Raw War

Instagram puts our pictures in a box, meaning, a square. When you upload a photo, in a photo-type format, which is usually landscape or portrait, it appears as a square. In a box, a symmetrical box of picture. As if it were simply storing information, “content”, more efficiently, like a cake tin.

No one listens for longer than ten seconds to anything anymore, or will look at something long enough to see the details that the Instagram box leaves out. It puts our pictures in a box. It doesn’t ask us, how about a box for this picture, it would help us a lot of you could make it a box, we like everything to be the same format, despite the fact that a ratio closer to the Golden Section is well known to be more aesthetically pleasing. It does it because it makes no difference. To ask for a large and be handed a small. This is your size.

A box is symmetrical. It’s like a face isn’t. It’s like a painting isn’t. It’s like the dimensions of anything made by nature, prior to the long awaited arrival of the human race, isn’t. We learnt about the Golden Section from nature, and therefore, by implication, from ourselves. Our hidden selves. Our non-symmetrical gut feeling once told us that one long side and one short side is good, look at a tree, look at that animal, the ratio of head to body, look at my head and body for that matter. Animals do not have, broadly speaking, a head at each end.

Numbers are good for symmetry, a human tool for counting things. You can play games with numbers and symmetry comes out. They are not, however, good for the blues, which often is twelve bars long, and at other times is as long as the person singing the thing wants it to be. If you listen for longer than ten seconds to a blues track on YouTube you will hear this in action.

Symmetry reminds me of things that are “technically possible” but perhaps undesirable. In theory it could happen, in nature rare that it does.

On a typical week of train journeys, there are more people than there used to be talking loudly to themselves as if no one else was there.

Dance like nobody’s watching. They will only watch for ten seconds so make it quick.

Instagram puts my pictures in a box.

Perhaps I can change the settings.


Shrink wrap

Some jazz tunes can be strange little things. They are stumpy, seemingly lightly created, they are sometimes written on a napkin or rattled off from memory like a joke. Anyone could do them. Maybe in a year’s time, I might manage one more good one.

Imagine tin foil.  Imagine screwing it up into a ball, tight in the palm of one hand, and throwing it into a bin.  It’s vaguely satisfying if it goes in first time.  There are some people who, if it misses, will walk over and put it it the bin.  This is, of course, eminently practical, and these people have other things to do, and these are “group one” people.  Then there are the people who will sit back down, and try again from the same distance.  After five, ten, a hundred tries, maybe the ball goes in.  The apparent simplicity of a ball being thrown in the bin is thereby masked by the other ninety nine botched attempts.  Already this person is a perfectionist, the fact that they attempted something that they knew could be done better compelled them to do it.  The thing itself, and its usefulness, are irrelevant, the fact that it could be improved upon is like a nagging hammer in the back of the brain.  this is “group two” behaviour.

Now, going back to the tin foil.  How round is that ball?  With one hand, it’s not easy to get a spherical kind of situation happening.  And yet, something tells you that maybe it’s possible, and besides, won’t a rounder ball make a straighter trajectory?  Armed with this somewhat suspect and half-formed aerodynamic assertion, you try again with the rolling.  Again, you could cheat, two hands could make light work, but the one hand thing is the key to this challenge.  If this is you, you are in group number three and I feel your pain.

So, writing a jazz tune, of a certain pithy and epigrammatic type, is like this.  It’s like rolling a ball of foil into a sphere with one hand and casually throwing it into a bin ten feet away.  It takes practice, and it is taking practice.  And sometimes if you try too hard, the thing won’t go in, because despite what appear to be increasingly favourable odds, you somehow get further and further away from the target.  I still come up with ideas that sound like my ideas from twenty years ago.  I had more hair then, but still the same old shit in my head, foil balls scattered over old diaries and photos.

So it was that, after a day of trying to write a tune that would look as if I made it up on the spot, I sat at the piano, dejected, and made one up on the spot.  And like the foil, it’s like, don’t touch it or you’ll ruin it and have to start again.  That thing when you unpick a tightly wrapped piece of foil and it just breaks into chunks, and you think, all that work and its gone in an instant.  Don’t touch it.  And especially don’t start playing it over and over, trying to extend it, to make it into a bigger thing.

