Category Archives: Poetry

593. Going through pages in an old diary

Listen to me reading out some pages from a diary which I wrote when I was 16 years old. Join me as I take a trip down memory lane and find out what I was doing, thinking and feeling 25 years ago. Some language is explained along the way. Vocabulary notes available below.

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Introduction Transcript

In this episode you’re going to hear me reading out some pages from an old diary I wrote 25 years ago, when I was 16 years old.

In the UK a diary can mean two things. Either it’s a plan, timetable or schedule for the future in which you write appointments and stuff, like “Let me check my diary – yes, I’m free that day to have coffee with you David Beckham”, but also a diary can be a sort of notebook in which you write a record of things you’ve done and all your thoughts and feelings every day.

It’s where you write all your most personal and private things. So, in this episode you’ll hear me going through an old diary that I wrote when I was 16.

I recorded this episode quite spontaneously actually. The idea just came to me and I quickly started recording. I didn’t use a script or notes at all, except for the things I was reading from the diary.

It’s a bit self-indulgent to read your own diary like this, and I don’t think that my teenage years have any particular significance or anything, no more than anyone else’s, but I found it strangely fascinating to look back on my life 25 years ago, reading out my thoughts and remembering what was important to me then and how I was growing up in various ways.

Imagine meeting your 16-year-old self. What would you say to that person? What would you think of their lifestyle and thoughts? What kind of advice would you like to give to them? That’s kind of what happens in this episode.

Things get a bit rude as I talk about girls and also drinking – underage drinking in fact – and there is some strong language, meaning swearing. All that stuff – drinking, swearing and snogging girls, that’s all quite normal for young people in the UK. I point that out because there’s bound to be some people listening to this who are slightly shocked about what I was doing aged 16 and 17, just because of cultural differences, but really, for the context of the UK, my late-teenage years were actually very normal.

Also, as I continue to read pages, things get a little bit dark in some places. But it’s not too serious or anything, just normal teenage angst I think.

I’ll let you find out more as you listen and I will be explaining various bits of language as I go.

Right then, so this is me, grabbing an old diary and going through its pages while rambling away into my microphone.

Vocabulary Notes

Imagine meeting your 16-year-old self. What would you say to that person? What would you think of their lifestyle and thoughts? (Using “they” or “them” as a non-gendered pronoun – very common)
Teenage angst
Went to the arcade and got really far (made progress) on “bass”
Navel gazing
Self-indulgent
Self-involved
It’s a little glimpse into what I was like at the time
I wanted a snog from Sarah
I could of (could have!!) easily got off with Sarah’s friend who fancies me
At 16 my grammar was pretty atrocious
As long as you hand in all your assignments, you don’t have to attend every class
I took that as a green light not to go to any classes
Pocket money from your parents or an allowance
When you get a bit older your parents give you an allowance
I’d turn up at college and I’d be borrowing money from my mates, scrounging things from my mates
I just want to take £10 into college and spend it all on people who have crashed me things
“Can you crash me a fag?”
“Can I bum a fag off you?”
When it really comes down to it, it’s most important to have mates who like you and that you like. Without that, you’re pretty fucked.
The lyrics really struck a chord with me. They really meant a lot to me.
As a teenager you start to get more profound feelings
You start feeling a deep sense of mystery or profundity about life
You’re carrying around all this baggage with you in terms of all the experiences you’ve had, and the people you’ve met and it just builds up and up and up, and you carry it with you every day
Constantly your body is repairing itself and rejuvenating itself
Does your body really replace itself every 7 years?
www.snopes.com/fact-check/does-body-replace-itself-seven-years/
It turns out that each body part has its own very distinct lifespan. The lining of the stomach, constantly under assault by digestive acid, is renewed every few days. But bones are refreshed once a decade. And there are a few parts of you that stay with you from birth to death. (NPR, care of Snopes.com, link above)
I couldn’t grasp why it was so important, it just felt very significant

Beastie Boys – Namaste (Lyrics) genius.com/Beastie-boys-namaste-annotated

More vocabulary notes

It’s quite cathartic to write your thoughts and feelings down
I spilt beer all over myself when I put my pint on the hand dryer and it slipped off
Jake, Ed and Mouse nearly bought it in a car crash.
Ed’s car is wrecked
Jake had a fracture in his arm
They all looked really shaken
Really good down-tempo atmospheric trip hop
I feel like things are slipping away
Get a grip, take control
Loads of people I know have turned into stuck up super-confident idiots. I felt like people were becoming arrogant.
I’ve got so much potential but I get stuck in a rut and I can’t lift myself out.
If I fail the DELTA it could be a big blow to me. I would like to just break away and drop out.
It did a world of good for my confidence, passing the DELTA.
The podcast has given me some purpose and a project to focus my creativity and energy on.
“Hearing those sounds again, it’s so evocative.”
Maybe a bit of oversharing going on here.
You shouldn’t wallow in the past.
To wallow in mud, wallow in misery, wallow in grief.

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.”
― Bill Keane

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Søren Kierkegaard

Some tracks from one of my mix tapes (this is the kind of thing I was listening to in 1994)

Waterloo Sunset – Lyrics

genius.com/The-kinks-waterloo-sunset-lyrics

567. Alternative Christmas Stories & Poems / Beatles / Happy New Year from LEP!

This is the last episode of LEP before the end of 2018.

It’s Christmas and New Years Eve is approaching, so it’s time for the traditional Christmas episode of LEP! In this one I’m going to read some Christmas stories and a couple of poems which are a bit different to the normal stuff you get at this time of year. Also, keep listening for a funny appearance by The Beatles.

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Episode Transcript & Notes

Luke, I know that it’s Christmas and it’s a time of giving, but why are you uploading so many episodes at the moment? We can’t keep up!

The Christmas holiday is about to start and I’ll be quiet for a few weeks, so I’m giving you quite a lot of stuff now for you to listen to while I’m away.

