Monday, 25 January 2016


The BBC had a discussion about the significance of Saga Noren from the superb Nordic Noir series The Bridge, the third series of which has (as I start writing this) just finished (and has been, once again, utterly superb, disconcerting and shocking). However, I think there are more reasons why Saga has been so significant and popular, that has nothing to do directly with her gender.

I think one reason she is popular is that she is not the usual autistic character. Actually, as is often pointed out, she does not have an autistic diagnosis, but this seems to be something like what she has. Her problems of engaging with other people and expressing her emotions indicate something of that nature.

The thing is, she is not the usual autistic savant. We have seen some of these, and they are often well done, good characters. People like The Mentalist, and Sherlock show some of these traits too. Their oddities are usually accepted because they are brilliant at solving problems. Saga is a superb detective, but not on that level, so she is tolerated and accepted for her oddities. In this series, she comes up against someone who is less accepting of her peculiarities.

But Saga is also very aware of her shortcomings. She knows - has become aware over the series - of those areas she is less than optimal at. She is seen, in this series, to be trying hard at improving her performance in some of these areas. She is a fallible human being, she sometimes makes mistakes, and her character is very hard on herself for making mistakes.

I think what is so appealing about her is that she is so vulnerable. She faces, in the third series, the reality that she could be perceived as a problem, that her peculiarities may not be fully countered by her skills (which are part of her autism-like nature). She is made to see, to a greater degree than previously, her frailty, and we see her through these eyes too. Unlike the savants, who we sometimes feel need taking down a peg or two, we feel sorry for her, because she is human, she is struggling with a psychological disorder, and at this time, her disability is proving more significant than her talent. That is a very human, very real insight into her. It is a real insight into every persons failings, every persons potential failure.

For me, the real reason that Saga is popular is that she shows us how vulnerable we are, how odd we might seem, how close to losing it all we all are. I know that I want to give her a hug, because I feel her pain, feel her struggle to comprehend.

Saturday, 16 January 2016


Since Christmas, we have lost two giants of music - Lemmy and Bowie. There has been an interesting meme on Facebook with the title "This is what you get when you pay for music" with pictures of Lemmy and Bowie, and "This is what you get when you don't pay" with pictures of One Direction and Ed Sheeran.

Actually, I have to admit, I quite like some of Ed Sheeran's work. But the point is made.

One of the problems with shows like X-Factor, and The Voice are that they focus on commercial success. I am not one to dismiss commercial success as such, but these days, commercial success is the antithesis of musical freedom and creativity. One of the best x-factor winners - in terms of her vocal ability - was Alexandria Burke. I watched that series, and I loved her voice, but in all of the music that I have heard her record since, there has been nothing of that talent shown. Yes, she has had success, but at the cost of her musical integrity. That is a sad loss. there are suggestions that last years winner, Lousia Johnson has some talent as well, but she is unlikely to do well from being involved. Especially as she failed to get the Christmas Number One. If Simon Cowell cares about anything, it is success, and she has failed to provide him with what he wants.

I remember when Steve Brookstein had won the first x-Factor, which was a surprise, and the following year he made a comment that "at last I am free of the contract". I was as cynical as most others, that he was apparently "glad" to be free of a £1M contract, the largest that he will probably ever get. Today, I think he may have had a point - having a binding contract to produce Cowell-Musak is only the dream of people who can sing, not of singers.

When I was younger, in the 1970s/80s, most bands would produce records to sell and make money. That was how they made money, and to do this, they needed a recording contract. There were all sorts of record labels - the independents - who would pick up bands they felt had something and would produce their music for them. Bands would go on tour to promote their record sales, and would often  make a loss on the tour, which would be made up for by increased sales.

All of that has changed - partly for the better, but partly for the worse. Today, getting your music out there is so much easier, with the internet, BandCamp, YouTube and suchlike. However, nobody can make a living making music and selling it any more. The downside is that it is no longer the music that is so important. Musicians can only make money by touring and performing, which means that it is no longer the music that is so crucial as the "performance".

Now Bowie, in particular, was a performer maybe over anything else. However, I don't think Cowell and his like would embrace that style of performance. It is not just Cowell, it is the majority of the music industry, and Cowell is the public face of this. It is a particular style and form of performance that is expected and needed. I listen to Heart radio on my commute - mainly for the traffic news. I used to listen to Vibe, another local station, with (possibly) better traffic news. The problem is that both of them play a lot of Cowell-Musak, and it is very hard to tell them apart. When you look at them, they all look identical (Maybe the numbers or the hair are different, that is about all). This is the music that makes money, so if you want to make money in the music business, this is what you have to produce.

As I am writing this, I am listening to a BBC documentary on Bowie, and they have got to the Heroes section. This song - maybe my favourite Bowie song - combines him with Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, two other musical geniuses. I don't think, in the current musical environment, any of these would be able to find a start or a role in the music business.

That is my problem with the era of "what you get when you don't pay". It will continue to give you what you had last time. Because of this, radical new talent that doesn't fit into the accepted commercial categories has a far more difficult time to get attention and any degree of "success". While success is not the be all of music, if you can't make something out of it, musicians will stop producing.

We will never see another David Bowie or Lemmie. Not least, this is because people that different would never get a way into the business. In truth, this is the real sadness of the Cowell influence in the music industry. He has destroyed the real creativity in it. That is why the genius of Bowie will not be seen in that business again. Today, such people have to find a new outlet.