Of course, some jazz composers are not like this.  They can write long stuff, never look back, start typing and keep going (this is how I improvise, which seems a lot more successful in terms of hours spent versus notes produced), maybe they have a structure in mind and are filling it out.  The foil and the bin doesn’t work as an analogy here; there is no illusion, it’s long, detailed work and the listener knows it.  I have wanted to be one of these people, like George Russell, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Anthony Braxton, Tim Berne, Mingus…mostly when I sit down and try and write, I tell myself, today is when you get into that arena, the extended work.  I don’t know what makes these people able to do what they do.  I think it’s hard wired, the need to elaborate, as is the need to condense.  And maybe because I enjoy their music so much, it’s best for me to stay clear and stick to the bin stuff.

Because small things, if you look at them long enough, open out into worlds of complexity.  A small jazz tune, well crafted, is like a ZIP file, opening out on your desktop into something that is finally substantial.  Composing is like setting a ball at exactly the right height on a tee, then you pick the band (this is the club, I’m feeling a one wood driver) and, on stage performing, you swing the club.  (If I really wanted to extend this whimsical and flimsy analogy further, perhaps a standing ovation is the ball in the hole, but I have seen too many ovations where neither the right height nor the correct club was anywhere in evidence).

But then the way the foil rolls off your fingertips, maybe a touch of spin on the ball just for shits and giggles, will it still go in?…and that sound of a light projectile hitting its mark, the joy when it just rolls around a bit on its way in (just like a televised putt at Gleneagles), knowing that it’s down to the way you rolled it right at the beginning.  These are the details, this is why I’m doing it, this is why it’s important to me that in one of my tunes, half of a melody is actually the same as the other half played backwards, or that the highest note of a melody is two thirds of the way through its duration, or that it uses the absolute minimum number of notes possible.  It exists, and it exists better for these adjustments, obsessive and time consuming though they are.

And that’s why I’m trying to spend more time listening to less music, to use these sounds in the right way, to be a good consumer.  I know a well rolled tin foil missile when I see one, but you have to look.

Brother Face, The Musical (version 4.0)


So, I’ve already trashed three drafts of this.  It’s easy to apologise for one’s music when writing about it, and I didn’t want to do that.  I’m not sorry; if I’m sorry about anything it’s that my budget won’t stretch to making it into an object like a double cd, or a six vinyl 40kg limited vinyl pressing, or maybe even a scented candle that releases gaseous melodies into the air.  The late, great Bobby Wellins used to say, “jazz recordings aren’t released, they escape“, but now they can be held, digitally, in some form of quarantine. Neither in nor out, a numerical cloud in a departure lounge.  The Grand Opening of my new-ish release, then, is a one-click sharing of zeros and ones, hanging in the digital air waiting for walk ups.

If I am going to write anything then, it will be firstly a note of thanks to the musicians; Chris Batchelor, Shabaka Hutchings, Dave Whitford and Dave Wickins.  Of course I am in this list too but I was the one holding the camera in this photo.  Getting the band together is the first act of composition, determining the possibilities, mapping out the territory. They finished the music; I wrote some tunes, and like little essay plans written on serviettes they fleshed them out, occasionally letting their ideas derail my plans. Sometimes we just started with nothing, but with the intention of arriving at the piece at some point.  It often takes a while.

Which is why I would advise to listen to it all the way through.  It wasn’t built to dip into, things happen only as a result of what went before, and with an inkling of what may come after.  The final piece, “Obscurity”, works for me on it’s own, but really it’s a coda to the rest of the music, a breathing space, that’s the place for it.  It doesn’t go first in the same way that a murderer is not captured in the first chapter of a Sherlock Holmes story. To address this, I had an idea to put an inaudible tone at the beginning of this record, like a dog whistle, that simply lulled people into a charmed paralysis, completely aware of their surroundings and untroubled by their immobility, unable to do anything but listen. This is also good preparation for playing, so maybe I’m projecting here.  And people can do what they want to do, after all.

One more thing; “Brother Face” is a quote from a Robert Creeley poem called “Histoire De Florida”.  Creeley is an American poet who works with everyday words and makes them weird; sentences run into each other, lines lurch and stutter, one meaning becomes another.  I came across him after hearing Steve Swallow’s record “Home”, where he sets Creeley’s fragments of poetry in epigrammatic and lyrical ways.  Both these people have been big influences on me, combining the abstract and the familiar in ways that have opened more doors than they have closed.