That includes this episode in which I would like to wish you a very merry Christmas (if you celebrate it) and a Happy New Year too, then ramble to you a little bit and then tell you one or two Christmas-themed stories, read a couple of Christmassy poems and there will be an appearance by The Beatles as well, as you’ll hear later on.

First of all, a bit of a ramble (not too long).

I’ve uploaded a lot recently. New free podcast episodes, new phrasal verb episodes and new premium episodes. It’s quite a lot of stuff, which might be difficult to keep up with, but as I’ve said, I won’t be uploading for a few weeks so it should be enough time for everyone to catch up.

Just yesterday I uploaded another series (3 parts) of premium episodes for December, and that is all about language from the Alan Partridge episodes I did in October. They were popular episodes and they were full of really nice language – I mean, descriptive vocabulary and noun phrases I used to talk about Alan, and also various other expressions, phrases and bits of grammar that came up in the clips that we listened to. So I devoted a couple of Premium episodes to that and also the usual memory tests and pronunciation drills. PDF worksheets are available for all the premium episodes.

There are also new phrasal verb episodes in the premium package now too, and more arriving on a regular basis.

If you want to become a premium LEPster, go right ahead, be my guest. You’ll get access to all of the premium content in the ever-growing library, and all the stuff that will be published in the future too. www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium to get started. Also, you’ll be supporting the podcast with a small monthly contribution – about the price of a coffee or beer every month.

I tell you what, I am super duper chuffed to finally be making premium episodes and having this project alongside the normal episodes of the podcast. I hope those of you out there who are premium Lepsters are getting into the work I’ve been doing. Thank you for your support for the podcast too. You’re making it possible for me to spend more time on this, and that’s going to help me to improve and develop what I’m doing.

It’s been a pretty good year for LEP with lots of episodes about different things. I hope you’ve enjoyed them all and found them useful for your English. The year started with the birth of our daughter, and I talked about it in episode 502 – that’s about 65 episodes ago, can you believe it? I’ve done 65 episodes of the podcast this year, plus all the premium ones. Quite a productive year. Episode 502 – that’s when you first heard my wife’s voice on the podcast.

Sometimes during the year I think you heard the voice of my daughter in episodes, when I was recording stuff while she was in the flat with me. That may happen more and more as she grows up.

She’s not really speaking yet, although she is walking. She is making more and more complex noises though, not exactly speaking but making sounds with different bits of intonation and stuff – things that sound like questions, things that sound like “yaay” etc. She’s started doing this thing where she lifts objects to her ear and kind of goes “hello?” as if she’s speaking on the telephone. No idea where she got that from because we usually use headphones when we’re on the phone at home.

She also understands various things that my wife and I say to her, in both languages. She’s very fond of pointing at things too and kind of going “huh??”, like “What’s that??” As she speaks more, I’m sure I’ll record her sometimes so you can hear her learning to speak over the next few years. I’m looking forward to doing that.

A shout out to my students at the British Council

I teach 4 groups of students at the British Council at the moment, across different levels. They’re all adult learners of English and we’ve had some great classes over the last year. Hello, if you’re listening. I want to share a video that some of them were involved in.

So, at the BC in Paris we offer a social programme called English Extra, which involves things like social events, drinks, talks by teachers and guests (I did one about British humour if you remember) and also weekend trips to London. The idea is that it gives our students more opportunities to socialise in English and get more talking time in English, basically. Also, it’s just a lot of fun and we have some really outgoing, funny and social people in our adult classes at the moment, including in my classes, which is great because it means we have a lot of fun while also learning English. So, some of them went to London recently and as part of the trip they made a little video for YouTube. It’s called How Much do Londoners Know about France? The students went around, interviewing British people in the street, asking them various questions about France. The results are pretty embarrassing, I must say!

The average Londoner doesn’t seem to know that much about their nearest continental neighbours! To be honest, I wonder if the same would be true about the French, in fact I think it would be. Anyway, the video is pretty funny and I want to share what my students did, so check it out – you’ll see the full video on the page for this episode. I also shared it on social media today.

My students at the British Council made this video in London

Do you celebrate Christmas? Do you have any plans?

What are you doing for Christmas? Is it something you celebrate in your country? Do you have any plans?

This year we’re going to spend some time with my wife’s family in France on the 24th and 25th – Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, doing Christmas the French way, which involves Champagne (of course – although I’m off the booze at the moment – might have to make an exception for Christmas) and then on Boxing Day (which is now also our daughter’s birthday, the poor girl! It’s no fun to have your birthday at Christmas) we’re going to the UK to spend about a week with my parents in their house, which will be great. My Mum and Dad are looking forward to seeing us, but mainly they want to see their granddaughter. It’s cool, she seems to get a boost when she sees them. It’s funny, she loves music and will dance and clap her hands when you play music to her. I am currently educating her in the ways of The Beatles, by playing Beatle music to her every day. It might backfire and she’ll end up sick of it, I don’t know. Hopefully she’ll grow to like their music like I do and my parents do too.

So I’ll be on holiday from the moment that I publish this episode until some time in early 2019. I’m not sure when the podcast will be back exactly. But you’ve got plenty of content to keep you busy in the meantime, right? All the recent episodes and the premium content. By the way, in those premium episodes it’s not just all serious and boring language work. I like to have a laugh there too, it’s just there’s more of a focus on teaching you language and helping you to practise your pronunciation.

Right, so that’s enough rambling.

‘Alternative’ Christmas Stories / Poems / Jokes + The Beatles

I was scouring the internet for good stuff relating to Christmas – stories, mainly. I wanted to read a good Christmas story or a couple of short stories or something. I haven’t found much! Most of the stuff I found is quite cheesy and crap to be honest so it’s been a bit difficult to find the right things.

So, this year, after searching and thinking, I’ve come up with one funny little story, some slightly odd poems, a funny Christmas tradition and The Beatles…

As I said, most of the stories with a Christmas theme that I found online were quite cheesy and cliched, and that’s a bit dull. But I did find several stories which are a bit different or maybe you could say alternative. By that I mean they take a different look at Christmas time.

