2004 Year End Thoughts
For The Benefit of Mr. Kerry
ike that other guy, forget his name (you know the one I mean: long face, hung out with Springsteen all the time, think he was in the army or navy or something), I lost an election in 2004. Admittedly, the Sabbatical Election for the position of Elected Editor of SCAN, the official newspaper of the Lancaster University Student Union (no awards at the Student Media Awards five years running) may not have racked up the same number of column inches as Dubbya versus Thingy, but it was no less hard fought. It was also no less dependent on innuendo, slander, and outright lies; and, like the stateside elect-me-do, in the end, it was utterly, utterly pointless.
But backtrack for a few seconds. Why on earth was I running for editor in the first place, other than because I’m a fucking idiot? Well, like the majority of Stylus’ staff, and like no doubt the more unfortunate members of you the readership, I’ve laboured in the salt-mines of student newspaper music sections. Staff writer 2001-2003, editor 2003/2004. Laboured is the correct word, as I got no enjoyment out of it whatsoever. What I did get though was a paper cut from opening an envelope that contained nothing other than the latest Hell Is For Heroes single. I managed to add the magic number 50 to my “Reasons to hate Ryan Adams” list when he cancelled an interview five minutes before it was meant to start (my opening question was going to be “Why is Lenny Kravitz better at fucking famous actresses than you?”). I got continual harassment from PR agents who suddenly vanished when we actually needed them for something. And I commanded a team of writers who what they lacked in actual talent they certainly made up for in bad dress sense. Highpoints of the section included a writer starting off a review of a Kylie album with “Whilst she may not be as cool as The Strokes or Oasis”, a claim that the Flaming Lips were Goth poseurs, someone positing that the reason that The Grey Album was so successful was because it was the first rap album to rely heavily on samples (the writer later asked why I’d headlined the review “For The Benefit Of Mr. Carter”) and one writer deciding it would be a good idea to describe 50 Cent as a “nigger”. Well done all involved. So, yes, it must be obvious to all and sundry why I wished to return to this operation as the overall editor.
But stand for election I did. My opponents were our features editor, who was the spitting image of the one with no distinct personality from Sex In The City (oh the irony), and our assistant editor, who despite claiming it as her favourite music, spells “Mo Town” as two separate words.
Anyway, the election itself was a total farce, and not in the good “vicar’s trousers falling down” sense of the word. My strong estuary accent and tendency to think quicker than I can talk make me one of the worst speechmakers imaginable, and I’d pretty much alienated every special interest group on campus, most notably Muse fans, who seemed to turn up in uniform to every speech I gave to cough and look unimpressed. To make matters that little bit more hilarious, one of my beloved opponents decided to tell the Catholic society that I was Jewish, and the Jewish society that I was an anti-Semite. Admittedly, that’s some moderate kind of genius, but still, I was crossed off a few Hanukah card lists as a result.
But, yes, music. You know how really bad filmmakers often come up with even worse soundtracks by only using songs that lyrical reflect what’s going on in the film at that moment? Well… after one speech (the only good one I gave in the entire campaign, I was on some Network/Howard Dean/raving street derelict kind of tip for it) I was approached by the campaign manager of one of the nominees for president. Said candidate had based his entire campaign on a supposed resemblance to Peter Kay, when in fact he more closely resembled John O’Shea taking advantage of a ten for one offer on lard pies. Anyway, his manager approached me with one of those looks that mean you don’t know if he’ll fuck you or fight you, and offered me his services. So I’d get his help at being elected, plus the votes of all his Usher-esque entourage (they had an image consultant. Seriously). Anyway, I accepted, went to the bar to get my Amaretto on, and turned round to see said campaigner shouting at said campaign manager with a kind of “Are you fucking stupid?” look on his face. And, unsurprisingly, the next words spoken to me were “Yeah, I’m going to have to withdraw that offer”. All throughout this though (it happened quickly) shirtless Pharrell and his Nerds were playing over the jukebox. “Oooh baby you want me? Well you can’t get this lapdance here for free”. I call him F’real, because he speaks the truth.