In Creeley’s case, I continue to go back to his poetry and figure out what the buggery he is talking about.  I don’t understand it, but there’s something in there that makes me wonder, and that’s enough.


These days I need reading glasses.  I can’t see what’s in front of my face, as they say, and so on they go, the rest of the world receding into a blurry backdrop,   Putting on glasses is a ritual.  It’s like the raising or lowering  of a veil, or the laying of a table, perhaps the other-worldliness of submerging yourself in water (suddenly, baptism makes a lot of sense).  The dropping of the needle, the scratchy moments before the music begins, a marking out of a sacred space.  

Picture a Zen meditation class in Highbury, where some white middle class Englishmen in medieval Japanese robes explained that, within the confines of the space this room, there were no shoes allowed.  More lifestyle enlightenment, I thought, in a lifestylishly smug way, quite pleased with myself.  Tut tut.  The romantic nostalgia of these posh quasi-monks made me feel like an extra in a sixth form staging of “The Seven Samurai”.   On reflection, and after wanting to run them through with a big sword, I appreciated the “otherness”; once fully clothed, now barefoot in Islington.

Before beginning a solo performance, pianist Cecil Taylor danced across the stage towards the piano, pausing, circling like a vulture, raising a talon and sharpening his beak before almost attacking the instrument.  Let’s face it, it’s not much different to the popular pill popping, the purpose being broadly the same, but like a lucid dreamer he can snap out of it if he wants to.  Turn on and off the supply of whatever is taking him under.   I envy him.  That night he basically didn’t give a shit what we thought.  A silent titter seemed to waft around the audience, but the next hour saw them drawn in to that same space, his space, leaving their seats dizzy at the close of  the journey.  So, in that game where you have to choose one, my superpower would be that lack of inhibition.  That willingness to leave the real world.  Whilst everyone else is flying above the clouds and reading minds, I would simply dance myself a little mimed story in a purple tracksuit.

Rituals clear space, stop time, focus the mind and the body.  Religions are useful primarily for this reason, enforcing their strange and arbitrary timetables, sunrise and Sundays, days of rest and of celebration, a dash of incense here and there.  The nearest I get to that is to close my Facebook tab before writing a blog.  And that will be open again pretty soon.  People would get more done, and with better focus, if they had to get up a ladder to post on Facebook.  

It used to be different. In student days, I would break up the routine by watching “Neighbours” at 1.30.  It was hardly a call to prayer, but it did the job, my daily shift of practice and essays divided conveniently in two by the shattered dreams and emotional love stories of future Australian celebrities.  I was the turning over the LP of my otherwise formless day; side 1 and side 2.  A neutral space, a cerebral no-man’s land.  And needless to say, the repeat of “Neighboirs” at 5.30 was strictly off limits., my own personal heresy.

These altered states remind me of  what Margaret Atwood talks about in one of her lectures on writers and writing; the double.  A writer who writes, and a writer who does the dishes, two halves of a single body.   The writer who lives, and the one who lives on after that life.  The hand on the keyboard, or the pen, like the dropping needle, is a sign that he or she is somewhere else,  or someone else.  And perhaps the writing and the reading, playing and listening, are one in the same state.

So there’s me and there’s my musician.  My playing side is bold, carefree, mischievous in a temporarily suspended time, a guest in a hotel where someone else does all the housework.  And when he’s finished, after the applause (let’s be optimistic), the somewhat anxiety-ridden, earth bound chap that lurches and lumbers through life, me, takes over.

Nowadays we have access to these ritualised states very easily, but it’s difficult to go very deeply into them.  I am writing this on a tube train, on a so-called phone.  It’s very rare I call people on it.  But if I want to write something on it, preparation time is almost non-existent.  It’s about five seconds. Open app, click pen and paper shaped icon, begin.  It even suggests words you might consider before writing them.  Without a thought in my head, there is a guarantee that some words will appear.   With one eye on the stations, trying to notice if someone needs my seat, I’m not under yet, still in the real world.  But soon I’ll have my glasses on, and if I want to I can look over the top of them, an action which causes my eyebrows to be involuntarily raised in an apparent gesture of superiority.  I hope the other passengers don’t notice.  But I’ve arrived at the station and, with no time to pack my glasses away in their case (the other end of the ritual), they hang perilously tucked in the neck of my shirt as I pick up my bag , caught walking in the increasingly small space between real and imagined worlds.  Mind the gap and all that.