These stories and poems are quite weird and a bit dark too in some places, but I’ve decided that’s ok because I’d rather have some weirdness and funniness than the usual Christmas stuff about sleigh bells, reindeers and all those other cliched tropes of Christmas – not that there’s anything wrong with that, I do love the cosiness of Christmas when you’re indoors with your family (as long as you’re not trying to kill each other), eating nice food (prepared by someone else possibly, probably your Mum or my Mum in this case – thanks Mum) and generally having a lovely and jolly time. There’s nothing wrong with that of course – that’s what Chrimbo is all about. But I’m sure you’re getting plenty of that stuff everywhere else, in shops, bars, on TV, on the radio, online etc. I don’t know where you are, but certainly in the UK you start to get inundated with the usual Christmas stuff from as early as November these days, and it starts to become a bit annoying after a while.

For example – Christmas songs…

“Well the weather outside is.. blah blah.. and the blah is blahdy blah blah, let it snow let it snow let it snow!”

“Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose…”

“Driving home for Christmas…” etc

Nothing wrong with that stuff really, but it is everywhere, all the time.

So instead of that kind of stuff, here are some alternative takes on Christmas time. Some funny(ish) stuff, some weird stuff, some slightly disgusting stuff, some slightly dark stuff and then The Beatles as well, as you’ll hear later.

Let’s start with a funny little story I found on a website called www.funny-jokes.com

The Missing Five Pound Note

Chippenham George worked for the Post Office and his job was to process all the mail that had illegible addresses. One day just before Christmas, a letter landed on his desk simply addressed in shaky handwriting: ‘To God’. With no other clue on the envelope, George opened the letter and read:

Dear God,

I am a 93 year old widow living on the State pension. Yesterday someone stole my purse. It had £100 in it, which was all the money I had in the world and no pension due until after Christmas. Next week is Christmas and I had invited two of my friends over for Christmas lunch. Without that money, I have nothing to buy food with. I have no family to turn to, and you are my only hope. God; can you please help me?

Chippenham George was really touched, and being kind hearted, he put a copy of the letter up on the staff notice board at the main sorting office where he worked. The letter touched the other postmen and they all dug into their pockets and had a whip round. Between them they raised £95. Using an officially franked Post Office envelope, they sent the cash on to the old lady, and for the rest of the day, all the workers felt a warm glow thinking of the nice thing they had done.

Christmas came and went. A few days later, another letter simply addressed to ‘God’ landed in the Sorting Office. Many of the postmen gathered around while George opened the letter. It read,

Dear God, 

How can I ever thank you enough for what you did for me? Because of your generosity, I was able to provide a lovely luncheon for my friends. We had a very nice day, and I told my friends of your wonderful gift – in fact we still haven’t got over it and even Father John, our parish priest, is beside himself with joy. By the way, there was £5 missing. I think it must have been those thieving fellows at the Post Office.

George could not help musing on Oscar Wilde’s quote: ‘A good deed never goes unpunished’

And now, three poems by modern authors. Poems like these are good. They’re written in plain English and they have a rhythm and rhyme to them. It’s a good idea to practise saying them yourselves. See if you can get the rhythm right.

An alternative Christmas Poem from Roald Dahl

Mother Christmas
“Where art thou, Mother Christmas?
I only wish I knew
Why Father should get all the praise
And no one mentions you.

I’ll bet you buy the presents
And wrap them large and small
While all the time that rotten swine
Pretends he’s done it all.

So Hail To Mother Christmas
Who shoulders all the work!
And down with Father Christmas,
That unmitigated jerk!”
[c. RDNL]

Explain some of the vocab.

Alternative Santa: A Christmas Poem

Roger McGough by the way is from Liverpool and was part of a poetry group there in the sixties called The Scaffold. Another member of The Scaffold? Mike McCartney – Paul’s brother. We used to read Roger McGough’s poems when we were children. He used to write a lot of funny little poems for kids, but some of his work is actually really good for adults. It’s not too fancy or pretentious, it is written in plain English and for me it does exactly what poetry should do, makes you feel something inside. I also like his brief style. Less is more.

By Roger McGough

‘I’m fed up looking like Father Christmas,’
Muttered Father Christmas one year
‘I need a new outfit, I must move with the times
So for a start, it’s goodbye reindeer’

He googled Alternative Santas
And was amazed at the stuff that appeared
He got rid of the holly-red costume
Had a haircut, and shaved off his beard

Spent his days in front of a computer
In a cave hollowed out of the ice
Wearing a tee shirt emblazoned Merry Xmas
And jeans (Amazon, Armani, half price)

Couldn’t wait to straddle his snow-ped
(The bargain he’d bought on eBay)
A rocket-powered silver toboggan [sledge, sled or sleigh]
His supersonic sleigh

Then one morning he thought, ‘Oh why bother
Delivering presents by hand
When it could all be done online
Busy parents will understand

We are lucky to live in a digital age
Where the aim is access and speed
SantaNet I’ll call the system
‘Santafaction guaranteed’

And that was years and years ago
Times that children barely know
Midnight mass and mistletoe
Christmas carols and candle glow

Sleigh bells ringing across the snow
And Santa singing Yo ho ho
For that was years and years ago
And that was years and years ago.

This poem appeared in the Telegraph on December 7th, 2013

Hmmm, but what does it mean?

This next one starts out quite sweet, but it gets a bit dark. I think it’s a brilliant poem though, even if it is quite sad.

The Trouble with Snowmen by Roger McGough

‘The trouble with snowmen,’
Said my father one year
‘They are no sooner made
than they just disappear.

I’ll build you a snowman
And I’ll build it to last
Add sand and cement
And then have it cast.

And so every winter,’
He went on to explain
‘You shall have a snowman
Be it sunshine or rain.’

