Saturday, June 04, 2016

Death of the 'Greatest'


It's a sorry state of affairs when the only two posts I have made this year to date concern the deaths of two people who were outstanding in their particular chosen fields and who were also an inspiration for generations.  Of course between Bowie and Ali I could have also posted about Glenn Frey, Prince and a whole other host of luminaries from the worlds of sport, entertainment and beyond.

Muhammad Ali was obviously a big inspiration to black people everywhere but it shouldn't be forgotten that his rise in the boxing world came at a time when we only had two television channels, later three for most of his boxing career, and our exposure to international boxing was once every four years at the Olympics and on a Wednesday night with Harry Carpenter, courtesy of Sportsnight with David Coleman.

When Harry Carpenter died back in 2010 I posted on a BBC board that he should be remembered for one quote above all others, the end of the 'rumble in the jungle' when Ali beat Foreman in Kinshasa in 1974, "Oh my God, he’s won the title back at 32!’   It was one of those hairs on the back of the neck moments, accompanying the fuzzy images of a legend winning the title I think everybody outside of George Foreman's entourage hoped he would win.

Ali was not only one of the greatest sportsmen who has ever lived but he was being the poster boy for civil rights and pricked consciousness in America during the Vietnam War. His comments on not wanting to fight in one of America's many pointless foreign meddling forays were a wake up call to many: “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end".

Like all people he was a bundle of contradictions and his comments about Joe Frazier do not look any better in retrospect then they did at the time but they were all part of what is now regarded as simple 'trash talk' the thing that has you reaching for the mute button whenever their is a weigh-in or press conference for any of the 200 different weight divisions that seem to exist today.

The 'float like a butterfly' and 'I am the greatest' quotes kept us amused for hours during those long winters of the 1970's as along with George Best he seemed to be the only person in sport who featured at the front of the daily papers as much as the back pages.

Legend? Well in an era where you can be called world class if you score from thirty yards against Andorra it is difficult, without sounding like one of the Four Yorkshiremen, to convey what a special sportsman, personality and inspiration he was.  In boxing terms in won 56 of the 61 fights he fought, 37 of those were knockouts,  and three of the five defeats he suffered came in his last four fights between the ages of 36 and 3, but to people of all ages from all backgrounds spread far and wide across the world he was simply a wonderful human being who touched the hearts of so many and gave us so many special memories.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

David Bowie (8 January 1947 - 10 January 2016)

7:15 a.m on Monday 10 January 2016. That was the time of my 'Kennedyesque' moment. A knock on the bathroom door and my wife saying "Did you know David Bowie has died?" Let's be honest as questions go that's up there with the daftest but my Wife knows me well after thirty odd years and it did take me eight months once to casually mention I'd seen three people knocked down by a bus/taxi combination whilst on a visit to Glasgow, so it was rhetorical rather than anything else.

Back in 2013 when I wrote a series of reviews under the title 'Bowie Week' it was as a result of the excitement surrounding his last but one album release, now I find myself writing again just days after his death and the release of his latest and last album, sorry posthumous releases just don't do it for me anymore than extended versions or special collectors editions, so with Blackstar that is the end of a brilliant, glittering and innovative career.

Last Friday's release saw me up and on the computer before breakfast to complete the purchasing of the aforementioned album. Two tracks had already been made available and both sounded like classic Bowie, in the sense that they sounded familiar and yet new at the same time.

I once read somebody boldly declare online that the two things that keep most people excited beyond their daily work and family routines are sport and art and I agree. The spiritual aspect of both cannot and should not ever be underestimated. We all need that outlet and more often than not we shall find it, not necessarily within ourselves nor lived vicariously through others, through the simple pleasure of letting sport and art into our lives.

Reading comments on various media websites and in the newspapers about the over reaction to the death of a pop singer, very little of the comments were of the ironic nature noting that the over reaction was by the media itself. I haven't been running up and down the street outside the office shouting at strangers "he was a bloody genius, yes an overused word but he was!" No, I've been listening and reflecting, listening to his music and reflecting on how it impacted on me during the better part of fifty years that it provided so much enjoyment, occasional bewilderment and sometimes frustration. I've not said to anybody, "Yeah, but man, I loved him more than you".

A public death and the media frenzy that surrounds it are a creature to behold. All those politicians you hoped didn't like music suddenly do, Blair (who didn't mention Bowie once in his 700 page autobiography), Cameron (who didn't include one Bowie song on Desert Island Discs but did include Benny Hill) and of course Boris Johnson who seemingly believed that Bowie was the second coming.

John Lennon, a man whose death was greatly mourned in the pre-Interweb era despite not having released a decent album in almost a decade, summed it up best for me when he said, of The Beatles, "We're a pop band nothing else." You could never tell whether Lennon was being serious or just wilful but you know what he meant.

As I sat alone on Monday night listening to 'Hunky Dory' it occurred to me, almost without thinking and with a genuine brief moment of pain, how many pivotal moments Bowie and his music had played at various stages in my life, the sound of his voice and Rick Wakeman's piano on 'Life on Mars?' transported me back to 1972 and a school disco and I smiled at the memory.

Blackstar will  probably be number one in the album charts this weekend on both sides of the Atlantic, a first which in itself seems a fitting closing curtain on an outstanding contribution to music.

I cannot think of another artist who has spanned so many years and continued to make music that demands the attention of its listener, certainly none of his contemporaries have continually sought to reinvent themselves, the likes of Jagger, Richards, McCartney, Townshend and Davies ran out of ideas around about 1973 just as Bowie was getting up a head of steam.

It was a brilliant career and we shall miss him but we have his music and more than anything, his fashion, his politics or his drug taking, that was what was important.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I can see clearly now

Having wanted to go to the Isle of Wight for years now but always put off by the cost - £96 return by car from Lymington to Yarmouth - I was pleased, nay delighted, to see that fares had come down to £20.75 single, including the Easter weekend and the up and coming May bank holiday weekend.

I duly completed the booking form, registered as a member, printed out the tickets and then realised I had made an ever so slight mistake - the tickets were for foot passengers and the car return was still £96.

What fascinated me though was that on the bottom of the ticket was a strip that you were instructed to fold in half (one half the outward journey the other half the return) and 'put in your windscreen'. Obviously foot passengers must prepare themselves for the south westerly blowing between the island and the mainland by carrying a piece of glass.