A is for Aphex Twin : ‘CIRKLON3 [ Колхозная mix ]’ (video directed by Ryan Wyer).

2This music is new to me, and the fact that I am already going to “write about it” is so typical of “what is wrong with today’s world”.  But we all want to fit in, so I will do it anyway.    Don’t be a stick in the mud, be a beachball bouncing on the white water rapids of life, I said to myself, and now to whoever is reading this.  It helps that Aphex Twin, aka Richard D James, is familiar enough, three of his albums from the nineties are frequent companions.  But this track is new, discovered this morning as part of my recent, cautious tip-toeing through Spotify’s sweetshop.  So if you haven’t heard it either, we are in (almost) the same boat, and in the same strained metaphor.

Aphex Twin’s records have something that I admire in music more than anything else.  They are strangely likeable, and the more accessible he gets, the more I like it.  He does have some tricksy stuff up his sleeve, and some devilish rhythmic games, but there are simple tunes and basslines at its heart.  With three or four chords, a handful of notes, some catchy groove or another, he can make something that endures.  Invoked by obvious painstaking programming and editing, like endless rubbing of a lamp to summon a genie, there it is; the sheer likeableness.

His persona as seen in earlier videos by Chris Cunningham, is a kind of children’s doll from a horror film brought to life by vintage synthesisers, his head grafted gruesomely on to bodies of women and children.   The music, though, is pretty and lyrical in the places where it isn’t almost gory (“4” represents the former, “Come To Daddy” the latter), locked in a sort of “good twin, bad twin” oscillation.

This video, however, is directed by Ryan Wyer, discovered by the aforementioned Mr Twin on a gaming YouTube channel.  Mr Wyer, it emerges, is twelve years old.  He does what a lot of twelve year olds do.  He points his phone, equipped with a video camera, out of train windows.  He films his mates dancing and cartwheeling in front of his house; he slows up the film, he puts filters on it.  Nothing fancy.  He wears an Aphex Twin mask.  He likes, apparently, Mr Twin’s “Smojphace” E.P, a mix of this track by Bug ft. Daddy Freddy…in other words, he knows things that grown ups bemoaning his time spent on the internet will never know.   And he captures something.

To access his videos, you have to wade through an expensive looking advertisement for yoghurt.  I like yoghurt, but I’ve forgotten the brand already.  I would have given the yoghurt advertisement more attention, but the thing I am impatient to watch is at the end of it so I don’t.  All that money, that yoghurt money, down the drain.

What used to take patient research, long listening, searching out, I have discovered in ten minutes of daisy-chained clicks, one page directing to another, and then in turn another, like endlessly reproducing cells.  It’s like a gas in my brain, what once were, in a pre-internet world, solid facts as artifacts, now fleeting and floating molecules, fragments of collected sound and vision.  I don’t feel comfortable with it.  I am still in my pyjamas at 11.44.

YouTube is full of this stuff, of homemade videos to music people like.  It’s easy to do, maybe too easy.  And yet, Ryan’s video says more than any amount of hi-tech, focus group-led zeitgeisty flick can ever say, more than a yoghurt commercial and more than a multi million dollar swashbuckling scifi hit.  Kids, dancing around on a street in front of a house, is pure enjoyment without purpose.  It’s a window on the world, and I am going to watch it again.  There’s a certain lightness of touch in the way the sounds meander along to the action.  A woman with a buggy waves as she passes, an event which in no way is reflected in the music.

Aphex Twin’s music turns out to be written on, and about, a synthesiser.  The Cheetah MS800 is a famously awkward instrument to program; it takes a long time to produce the most basic sounds.  The album is called “Cheetah”, in the way that Everest climber Edmund Hilary’s autobiography is called “View From The Summit”.  A thing conquered, just for the sake of it.  Some slowness in a world of speed is OK too.  It’s good to dance, but sometimes it’s good to just sit in one’s pyjamas.






Strawberries The Size Of Footballs

I don’t know about you, but I like to have some idea of the size and scale of things.  The familiarity of place and time.  As a kid I used to have dreams where a kind of infinity surrounded me, falling down a spinning tunnel, then endlessly moving piles of things (usually football-sized strawberries) from one place to another, only to see them replaced with an identical amount, also to be moved.   That kind of thing. I always suspected this dream would worm its way into some reality, seeming to be about having no idea of what was happening, how big it was, where and why.