And that snowman still stands
Though my father is gone
Out there in the garden
Like an unmarked gravestone.

Staring up at the house
Gross and misshapen
As if waiting for something
Bad to happen.

For as the years pass
And I grow older
When summers seem short
And winters colder.

The snowmen I envy
As I watch children play
Are the ones that are made
And then fade away.

Roger McGough

Something a bit disgusting, or is it? An odd Christmas tradition from Catalonia. The Caganer.

Catalonia is a region in Northwestern Spain. Barcelona is the most famous city there. Some of you may be there right now. Lovely part of the world.

Apparently they have a slightly odd tradition there. The Caganer. It’s a little figuring of a man pooing on the floor. Yuk, disgusting! You might think, but actually it’s a long-standing tradition in the region and is a symbol of good luck and also renewal for the coming new year.

This is an article from nowIknow.com (I brilliant email list with fascinating and funny little stories every day)

The Tradition of Christmas Poo in Catalonia

Christmas Poo

Do you have any slightly odd or funny Christmas traditions or new year traditions?

A Beatles Christmas Record 1964 (one that my Mum had in her record collection)

Why are we going to listen to this? It’s interesting, funny, charming and silly and maybe you’ve never heard The Beatles speaking before.

Every year The Beatles recorded a Christmas message for their fans. The message was distributed to members of the fan club on floppy 7 inch ‘vinyl’ (but not vinyl, it was plastic or something) records. My Mum was a member of the fan club in the 60s and she got these records in the post, I think. She still had them as James and I were growing up, and we used to listen to them as children too. I think James is now the owner of these records. I sincerely hope that he’s looking after them because they will be worth quite a lot of money one day. I’ve seen them on eBay for over £300.

As well as being great song-writers, The Beatles were naturally very funny. They were quick-witted, silly and surreal. Part of that is because of they were from Liverpool, and Scousers naturally are very witty people, but partly because John, Paul, George and Ringo were talented and funny in their own right. They did not take themselves seriously at all, which is one of the reasons they were so charming.

You can see this in their films, but their humour came out best when they were just being spontaneous in interviews and in situations like this where they’re in the studio reading out some comments that were written by someone else, maybe a member of staff from the record company. They are supposed to be reading out the messages but they can’t help fooling around, and the results are pretty funny. Their sense of humour is still fresh I think, even though this was over 50 years ago.

Here are some things you should look out for as you listen to this clip.

First they seem to run towards the microphone and then run away again at the end.

The text they are supposed to be reading was written by someone else, and was written by hand, so they have some trouble reading it and make a few mistakes sometimes. There are also a few little ad-libs here and there. John keeps saying it says here, to show that he’s reading someone else’s words.

Paul: (thanking the fans) Don’t know where we’d be without you

John: (instantly) in the army perhaps

Paul: I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to the records as much as we’ve enjoyed melting them! I mean, making them.

Paul: That’s all, except to wish you a Happy Christmas and a very new year. (A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year)

John: (coughing loudly) Thanks all for buying my book and there’s another one out pretty soon, it says here. (clearly reading from a text). It’ll be the usual rubbish but it won’t cost much. You see, that’s the bargain we’re going to strike up. I write them in my spare time, it says here.

Paul: Did you write this yourself?

John: No, it’s somebody’s bad handwroter. (you expect him to say handwriting). Thanks a lot and a happy Christmas and a merry goo year. (goo is like slime or mud or something…)

George: I’d like to thank you for going to see the film. ‘SPECT (I expect) a lot of you saw it more than once. We had a quiet time making it. (George misreads the text and corrects himself) Actually we didn’t ! We had a great time making it. The next one should be completely different (he goes into a strong Liverpool accent) This time it’s going to be in colour. (John: Green)

When Ringo speaks, it’s just funny. I can’t explain why. I think it’s the way he delivers these pre-written lines in a slightly awkward and sweet manner. It’s just Ringo being Ringo. While he’s speaking someone drops something in the background and he says casually “Who’s droppin’ that?” They were natural and never cheesy or contrived, and that was very different at that time. They were very real, in a very formal world of show business.

Ringo: Those airport receptions knocked us out, man, great! (to knock someone out = to amaze/surprise someone)

At the end they break into a rendition of “Oh can you wash your father’s shirt, oh can you wash it clean?” which is probably some old song that people used to sing.

They run away again at the end.

Another Beatles Christmas record – 1965

This is the one from 1965, a year later.

More things to listen out for

Check out the nice crackling vinyl sound.

Paul: Got to thank everyone for all the presents this year

John: especially the chewed up pieces of chewing gum (I think they did receive this kind of thing), and the playing cards made out of knickers (not sure about that – they probably did receive home-made playing cards and stuff, and perhaps some knickers too!)

John: (in a weird creepy voice) On behalf of George and I, I’d just like to thank you for… (inaudible)

Paul: Well Ringo, what have we done this year?

Ringo: Well, I see you haven’t shaved again.

John starts singing a made-up song in a strong Scottish accent, with lyrics which are hard to understand because sometimes Scottish people speak in a dialect that English people don’t understand. John used to make up nonsense poetry and songs on the spot. He had a surreal sense of humour.

The band then go into a version of Auld Lang Syne which is a traditional Scots-language poem written by George Burns, the famous Scottish poet. It’s a song which is sung in Scotland and many parts of the English speaking world in order to celebrate new year’s eve. The boys here do a silly version of it. They continue to make up silly nonsense as they carry on recording the Christmas record. It’s as if the record company people, or whoever ran the fan club had just given up on writing messages for them, and have just let them record any old nonsense into the microphone, which is great for us!

John improvises a song which sounds like an Elvis record and Ringo shouts “Copyright John!” meaning that he can’t sing that because it’s protected by copyright. Paul then puts on a heavy working-class Liverpool accent and says “What are we gonna do that’s out of copyright?” and John replies (in the same accent) “How about we’ll gather lilacs in an old brown shoe?” I have no idea what he’s talking about. Maybe this is just an old reference that I don’t get, or it’s just John talking nonsense again, but I do like the way they go into these different accents all the time.