But the big one was hustings, wherein you lay out your plans for your residency, and generally try to make a big impression on the voting public (“voting public” = about 10% of the university population. Specifically the ones that aren’t getting laid enough). And how else do you make a big impression. Why, with your entrance tune of course! It’s the biggest tripwire of the whole thing. First problem of course is that the CD player was being handled by our student radio station, who, possibly so excited at being in possession of a CD not by Kasabian or The Thrills, managed to play the wrong track for one candidate, so instead of entering to the thundering drums of Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing”, he entered to the delicate finger-picking of Dire Straits’ “So Far Away”.
The second problem is cliché. I lost a five pound bet that one of the candidates for Women’s Officer would walk the aisle to “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves”, because instead one of them entered to “I’m Every Woman”. Another entered for the guaranteed crowd-inspiring, blood pumping, high energy sounds of “Fast Car” by Tracey Chapman. The way her speech went down, perhaps she should have paid attention to the line “We can leave tonight or we can die this way” before starting.
One of the Athletics Union Presidents, a dead ringer for Roots Manuva, had decided that gender-ambiguous Jehovah’s Witnessing was the key to vote grabbing, and plumped for “Let’s Go Crazy”. One of the presidential candidates entered to the “Imperial Death Match Or Something” from Star Wars. He didn’t win, but who needs votes when you have your dignit…
Completely out of leftfield though was the LGBT officer who was seeking promotion to president, and decided on… “Singing In Your Sleep”, the third single by two-hit wonders Semisonic. I mean, it doesn’t even have the key change of “Secret Smile”, and instead has that guy with the glasses and stupid hair making a long stream of bad puns about top 40 hit singles that he may well put on a mixtape for his girlfriend, because obviously she’d dump him if he gave her one of his CDs.
And the choices of the candidates for editor. Assistant editor chose “Scandalous” by poorly-accented R&B; urbanists Mis-Teeq. Because the newspaper is called “SCAN”, do you see? Features editor went for “Headline News”. Because of “news”. Do you see?
I, on the other hand, had to be different, didn’t I? I now understand why politicians have to have their Desert Island Discs choices vetted by their press secretaries, because it’s far too much of a minefield. Just don’t choose anything you like, or anything that anyone could like or actually have an opinion on, and you’ll be fine. “Push” by Moist or something. Dog Eat Dog. “Three Is Family”. But, no, being the music editor, I had to scan my CD collection for something to enter to. I obviously couldn’t use anything too fey or twee to enter to (50% of my music out of the window), or too reliant on repeated shoutings of “bitch”, “nigga”, and “motherfucker” (the other 50%). So… in the end, I opted for Fallacy ft Tubby T’s “Big N Bashy”. Instrumental version, just in case.
A good compromise… well, no. Instead of steadying my jangling nerves, it instead made me want to go bouncing off the walls and lick a few shots out of a Beamer somewhere in Deptford. As a result, my speech went down… well, going to the toilets to wash my face afterwards, some guy I’ve never met before came up to me and said “Man, that was great! Kinda like Hitler”.
I lost the election by about ten percent. The announcing of the results ended with me pouring two litres of Diet Coke over the winning candidate and knocking her campaign manager out unconscious. I went home and listened to Herman Dune that night, they stopped me shaking a bit, they’re a sedative. Indie is the soundtrack of failure, and that’s why so many of us have an attraction to it and a need to defend it. It’s like seeing someone throw stones at your psychiatrist.
The moral of all of this? In 2004, it was important to remember that music and politics do mix, in the same way that most prescription medicines and a bottle of Jim Beam Black mix. I think the final word has to go to one of the posters on the unofficial message board of Lancaster University, responding to the claims of one of my supporters that I should have won:
“You're talking about a guy who only some people can only genuinely appreciate. Passantino was a brilliant writer with flair and wit, but he is also very unapproachable and potentially unhinged.”