A few years ago, I transcribed around thirty Bill Evans trio performances (every note) for money (not enough). Transcription involves writing down everything that was played on to manuscript paper, which means endlessly rewinding the audio, writing down what you can hear, rewinding again, writing down and filling out and correcting….and then on to the next two seconds.  Some people hear it all first time.  I am not one of those people.  Imagine how effortlessly a baby can thump piano keys with his or her forearms; now imagine trying to find the exact notes and the rhythm they were played in.  Basically it’s quite a lot easier than that (Bill Evans knew what he was doing) and this was my only consolation.

Nevertheless it was what a teacher might call an interesting and informative exercise.  I am not against transcription in principle, a little can be helpful, but you spend your life trying to get back to that first “high”.  And this was transcription overdose, I was Gene Hackman in “French Connection 2”, a dribbling idiot tied to a bed in a yellow-walled room with the Bill Evans trio pumped into my veins.  It was abuse, a kind of paid addiction.

Treading in his footsteps from 9 til 5 (what a way to make a living) put me right in his head.  After a while, rather than merely listening to his music, I saw his hands on the keys, forming patterns that were as familiar to me as they were to him in 1962.  I could have carried on any performance exactly as he himself would have done.  I was operating the robot Bill Evans from the cockpit of his mind.  I was him. The problem was, I was me too, but only just.

Me looking at Bill Evans became Me and Bill, then the subtle change to Bill and Me, and then a kind of eternally squabbling hybrid as one fought the other.  The slow, gradual accumulation of ideas, techniques, feelings and experiences of a piano genius (that’s him, by the way) funnelled down the vertiginous and unending tunnel of my childhood nightmares, then spat finally on to a piece of paper in the most scholarly fashion I could muster.  This went on for four months.

And that’s just how it was with one person.

Now consider a Facebook feed on a typical morning. A video of someone receiving some award, or saving a cat from near death, playing Chopin faster than ever intended or looking beautiful, looking happy or having friends (who are they?), raising crowd funding money to build an entirely new country off the coast of Wales by jumping from a space shuttle, someone just being happy that everything is ok, sad stories with a happy ending, sad stories without one, people marching, someone shouting at a video of someone else shouting at a computer game, life coaches, things you need to do, must not miss, will not believe, should not click on.

There is something about Facebook that makes it look like the diary of a single person. Events appear as chronological, sequential and connected.  The way I read is subconsciously feeding me this information as if it all relates to one huge, unisex experiencer of things. It’s basically one person who is everywhere and is everyone all the time. And then you think, each of these facets of this one big person is a person having that same experience, more cats and more Chopin and more and more….a hall of mirrors full of mirrors.  It is like being omnipotent, like being present everywhere all the time. It is like being God.  God, but primarily in an administrative capacity.  A kind of nausea of immortality grips me, the suffering of a human body that cannot hold a consciousness that infinite.  Wait a minute…it’s the story of Jesus!

Too much?

Anyway, back to Bill Evans. After four months the job was done. I walked away a new man. I walked away a hollow corpse, eaten away by the parasite Bill Evans. I couldn’t play a note, because every note that came out was his, and so I tried to blank him out, and to override this I had to think of “someone else” and how they would play the same thing.  So now there were three of us.

Some months later, with my fragile consciousness restored, I eagerly awaited the publication of my work.  My name on the front of a book!  I would travel the world talking of left hand chord shapes and the benefits of harmonic accountability in improvisation.  I would finally be an expert on something (we still needed them in those days), people would imagine Bill Evans and I after my death, up in heaven on a cloud, talking to each other about Ravel.

Eventually the books arrived in the post.  And they left my name off. Not on all of the books, just two out of four, which meant it was an accident.  A very, very large publishing company made a very small mistake (to them), but for me an identity that had already been breached and overtaken was now finally removed by some editorial oversight of someone who was probably late for his or her game of golf.

I don’t know about you, but in my more melodramatic moods I feel like data is eating us alive.  Like shovelling strawberries in infinity, Facebook requires action (reading, worrying, admiring etc) that immediately requires, in turn, more action (google that word), and on and on.  As the world appears larger on screen, it gets smaller, the impossible microscopic expansion of our immediate surroundings obscures the world around us.  I know this has been pointed out many times, and here is one more.  Sometimes I just sit and put the fingertips of one hand on to those of the other and just see if I can feel a pulse.  Just so I know where I am.  If you do it long enough, it’s actually a interesting and pleasant sensation.