Apparently they were always like this, including when recording their albums in the studio. In fact it was their sense of humour that got them a recording contract with George Martin at EMI.

He was more impressed by their general humour than their music (in the beginning), although they proved themselves in the music department later, of course.

The boys do silly accents of old people and weather reporters on the radio. They do a Bob Dylan impression at one point.

John begins singing a made-up Christmas song and the lyrics end up becoming weird noises, then the others join in.

John was often the leader when it came to being ridiculous and absurd, but they were all so close and so quick that they could all keep up with it too.

John: (in a strong Liverpool accent) This is Johnny rhythm saying good night to youse all and god bless youse.

Paul: (in the same accent) All right well, ehhh, that’s got it done then. What are we gonna do now?

George: (Scouse accent) Has he turned it off? (listen for the way he says “turned” – “teeeeeerned it off” – that’s the Liverpool accent, the Scouse accent – exaggerated)

Paul or Ringo: Have you turned it off, la? (‘LA’ is a Scouse word meaning “Lad” or “mate”)

And that’s the end of their Christmas record for 1965.

I think we’ll leave it on that note then, eh?

All right then. Merry Chrimbo and have a very new year all right?

Speak to you in 2019. All the best!

Luke

 

Additional

Previous Christmas Episodes (Just in case you’re looking for more stuff to listen to during the break!)

A couple of years ago I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It’s still available in the archive, if you want a nice Christmas story, sort of a bed time story (episode 320).

In fact there are a few Christmas episodes in the archive, if you’re feeling festive. You might have heard them already, but maybe you haven’t, or maybe it’s time to revisit them if you’re looking for more podcast action during the Christmas break.

From memory I remember one with my brother which I recorded in London, called “Christmas, it’s all about Family” (episode 78) and we aimed to chat about Christmas but ended up rambling about lots of other things, which was good fun.

The first time I spoke to Paul Taylor on the podcast was about 5 years ago, in December 2013 and we talked about Christmas traditions and his plans for the holidays (episodes 158 & 159).

I spoke to my mate Raphael Miller once at Christmas time and we did a fairly long episode called The A to Z of Christmas, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about British Christmas culture (episode 160).

I spoke to Amber in 2016 and we chatted all about Christmas traditions again, with lots of funny anecdotes about things like my Dad’s competitions and games which he organises every year, and her son’s behaviour at Christmas time (406 A CHRISTMAS MEGARAMBLE with AMBER).

Last year was a bit of a blur because we were expecting the arrival of the baby, but I had a bit of a Christmas ramble in episode 501 I think, with some listener correspondence (including an email from Jesus) and I sang a Paul McCartney song I think (episode 501).

There are also a few episodes recorded with my family at Christmas time, which is sort of a tradition. These episodes: 79, 322 & 413. Not sure if I’ll get the chance to do that this year, we will see.

506. One of Britain’s Favourite Poems

Listen to readings of “If—” by Rudyard Kipling, a popular poem from England. Includes analysis of the vocabulary and the themes in the poem and also a chance to enjoy the unique voice of Sir Michael Caine – with some funny impressions too. Transcript, vocabulary and videos available.

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Episode Transcript

Introduction

Hello, here’s an episode of the podcast devoted to one of the UK’s favourite poems.

I thought it was about time we looked at some poetry on the podcast. I was wondering which poem I could look at. In the end I’ve chosen one that is popular with lots of people in the UK. Sometimes poetry is a bit complicated and highbrow, but this particular poem is pretty clear and not too challenging or anything, while also touching upon ideas that most people can relate to. So I think it’s probably a good one for us to do.

We’re going to listen to the poem, understand the vocabulary used, and talk about the general meaning of the poem too.

You’ll also be able to listen to the voice of Michael Caine, and hear some Michael Caine impressions too.

The poem in question is called “If -” by Rudyard Kipling. That’s it… “If -“.

It has been voted the UK’s favourite poem in a number of polls done by the BBC. So, let’s listen to this much loved poem being read out by a couple of different people and then analyse the lines for their full meaning and pick up some vocabulary in the process.

“If-” by Rudyard Kipling

“If—” is a poem by British Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling (a nobel laureate is someone who won the nobel prize for their poetry). The poem was written in 1895 and was first published in 1910.

It is written in the form of paternal advice to the poet’s son. You can imagine that the poet is talking to his son about life and teaching him what it means to be a man.

Grammatically, it’s basically one huge ‘if clause’ with each line beginning with the word ‘if’ and then concluding at the end of the poem. It might actually be the world’s longest conditional sentence – “if you do this and this and this, then eventually, this will happen”. Like, “If you do plenty of practice, stay motivated and don’t give up then eventually you’ll be a fluent English speaker.”

As poetry, “If—” is a literary example of the principles of Victorian-era stoicism. This is a set of attutides that became popular in the UK during the Victorian period. By stoicism I mean a kind of attitude and approach to life that involves being tolerant of difficulty, showing a sort of calm self-discipline, having control over your emotions, being patient, accepting difficulty and having a quiet determination to just keep calm and carry on. It could also be described as the principle of “stiff upper lip”, which British people often consider to be a national virtue. If your upper lip is stiff, or firm, I suppose it means that you have your emotions under control.

Often Brits will talk about how they are proud to be tolerant (not just of things like cultural differences, but of difficulty, discomfort and hardship) and I think we quite like the idea that we are in control of our emotions because it shows strength of character. This is what “If–” is about and because of this, the poem remains a cultural touchstone in the UK.

We’re not always self controlled of course. You can’t generalise. There are times when Brits intentionally lose all self-control – like when they get drunk on a Friday night or when they go on holiday to Majorca or something, and get drunk there. Those moments seem to be like time off from being self-controlled. Also, these days, I think British people are more in touch with their emotions than they used to be.

