July 25th, 2010



I'm looking forward to seeing Firebug on Thursday. All the more so since discovering that their influences include Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

I haven't been to a rock concert for years. But I've been remembering some of those that I went to long ago. It must've been around 1976, and Pink Floyd were in town. A girl I knew who worked for the band had come round with complimentary tickets for everyone. As she was leaving, I asked if she was driving up the hill, and if I could hitch a ride. Sure, she said. So I grabbed a bag and some money, and I followed her downstairs. Outside a red Ferrari was parked in the square, and she opened its door for me. And then said she'd have to go back up, because she'd left something behind.

I settled into the passenger seat beside her driver, and we made a little small talk together. Nice weather and all that. And after a while, since the girl was taking her time, I asked him if he had any connection with Pink Floyd.

'Yes,' he replied. 'I'm their drummer.'

Ah!... I can't remember what the show was like that night, except that it was good, and they played Echoes. But I remember the red Ferrari incident like it was yesterday.

Somewhere around that time I also saw Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. Beefheart was something of an acquired taste. Some people say his music is like a bad trip. And they're right. But it grows on you all the same. It took me about 20 years to get to like Beefheart. And at the time I was only about 3 years into the process.

When the show started, one of the band walked out onto the stage with a bass guitar, plugged it in somewhere, fiddled around, strapped it over his shoulder, and started to play, all on his own. But how he played! And as he played he danced. And as he danced he kicked off his shoes into the audience. And within seconds the whole audience were on their feet. A few minutes later, the rest of the band slowly strolled onto the stage - Captain Beefheart, Zoot Horn Rollo, and the rest -, and took their places. And taking their cue from Rockette Morton, the dancing bass player, they came crashing in behind him. After that, the show just got better. Particularly when Rollo hit the long hooning note in Big Eyed Beans From Venus. But it was Rockette Morton that I remembered

And there was the time I saw Led Zeppelin. When the showed started, about half an hour late, three members of the band came out on stage. And Robert Plant apologised to the audience. There was a problem. The drummer hadn't showed up. And they couldn't do the show without him. But they'd try to improvise something.

A simple wooden chair was brought out onto the stage, and Jimmy Page sat down on it with a big 12-string guitar. And he started to play. And he played beautifully. It was beautiful, beautiful guitar music. And I was enchanted.

After a while, a figure bounded onto the stage, and climbed behind the drum kit, and began to quietly beat time to the guitar. The drummer had finally arrived. After that the real show got under way. It was a good show, but I scarcely remember it. I just remember Jimmy Page sitting in the middle of the stage on a wooden chair, playing acoustic guitar.

And there was the time when I'd gone to some dance, and I noticed there was a rather strange band playing. They weren't playing music that was quite like the usual thing that bands played in those days. Theirs was a sort of wall of sound. Nobody was paying any attention to them on the dance floor. But I was intrigued, and gravitated nearer and nearer to them. I ended up sitting on the edge of the low podium on which they were playing, looking up at the lead guitarist, whose fingers were in a constant ripple of activity. He didn't look back. His eyes were closed as he played. Also closed were the eyes of the bass player. And the drummer too. There were three of them, and they were all furiously playing with their eyes closed. I vaguely wondered how you could play drums non-stop with your eyes closed. But they were all clearly completely lost in their music. Nobody else was watching them. There was just me, sat a few feet in front of the lead guitarist, studying him closely, as the dancers swirled out on the dance floor.

But as intrigued as I was by them, I didn't think that much of their music. After a while the wall of sound just seemed a bit tedious to me. There wasn't much variety. And I thought it was a bit tuneless. And the lyrics weren't that hot either. I sat watching them intently for a long time, and then eventually drifted away.

I didn't ask anyone who the band was. Their name wasn't written on the drums. So I had no idea who or what they were. And nobody else was in the least bit interested in them. I wondered if they were some garage band. Whoever they were, I thought they showed signs of promise, but that they could do with quite a lot of improvement. Better songs, for a start. Ones with a guitar break in the middle, rather than all the way through the whole darn thing. The lead guitarist looked like he might be able to manage that. Shorter songs too. Not much more than 3 minutes or so. And they could have done with a lead singer. Then they might - just might - have managed to score a hit with a catchy number like the Dave Clark Five's "Glad All Over" or the Beatles' "Please Please Me". That would have been my advice for them. As things were, they were most likely going to be playing in bars and clubs and art college hops for the rest of their lives, with nobody paying any attention to them at all. Not like the Plastic Turkeys that had played the previous week, and who were clearly destined for the big time.

A few months later, I found out the name of the band. It was Milk. Or maybe it was Butter. Or Cream. Something like that. Total bunch of no-hopers, anyway.

Catch That Buzz

Sheila Duffy of ASH Scotland started a blog a few days ago. Well, not really a blog. More a press release. ASH don't blog: they send out press releases. Anyway, she wrote:

So that is what those of us trying to work for public health are up against. The vast profits tobacco companies make at the expense of people’s lives and wellbeing are ploughed back into more and more sophisticated marketing and recruiting practices, and into pursuing costly legal action against policies and legislation designed to reduce the deaths, diseases and anguish caused by tobacco.

Well, actually Sheila, that's no longer all that you're up against. For decades the tobacco companies have been fighting a lonely battle for survival against an army of well-paid antismokers like you. It's like a besieged city having its walls slowly battered down. But now a relief army is taking shape, and beginning to march to its assistance. And the besiegers are themselves becoming besieged.