Stay safe.  Watch your self (whatever that is) out there.

“O” is for “On The Dunes” (Donald Fagen).

Donald Fagen has made an art form of cynicism.  Cynicism.  It’s a dirty word for some, an excuse for inaction and unpleasantness, the safe haven of the spoilsport. 

” Don’t you like anything?  Do you have to question everything?”

I want to hit these people, but if you seek an alternative way to channel that anger, Fagen is your man.  Like William Burroughs before him, he is a champion of the cynical, a spokesman for the terminally hard done by.  A heroic figure to those who lack any propensity towards heroism themselves.  The snidey and the grumpy, the world weary.  Donald Fagen takes their doubts and bathes them in luxurious musical complexities usually earmarked for dying lovers in an operatic suicide pact, or for the final triumph of some poster boy’s hard work and kindness in the face of something insurmountable.  In other words, he puts it up on the wall and says “this is what life is about”.

Even more than Cohen and Dylan, Fagen is not a poet, because the words don’t live on their own.  His genius is to shackle his first world problems to music of shiny optimism.  Fagen talks about his  solo album”Kamakiriad”, here.  Of all the albums about people driving bio-sustainable cars across America in the near future, it’s one of the best.  And one of the most striking songs on this album is “On The Dunes”, a wistful break-up song of unparalleled self pity. 

The scene is a beach, and Donald has been dumped there.  As Bill Hicks once said, the beach is “where dirt meets water”, and for Fagen the dunes, the epitomy of sun drenched, air brushed beauty, occupy similar territory:  here’s the opening verse.

“Drive along the sea

Far from the city’s twitch and smoke

To a misty beach

That’s where my life became a joke

On the dunes

On the dunes
(became a joke on the dunes)

Where rents are high

And seabirds cry

On the dunes”

Reading those lines in that grave voice reserved for poetry, they are simply angry with a touch of humour.  (Pam Ayres could read them).  Add the music though, and the brattish repetition of the phrase “on the dunes” (“on the dunes (became a joke on the dunes)” is somehow lifted up into the sophistication of the harmonies.  The music almost acts as Fagen’s confidante, comforting him and us in the hour of need.   Cut glass grooves, the coldness of a hostile world against Fagen’s warm and fragile vocals. It’s a bit too high for his voice and he knows it.  

The melodrama continues in verse two:
“As you spoke you must have known

It was a kind of homicide

I stood and watched my happiness

Drift outwards with the tide.”

That’s a lot of responsibility to put on a person Donald.

But the high point for me comes in the chorus, where he paints a beautiful picture of the scene in the first half, and then trashes it in the second half; Bill Hicks style:

“Pretty boats

Sweeping along the shore

In the faltering light

Pretty women

With their lovers by their side

It’s like an awful dream

I have most every night”

His voice here is masterful, full of pain (“in the faltering liiiiiieeeeeeght”) and yet soaring above the lush harmonies that open out purposefully in contrast to the hesitant side stepping of the verse. And then there’s the way he tucks the punchline (“it’s like an awful dream”) away right at the end of the phrase. This part of the song has such an uplifting musical effect that the anger is almost lost in the beauty of it.

 In a long and lingering coda, a sequence of chords rolls around like waves lapping at the sand, the drums and sax conversing sparingly.  Thoughts in the mind of the man on the dunes.  Pop’s short attention span has no space for jazz these days,  but Fagen loves it, knows that jazz can be about more than just macho posturing (“Whiplash” was twenty years in the future).  Here the music goes almost absent mindedly around in a lazy circle, but it never escalates.  Like the lingering shots of  Bob Hoskins at the end of “The Long Good Friday”, or Robert De Niro’s last scene in “Once Upon A Time In America”, things are just sinking in.  And it’s four minutes of an eight minute song.  It takes as long as it takes.

If this is an inner dialogue between words and music, for me the music wins.  Its lush romanticism eventually overwhelms us and him, words dissolving into sound and fading eventually into silence.  If this is cynicism, its the kind that sparkles with humanity and humour and God knows we could use that right now.