But this poem is all about the side of the British personality that is all about quiet strength, fair play and not losing your head in a crisis.

It is also like a of self-help mantra which inspires people to try and do the right thing and probably gives people some inspiration for living your life correctly and dealing with times of difficulty.

For these reasons it’s often voted one of the UK’s favourite poems.

Listen to Academy Award winning actor Michael Caine reading the poem

Listen to Michael Caine reading the poem. All the sentences start with IF – how do you think the poem will end.

If you’re already familiar with the poem, you can just enjoy the voice one of our favourite actors. Michael Caine

“If—” by Rudyard Kipling

(video below)

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Source: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)

The audio comes from a YouTube video uploaded by Peace One Day www.peaceoneday.org/

Peace One Day is a non-profit organisation that was founded in 1999. In 2001 due to their efforts the member states of the United Nations unanimously adopted the first ever annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence on 21 September – Peace Day.

Peace One Day’s objective is to institutionalise Peace Day 21 September, making it a day that is self-sustaining, an annual day of global unity, a day of intercultural cooperation on a scale that humanity has never known.

I guess these ideas are universal and this applies to everyone facing the challenges of life.

Girls – I hope you can relate to this too, even though he says “…and you’ll be a man my son”.

Read it again and analyse the words

“If—” by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you’re in a stressful situation in which everyone else is losing their heads and saying it’s your fault, but you stay cool and stay in control…

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

Everyone doubts you but you trust yourself, but you still consider their doubts in you – you don’t ignore them

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, (patience is a virtue)
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

other people are lying about you, but you manage to avoid lying

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

others hate you, and you feel pressure to hate them too, but you resist that pressure and don’t give in to hatred, or give way to hatred – don’t let hatred come in – it’s sounding a bit like the Jedi code here

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

stay modest in your appearance, and also don’t talk like you know it all

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

have dreams, ambitions and ideas but keep them in perspective so you’re not just a dreamer but someone who is still practical and pragmatic – a doer not just a dreamer

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

you can be thoughtful, but manage to actually do things rather than just thinking about things all the time

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

don’t let success go to your head, but don’t let failure get you down either – an imposter is something or someone who is not welcome or someone who is pretending to be someone else – e.g. someone who claims to be an experienced pilot and fakes their ID, or someone in a hospital who claims to be a doctor but isn’t

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

if you can stand having your words manipulated by dishonest people – e.g. in the press or in a court of law) (to bear something = to tolerate something) (twisted = changed, distorted, manipulated) (knaves = dishonest and untrustworthy people, it’s an old fashioned word)

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build them up with worn-out tools:

see your life’s work, ruined and then just start again even though the tools you’re using are damaged by lots of use

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

(you take a big pile of all the money you’ve won and risk it all on one go – if you’re willing to take big risks) (a game of pitch-and-toss is an old gambling game in which you ‘pitch’ a coin – throw it – towards a mark on the ground. The one who gets closest to the mark wins the right to ‘toss’ all the coins which have been thrown. To toss means ‘throw’ but specifically to ‘toss a coin’ means to throw it up so it spins and then lands. If you win you can toss all the coins and you can keep all the ones that land with the heads facing up” – so basically, if you can win loads of money and then risk it all on one game…

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

and then lose but just start again from scratch

And never breathe a word about your loss;

and never tell anyone you lost – that would be hard!

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,

even when you’re exhausted you keep going and force your body to keep going, sinew = tendons, ligaments

And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

so, just using your willpower you force your muscles, heart, ligaments to resist and keep going

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

if you can stay honest and moral even when you have the attention of a crowd of people – e.g. you might feel pressure to lie, bend the truth, tell them what they want to hear. Virtue = doing and thinking what is morally right. Adj – virtuous.

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch

if you spend time with rich and powerful people but never lose touch with ordinary life and people

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

Foes = enemies. You’re not affected by criticism or praise.

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you value everyone equally. Everyone counts – everyone is important.

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

if you can make the most of every single minute – the unforgiving minute means 60 seconds, no more no less. So, if you have the strength, stamina and determination to do your absolute best in every second of every minute

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Source: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)

Hear Michael Caine’s thoughts on it from the recording

If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.

Films can be either successful or failures. You have to be able to deal with both outcomes.

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

When you’re a famous actor the press sometimes takes your words and uses them against you – especially the tabloid press.

He also says that war ruins everything. Also, every single war has been declared by men who are too old to go, and this has made him suspicious.

Impressions of Michael Caine’s Voice

Michael Caine’s voice. It’s quite distinctive. He comes from the East End of London – so it’s a cockney accent, basically – not very strong, but it is there. Also, his voice is unique (just like everyone’s voice is unique) and quite well-known. It’s so well-known that he is one of those actors that lots of people can impersonate, like Sean Connery.

How Michael Caine Speaks

You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off! (The Italian Job)

Batman – The Dark Knight Rises “I won’t bury you”

