Tag Archives: roots

Moving on and uprooting

Whether we seek it or not, change is inevitable. Even the who person clings tightly to place, property and people can find that random chance and the choices of others lead to radical upheavals. I’ve had this both ways, sometimes seeking colossal changes, and at others, having them forced upon me by circumstance. Even if we don’t have much choice about what happens to us, we always have options about how to handle what we get.

Moving home a number of times now, I realise how deeply and quickly life becomes entwined with people, properties, and objects. We build lifestyles around the things we own, the roof over our head, the location and the other people in it. A sudden uprooting from that is as traumatic for humans as it is for plants. That which is rooted in the soil does not take kindly to being lifted and transplanted, often roots are damaged and a moved plant can be set back for some time. People are not so different, even when the transplanting is needed and makes for a better life.

Unlike plants, we have the option of slowly lifting our roots, finding out where they had got to, what they were intertwined with, and gently separating out. We can find new, likely looking places to sink those same roots and maybe grow a few new ones. Perhaps some can stay in place even as we move on.

We expect to move only by choice, with time to pack and prepare, to save what is loved, let go of what was not needed and gently segue into the next phase. We might think we’re good at moving on, if we’ve only ever done that in a controlled manner at a time of our choosing. For women and children who flee abuse, it can be a case of taking your chance and running, with nothing more than the clothes on your back. Leaving is the most dangerous time; statistically you are most likely to be killed or injured when you try to get out. I’ve heard stories from so many women over the years, who left suddenly with almost nothing, because that was their best shot at getting to leave alive.

A lost job, a failing of health, a hike in interest rates, sudden bereavement, a landlord who goes bankrupt and has to sell the property… there are so many things life can throw at us that suddenly result in loss of home and security. I’ve seen so many friends knocked about by this one, too. The guys who moved out to give their family stability during divorce, suddenly renting in unfamiliar places, living in caravans and on boats to keep their children secure in the family home. The stories of people whose partners ran up debts and did not pay bills, and did not say until the bailiffs were at the door. The partners who gambled secretly, the partners who lied and the devastation that has left in the lives of people who had no idea what was coming to them. Failing mental health is another. Security is so often an illusion. We think we’ve got it because we’re too smart, too good, too careful to fall, but any of us can fall, at any time.

When you can pick your life apart gently to remake it somewhere else, be glad of that. It is a blessing, and a luxury. We’re too quick to assume carelessness and incompetence in the people we see flailing and failing, but so often it isn’t sought. The person left picking up the pieces is frequently not the one who made the mess. The person pushed out to the edges may in fact have done all the right things, for the right reasons. Sacrifices made for children, for elderly parents in need of care, come at a high price and aren’t easily spotted if you don’t know the whole story. If you can, be gentle with yourself, and be gentle with those around you whose stories you do not know.

Rebellious Roots

I spent last night listening to the BBC radio 2 Folk awards. On the whole radio2 tends towards the shiny end of folk, and I tend towards the raw and dirty end, but they had Billy Bragg on and Treacherous Orchestra, so that was fine. Folk is where I come from, it’s home, ancestry, community, more so than Druidry because folk has been there my whole life. I’ve seen a fight, in my lifetime to keep the folk traditions alive. Back in the 80s, the prospect wasn’t good, with aging and dwindling clubs, but, there’s a tremendous resurgence going on and a lot of brilliant young people coming through.

At the Druid Network convention back in November, Paul Mitchell pointed out that our folk traditions are as much a part of our heritage as Stonehenge. More so, because folk has the potential to belong to everyone, and apparently Stonehenge doesn’t, and we can’t all get there and it would be bloody crowded if we did. Folk is where you are, there’s plenty around. It’s your traditions, your heritage, be that farming or industry, or protest or something else.

I have some sense of who my people were, what they did and the land they come from. Not everyone has that. One of the things the folk tradition does is gives you a huge pool of possible ancestry to pick from. Of course you had your share of poachers, soldiers, peasants, and poets – we all do. Not everyone engages with folk, too much beard, woolly jumper and finger in ear… except most of it isn’t like that, and never was. Folk can be sexy, angry, militant, ironic, dangerous… and also loud, or more like classical, or all kinds of things. Still, I’m not going to lure everyone in.

I was listening to Billy Bragg talking about how much now is like life under Margaret Thatcher, and about how it keeps coming round and we keep having to fight the same fights. The protest songs serve in part to connect you to all the people who had to do it before, to make it less lonely, help see the point, keep your courage up. We all have these fights, and in sharing them, they become easier. Workers protest songs from a hundred years ago and more are very relevant. We’ve rioted before over impossible rents, and lack of food, and shitty systems and we’ll do so again.