The relief army is made up of the world's increasingly angry smokers. There are about 2 billion of them (although not all of them are foot-soldiers in the army yet). They're angry because their smoky culture is being destroyed, and because they're being demonised, fired from their jobs, and refused medical treatment. And they're becoming blazingly angry. I should know. I'm one of them.

It's always seemed to me to have been a catastrophic mistake by Tobacco Control to have not just demonised Big Tobacco, but to have now demonised tobacco smokers too. While they were just demonising tobacco companies, their enemies were relatively few in number. They were tobacco company executives and employees, tobacco growers, tobacco distributors and so on. Certainly that's a large and powerful enemy. But the numbers of all these people around the world is probably a few hundred thousand. Maybe a million. It must be that order of magnitude.

But when they started demonising the world's smokers too - all 2 billion of them - they created for themselves an ubiquitous new enemy that was a thousand times more numerous than their old enemy.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again. If I was a tobacco company executive, I'd be going round seeing my fellow executives and telling them, 'We've won!' and breaking out the champagne and the biggest Havana cigars.

It's much like when, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, and already at war with Britain and Russia and a few other countries, Nazi Germany declared war on America as well, just for the hell of it, and because they could, and because they thought they were invincible.

By declaring war on smokers, Tobacco Control have kicked over a wasp's nest. And the angry wasps are coming out. I've said this before too. And their numbers are growing and growing. I've begun to lose count of the number of blogs that have sprung up being written by angry smokers. There are more and more of them.

Of course, they're not very organised. But is a swarm of wasps ever organised? Is there a king wasp who leads from the front, shouting 'This way, lads!' No. Seems there isn't. The intelligence of the swarm is a collective intelligence. It's made up of all those tiny wasps brains getting wired up together to create a very big brain. Just like a lots of dumb transistors are wired up together to create a supercomputer. The intelligence of the whole is greater than the intelligence of the individual parts. The swarm is self-organising.

Same with the growing swarm of angry smokers. They're self-organising too. There's no leader. There's no headquarters. There's no general staff poring over maps of battlefields. There are just angry individuals here and there who occasionally have a bright idea. For a poster. For a video. For something. And these ideas and suggestions get passed around, and accepted or rejected. And there are more and more ideas getting passed around, faster and faster. And there are more and more new wasps joining the swarm, as more and more smokers start saying, 'You know what? I'm angry too!' And there are one hell of a lot of angry smokers out there who haven't yet realised that they're angry. But they will.

And someone like Sheila Duffy has no idea what's coming down the track. She's got her Nazi binoculars fixed on the city of Big Tobacco that she's besieging. Her guns are all pointing that way. She's not looking behind her. She probably hasn't even noticed that there are one or two wasps flying around. She hasn't noticed that she's under attack.

And what a brilliant attack it is! She put up her blog on 20 July. And she's switched off the comments. So what did some genius do? They just went and reproduced her blog elsewhere, this time with the comments on. The mirror blog was set up on 22 July. Just 2 days later.

I'd have never had the idea of doing that. But some wasp somewhere had that idea, and went and did it. It took another 2 days for the news to reach me. It took another 2 days for me to catch that buzz. But that's how it is in the swarm. It takes a while for the news to filter across it.

2 days. That's a pretty rapid response. It indicates that the swarm is getting stronger and smarter. Soon the responses will come in 2 hours. And then 2 minutes. And 2 seconds. And so on.

And people like Duffy will have no response to the gathering swarm. They're rigid thinkers with a fixed mindset. Their eyes are fixed upon Big Tobacco, which they blame for all the world's evils. And they're used to issuing press releases to the media. And nobody asking any questions. They're used to lobbying parliament. And nobody asking any questions there either. They're very good at not asking any questions over there.

What they're not very good at doing is arguing their case in public. They've never done that. If anything, they work by stopping argument, by stopping debate, by excluding and demonising people. That's why Duffy switched off her comments. She doesn't want to debate anything with anyone. She knows better than any of them. She's an authority. I bet she goes to those 2-day antismoking conferences, where all the delegates tell each other how awful smoking is for the nth time.

But she can't stop the debate. She can only stop it on her own blog. So the debate will happen instead on the mirror blog. And so the latter will be the one that everyone reads, because it's got comments under it.

ASH and its familiars operate by controlling opinion. They craft careful antismoking messages, and release them into the compliant mainstream media, who never fact-check any of them. And it works well in the authoritarian megaphone mainstream media. But it doesn't work on the internet. Or on blogs which are all about exchanging ideas. Sheila Duffy is probably deeply unfamiliar with the idea of people exchanging ideas, and chewing things over. Her world doesn't work like that.

And her world is dying. The swarm has already delivered a fatal blow to her. She's become a laughing stock. And she probably isn't aware that she's been stung. When she does cotton on, she'll blame it on the tobacco companies, of course. She'll say that the tobacco companies have been organising smokers to do things like reproduce her blog, and make her look stupid. She'll say that because that's the only sort of organisational control she understands. Top down control. Shaping opinion. Sending the right message. Blah blah.

Big mistake. It's going to be death by a thousand cuts for these people. Death by 2 billion stings. On its own, a single wasp sting is more or less harmless. But 2 billion of them means instant death

Elsewhere Leg-iron remarked today that:

Smoky-Drinky has spread further and faster than I'd imagined. The Telegraph even has a Pub Shed category in its gardening section.

Funny old world, isn't it, where things keep happening faster and faster?