Vocabulary Review

  • keep your head (stay calm, stay in control!)
  • Don’t lose your head (don’t lose self control)
  • (Don’t) Blame it on someone (it was his fault, he did it!)
  • To have doubts (silent letter)
  • Make allowance for something / take something into account (include something in your decision making process – e.g. when I plan lessons I have to make allowances for the fact that students come from different countries and cultural backgrounds)
  • Don’t give way to hatred/anger/frustration = yield, give in (Star Wars)
    (Star Wars: don’t give in to hatred)
  • To be wise / to have wisdom (e.g. Yoda, Gandalf, Dumbledore, ObiWan Kenobi – most old dudes with grey hair and beards)
  • Keep something in perspective (think about things in a reasonable way – e.g. Let’s get things in perspective / let’s keep things in perspective. Sure, we’re locked up in a Turkish jail, but at least we have each other! It’s not that bad! OK bad example. The doctor says I have a 1 in 200 chance of survival!!! Oh shit!!! Wait, let’s keep things in perspective. 1 in 200 is really quite good, and you’re quite young and in good shape. Don’t panic.)
  • Treat someone/something like something (Don’t treat me like an idiot Tony!)
  • Impostors = people who fake their identity in order to get in somewhere. “I felt like an imposter” (common usage) I think it’s quite common for us to feel like an imposter if we feel we don’t deserve the success we’ve had, or when we are in a situation that we don’t deserve to be in, because we feel inferior. Have you ever felt like that? You’re in a situation, you look around and everyone seems so impressive. They’re all so clever and have achieved so much and you feel like you’re not as good as them, and you’re not worthy to be there. You feel like an imposter. It’s a common feeling. I think this might be the situation in which the word “imposter” is most commonly used today, other than when someone has intentionally sneaked into a place by lying.
    If you have ever felt like that, here’s a nice little anecdote from Neil Gaiman – a great author of short fiction novels, comic books and graphic novels.
  • This is from an article I found on Quartz.com and it quotes Neil Gaiman from his Tumblr page. qz.com/984070/neil-gaiman-has-the-perfect-anecdote-for-anyone-with-impostors-syndrome/
    Neil was asked if he had any advice for people experiencing imposter syndrome – that feeling of being an imposter.
    Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.
    On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while some musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”
    And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”
    And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.
    So, there you go – even Neil Armstrong feels like an imposter, and so does Neil Gaiman and many other people who’ve done good things.
    How about you? Do you ever feel like an imposter?
  • Bear to do something / bear to hear your words twisted (I just can’t bear to see him like this)
  • To stoop (bend down)
  • To build something up (create something from the bottom up)
  • A heap of something (a pile)
  • Winnings (all the stuff you won)
  • Don’t breathe a word (don’t reveal a secret)
  • Virtue / virtuous (opposites = dishonor, evil, immorality)
  • The common touch (the ability to appeal to ordinary people)
  • Friend / Foe
  • Count (v) (all opinions count, every second counts) = to have merit, importance, value, etc.; deserve consideration

Finally, listen to Dave Bassett doing it in a scouse accent

I did an episode a while ago called “The Chaos of English Pronunciation” which included a couple of poems which are full of notoriously difficult words to pronounce in English. You can find that episode in the archive. It’s number 144

144. The Chaos of English Pronunciation

Thanks for listening!

324. David Bowie (Part 2)

Hello, welcome to Luke’s English Podcast, which is a  podcast for learners of English around the world. This is part 2 of a special episode about English musician David Bowie who died just a few days ago on 10 January 2016. The aim of this episode is to talk about David Bowie’s significance as an artist, to consider some of the themes of his work and to look at why so many people had such a strong emotional attachment to him. Hopefully after listening to this episode you’ll be better able to have conversations about David Bowie, but also about art and culture in general. You can find almost everything I’m saying transcribed on the page for this episode – see below.

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In part 1 I talked about Bowie’s career up until about the year 1975. So let’s carry on in just a moment, but before that I just want to say that since I recorded this episode I’ve realised that there are lots of other things didn’t mention. For example, I could have talked more about his first wife Angie and his second wife Iman. They say that behind every great man there’s a great woman. If that’s true then Bowie must have had two great women in his life – and probably quite a lot of average ones as well I expect… Anyway, joking aside, I’m sure they had big parts to play in his life, and I hope they’re alright. It’s hard for us to lose an artist we love, but I can’t imagine what it’s like for his close family who must have cared about him in so many other ways.

Anyway, let’s get back into this episode and I’ll carry on from where I stopped last time in the mid-70s.

Part 2

It’s hard to explain everything that happened in the 1970s! It was a whirlwind of different things, and incredible music. Everything moved so fast for Bowie during that period, and he was really ahead of everyone else in terms of fashion. Bowie was very ahead of his time.

Around this time he starred in a film called The Man Who Fell To Earth, directed by Nicholas Roeg. In it he plays the character of an alien who lands on earth and attempts to make sense of the place. He was perfect for the part and it is still a mesmerizing performance. He was a great actor. IN the film he’s very thin and his otherworldliness and his vulnerability were perfect for the part of an alien, alone on earth.

If you’ve seen the film “Under the Skin” with Scarlett Johannson, I think it borrowed a lot from “The Man Who Fell To Earth”.


Why was he so thin? Drugs and his excessive lifestyle.
It’s amazing that he survived that period.
You can see him in quite a dark place in the documentary film about him called “Cracked Actor”.
This is partly due to the ravages of his rock and roll lifestyle – touring, performing and being a celebrity can have a weird effect on a person, but add drugs into the mix and things can get seriously out of control.
Bowie took a lot of cocaine in the 70s. ultimateclassicrock.com/david-bowie-cocaine/
He did this mainly to help him work, but also because it was fun of course (in the beginning). I think cocaine can give you lots of energy which allows you to keep working much more intensively and for longer periods than people who are not using it, but it comes with a price of course – to your wallet, but to your mental and physical condition. Apparently it is incredibly habit-forming and very difficult to break away from. Ultimately, if you continue to use it then eventually it will use you. “Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes the bar eats you.” I don’t know where that quote comes from, but I guess it means that “you might use drugs, but eventually the drugs will use you.” And I don’t know what drugs will use you for… it’s probably best not to let drugs use you or dictate your life. They’ll take you to bad places.

Paranoia, weird eating habits, alcohol, obsessions.
He was incredibly thin and seemed to be quite out of his mind during that period.
Check out some of his interviews and TV appearances, and photos of him at the Grammy Awards with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1975. He looks almost like a skeleton.
Grammy Awards in 1975 - from left to right: Bowie, Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon, Yoko Ono, John Lennon

He later described this period as horrible. Imagine being so far out of your mind and yet so lost within yourself that all your demons are made real and are talking to you in persuasive, frightening and seductive voices. Apparently Bowie was so disturbed and paranoid that he could only bear to eat certain foods. Apparently he lived for quite a while just drinking milk and eating green peppers, while snorting cocaine all the time and drinking alcohol. It’s amazing that he survived.