It helps to know this. How many people don’t know? How many people live in the small awareness of a few generations, overwhelmed by what the system is doing to them and unable to imagine that you could fight back, much less that it would work. How many people don’t know about Ned Ludd and the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Peterloo massacre, the peasants revolt, chartism, levellers, diggers, and all the other brave attempts to put things right. Each round of fighting takes us a little bit further forward. Without that knowledge, without the history of dissent, revolt, non-cooperation, and uprising, it’s easy to believe that you can’t do anything.

What does that give you? A whole new kind of feudalism, in which the peasants are held in place not by laws, but by our own lack of knowledge and disbelief. That’s the developed world for you, all too often. Bread, circuses and being dictated to by our lords and masters.

Show of Hands, in their song ‘Roots’ have this line – “Without our stories and our songs, how will we know where we came from?” We don’t. We have no idea, and that makes it very hard to figure out where we might be going or how to even own that process a bit.

The good side of pop culture

For balance, I need to talk about the good things and what I love, having griped a lot in Why I don’t like bookshops about all the lame TV rip off celebrity rubbish. There are many aspects of popular culture that I do like, but it tends to be a process of picking through to find the good stuff.

In essence, pop culture is of the people for the people, and is classed as ‘low brow’ by the more ‘up market’. Well, I’ve read literature and listened to classical music. Shakespeare is full of sex and death. Much of the ‘up market’ end is wilfully obscure though, self important and mind numbingly dull. There’s good stuff there too, but plenty of it I can live without.

Graphic novels, having evolved out of that most lowly of forms, the comic, are considered more pop culture than not. Yet there’s an incredible array of art styles and storytelling out there once you get past Batman and his friends. Assuming you want to. Some people like that sort of thing and even the most clichéd comic is capable of moments of innovation and vision. I listen to the chart show on Radio 1 most weeks, to see what’s out there, missing the top ten so that I can catch Genevieve Tudor’s folk program. A lot of popular music is, and always has been so bland that you can forget it even while you’re actually listening to it. Music written to sell to a market, music by people who want to be famous, music written by committee to tick as many commercial boxes as possible. Blandsville. But now and then there’s someone who has something to say, or who loves what they do, someone passionate about their thing, or political, or funny. So I’ll confess to liking Rizzlekicks and that Dizzy Rascal’s Filthy Stinking Bass makes me smile, but if I never heard Rhianna again, I’d be entirely happy about that.

I come from a folk background, there’s something from that tradition hardwired into who I am. Plenty of folk music is bland and insipid too – depends a lot on how you do it. I like my folk music raw and dirty. Once it gets too shiny and over produced, I don’t want to know. Music Hall used to be an urban equivalent of folk, again there are gems amongst the piles of mawkish sentimentality. Where pop culture works, it does so by grabbing something so basically human and widely recognisable that we all engage with it. Harry Potter pushed all those buttons. That which is popular can also be good, and that which sets out to be high art can be bloody tedious.

Whether I like the precise content or not, a performer who is driven by a vision, by love of their work, by attitude, a creator who has inspiration, is someone I respect. It doesn’t matter what genre. I’ll take raw enthusiasm and passion over technical skill as well. That which is smooth and shiny, built on assumptions about how to make a commercial success, mostly makes my skin crawl. The manufactured bands, the glossy celebrity stuff where what matters is fame and attention, not the quality of what you do.

Basically what I want is arts industries that are driven by creative people, not by people in suits who are only interested in exactly how many yachts they can afford to buy this year. Yes, arts industries are businesses too, but when the only consideration is the money, and you have no place for soul, you kill the market. Music sales are down. Book sales are down. Bookshops are closing. That says something. HMV closed. What it says to me is that the model is wrong, the product is wrong. You won’t get everyone to fall in love with a creation by trying to make the exact thing that everyone will fall in love with. It doesn’t work. Risk and innovation are the lifeblood of creativity. Try to strip the risk out, and you take way the things that most engage people, and they take their hard earned money somewhere else.

Pop culture, when it works best, is by the people for the people. It comes up from the grass roots, it’s not dripped down upon us from up from above. It has roots, and the people doing it have experience, and dedication, and are not skyrocketed to success in ways that are likely to induce mental health problems. I like that kind of pop culture. I want more of it. I want fewer people in suits, in distant offices trying to imagine what I’ll cough up money for. That’s not pop culture, that’s a cynical industry that is suffocating itself to death and taking everyone else with it.