer volume of things that accumulate.
Being busy can feel like spinning plates. This sort of thing passed as entertainment on TV in the 1960s and 70s. Utterly pointless of course, but weirdly mesmerising. But is that activity an expression perhaps of what the post-millennial mind is like now, metaphorically tipping teaspoons in cups and twirling sticks and indulging in various internet-based ephemera?
Smashing. So how do we get over this problem? There are good and bad ways. First, the bad. In the kooky comedy drama TV series, My Name is Earl, the main character, Earl Hickey, played by Jason Lee, is one of several dysfunctional characters whose life is a disaster, but Earl decides to try and pull his life together, with very mixed results. He makes a list. Except the list keeps growing. He introduces and summarises his situation:
"You know the kind of guy who does nothing but bad things and then wonders why his life sucks? Well, that was me. Every time something good happened to me, something bad was always waiting around the corner: karma. That's when I realised that I had to change, so I made a list of everything bad I've ever done and one by one I'm gonna make up for all my mistakes. I'm just trying to be a better person. My name is Earl."
But what if you're Erin Brockovich? Then it's another story. Being very, very busy can also be good. Having a cause can give you energy. And in the case of this remarkable woman, a single mother of two (and later three), environmental campaigner and a legal clerk, she took on the big corporations and won. She beat the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) of California in 1993. The case alleged contamination of drinking water with hexavalent chromium in the southern California town of Hinkley. Involving the health of dozens of families, the case was settled in 1996 for $333 million, the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit in US history. Of course it was famously retold in a Julia Roberts film, with one of her best performances, where she escaped the usual rom-com genre.
As impressive as the real Brockovich is, and she still campaigns today, can anyone really multitask, or as the controversial author, Dick Masterson, says, "Fucking two things up at once isn't multtasking". In the bar this week we have a variety of visitors, two from the acting profession. First up, the hyperactive livewire that is Helena Bonham Carter: "Multitasking? I can't even do two things at once. I can't even do one thing at once."
What about the more serene Andie MacDowell? "We've become such a multitasking society that just paying attention to the road doesn't seem to be that important anymore. I have to remind my kids all the time that that's what you're supposed to be doing in the car.” I get what you’re driving at, Andie.
Kate Moss has now graced the Song Bar with her entourage. Smiling sweetly, she has this to say: "I think women are really good at multitasking. Men just cannot do it." Is that so? So smiling, pouting, and walking up and down is multitasking, is it? Or adding other pleasures into the mix?
Apparently though, some men can multitask. Charlie Parker, brilliant saxophone player who could do circular breathing, just as many great players can, could do other things at once. One of his great pleasures after a gig was to sit in a taxi eating a hamburger while one of his girlfriends administered fellatio. It takes a lot of concentration to enjoy both simultaneously.
But here's another take, a sketch in fact, on why men can multitask. No piss-taking going here:
Clearly though, some highly talented individuals can successful manage many things at once, though not always doing this quickly. The Irish novelist Frank Delaney says: "If you ever want to understand multitasking in prose, James Joyce is your man." There is a lot going on in Joyce, but he also famously took his time in mastering this prose.
So what may often come up in your song suggestions is the fact that pressure of time adds to being busy and multitasking, in a world where we have to think and act quickly. Another key point is that we have to appear to be concentrating on one thing at once, even though we're not. Right now is a time of political maelstrom, with a series of bewildering elections coming thick and fast. The successful politician is a plate spinner, a juggler, but must appear to be focused on one thing, or person at a time. For all his faults, one of Bill Clinton's key characteristics was an ability to make whoever he was talking to feel special, as if they were the only person in the world at that moment. Clearly though he was constantly thinking of other women, oops, sorry, I mean other policies and people’s needs. A less successful politician, David Miliband, explains the trickiness of it: "I've learnt that, sometimes, how others see you is not the same as how you see yourself. I've learnt about how you can be multitasking – and sometimes other people see that you're multitasking. And that's not very nice for them."
So the point of multitasking, if such a thing exists, is to not reveal that you're doing it, that you are in the moment with the person or issue in hand. That’s how you can concentrate, or at least seem to.
Music of course, is a form of multitasking in itself, whether that's playing with two hands, and singing at the same time, or making one sound while hearing something else. It is compartmentalising different limbs and parts of the brain. So now arriving in the bar, here come couple of musicians. Jarvis Cocker takes music into a wider life context: "Because people like to multitask, in a way if you've got a bit of music on in the background and the lyrical content is making you want to listen to it, then that would probably put you off the texting you wanted to do. I think people like things that just make that right kind of noise, but leave your brain free to do something else."
So lyrics do demand attention, don't they? And someone who also demands attention is JK Simmons, the actor in Whiplash who played Fletcher the "not my fucking tempo!" psychopathic jazz teacher and conductor: "Music to me was never something that I could listen to while reading a book. Especially when I was studying music, if I was going to listen to music, I was going to put on the headphones or crank the stereo, and by God, I was going to sit there and just listen to music. I wasn't going to talk on the phone and multitask, which I can't do anyway."
So trying to multitask can put you in all sorts of peril. And perhaps in the one of the greatest scenes in a great film, Martin Scorsese shows in Goodfellas, where the character of Henry Hill becomes so overstretched his demise is inevitable, juggling a coke habit with trying deal the drugs, sell guns, pick up his brother from hospital, see his girlfriend behind his wife's back, drop of an accessory to the airport, and make sure the pasta sauce is kept stirred in time for dinner, with a swirling paranoia of helicopters constantly overhead. On top of that, listen out for the fantastic music:
And so then to the music itself. Let's dip into a couple of busy, multitasked examples. From the new album by DJ Format and Abdominal, we hear how many other things a rapper has to do to keep his career afloat. A wonderfully catchy, upbeat and honest number, from the new album Still Hungry. Check out another track, No Time, as well as this:
Or how about a more scathing depiction of London life, as seen by Morrissey, where everybody is busy, from his 1988 debut solo album, Suedehead?
Or we could go back to Elvis Costello's 1979 album, Armed Forces, with "busy bodies, getting busy, getting nowhere":
Some artists are meanwhile, multitaskers in their actual music. Grimes or Reggie Watts come to mind, mastering loops and multiple sounds in a live situation. But topic is really more about being multitasked and busy, as expressed in the lyrics, not complexity in the music, or one-man bands. But for let's enjoy one out of the many washing around the internet. This guy's name is Lewis Floyd Henry, and he was caught on camera on London's Brick Lane doing a live mixup, with guitar, mini-drums and rapping, of Wu-Tang Clan and Metallica in a Jimi Hendrix style. Nice work.
And so then, multitasking your nominations into playlists, we welcome back that beautifully busy, and infectiously enthusiastic and constantly joyous guru from Japan, our very own Hoshino Sakura!!! Place your songs in comments below before the deadline in called on Monday evening UK time, for playlists published on Wednesday. Let's get busy ...
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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.