I think his problems at that time were not just drug related, but also identity related. Apparently he had let the Ziggy Stardust persona take over his real life. He wasn’t sure where Ziggy or Aladdin Sane ended and David Bowie began. The lines became blurred. Reality and performance were all messed up, and he lost a sense of who he really was. He must have nearly lost his grip on reality for a while. Again, he was the astronaut spinning into deep space.

Nevertheless, despite the craziness in his personal life at the time, he continued to make some of the best music of his career and it’s all there for us to listen to, like great albums such as Young Americans and Station to Station. Always such fantastic music and well written songs. That’s the bedrock of all of it – he wrote very good songs. He combined appealing and popular music which also contained some very complex and avant-garde elements, like a crazy freeform piano solo here, some very unorthodox string arrangements, some totally distinctive chord changes, and some incredibly versatile singing. Some people say Bowie couldn’t sing, but it’s not true. He had quite a narrow sounding voice, but he used it in a lot of different ways and could sing low or very high. Sometimes he would sing in a kind of cockney accent, and sometimes he’d use a posher, deeper and more distinguished voice.

The Berlin Period
My Dad didn’t have any records by Bowie from 1975 until 1983, so I missed the whole Berlin period, and I still haven’t really explored it, which is, on one hand terrible because how can I be a fan without really knowing those records, but also great because I’m going to explore all those albums now. My uncle sent me 3 CDs not long ago – Low, Lodger and Heroes. I’m going to feast on those LPs. He’s always been good that way, my uncle Nic. Never been on the podcast, but he’s a huge music lover and a massive fan of Bowie. When I was 16 Nic made me a tape. It had Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, David Bowie and The Clash on it. What an education. My uncle saw Bowie perform live 3 times. At one of those performances it was 1975 or 1976 and he was right at the front of the audience. He actually saw Bowie performing as the Thin White Duke, just a few metres away. It must have been incredible. I’ve been chatting a bit with Nic, and my brother who is also a big fan. Here are some of the things that my Uncle said to me via text just yesterday.

Nic: I feel really very sad about it, more than I can imagine for someone I never actually knew. Except of course I did in a way. Such a soundtrack through my adult life. The highlight for me was being near the front at Wembley Pool for the Thin White Duke, maybe the best concert we ever went to. The greatest artist of my generation.

Saw him three times but The Duke was the best, mainly also because we saw him swept away in the back of a huge black limousine after the gig, this little white genius in the back of this huge black car.

Luke: I’m about to do a podcast about Bowie, but I really don’t know where to start.

Nic: What you have to say is that part of his genius was the utter unpredictable nature. Each successive album was unique and different, you never knew what to expect. But it was always different and fascinating.

Good luck with the podcast I’m sure you’ll manage it but don’t worry if you can’t. Such a huge subject.

Luke Thompson: I’ll do what I can! Didn’t someone once say that art is never finished, it’s just abandoned? I’m not saying my podcast is art or anything, but I think you know what I mean.

Nic: I do. I think you and David would’ve got on really well!

Luke: Oh man, what a thought!

My bro sent me a little voice message. Here it is.
(James’ audio message)

Anyway, back to the Berlin period. I think what happened is that Bowie decided to get out of LA in order to escape all the drugs and madness. He moved to Berlin with Iggy Pop. I think they believed that there would be no drugs in Berlin, but they were wrong – apparently there was lots of heroin. I don’t think Bowie used heroin. Good – that’s the real killer and must be avoided at all costs. His friend Iggy Pop (real name James Osterberg) was a heroin addict, so I think he may have succumbed to it there, I’m not sure. But for Bowie, Berlin was a chance to start piecing his life together again and work on new projects. He also split from his wife Angie during this period. (Yes, during all the madness of the previous few years he had married and had a child, now called Duncan Jones – he’s a filmmaker who did a really great science fiction film called Moon, which is quite reminiscent of Bowie’s song Space Oddity).

Anyway, Berlin was Bowie’s attempt to begin again, and although it must have been a difficult and troubling time for him, it was also an extremely creative period, again. Some say it’s the peak of his career, but David Bowie had so many different peaks. Just pick one.

Berlin and the art scene there influenced him a lot. His records from that period were a collaboration with Brian Eno, and they have a totally different feel to the Thin White Duke period. They’re stark, sparse, quite low-fi, quite gritty, depressing yet with an air of grounded optimism and a sense of rebirth. It’s amazing how he managed to change and find new creativity with each step. I think artists are always struggling to find that inspiration to be creative. You can’t always manufacture the creative urge, it just comes to you and you have to try and put it into music or paint or whatever you’re using. I’m amazed at how Bowie managed to follow his creative muse so consistently and regularly. He was really in touch with something – a creative channel, that most of us don’t have access to. It makes us think that Bowie knew things that the rest of us don’t know. I don’t really understand that, but it’s true of all great artists I think – that they have direct access to something that we don’t, and they are able to put it into their art and then we can have access to it too. I feel like that about The Beatles too.

Song: Ashes to Ashes.
This was made just after the Berlin period and it’s his way of saying goodbye to the 70s. The song is incredible, especially when performed live. It has a really cool funk groove, but it also has some really weird and original chord changes and melodies. For me the lyrics are about him looking at his recent past and putting it behind him. It’s about letting the past be the past and moving on. I really can’t do justice in words to how poignant this song feels for me whenever I listen to it. It just grabs my feelings and throws them around all over the place. I don’t want to sound pretentious, that’s genuinely what the song does to me. I care about it in personal ways that I can’t go into now. I love the strength in the song. That you can move on and change and that you are not defined by your past. That’s incredibly brave and positive.

My Dad had another album – Let’s Dance, released in 1983. Perhaps Bowie’s biggest commercial hit. Produced by Nile Rogers.
On the cover Bowie was dressed as a boxer and is throwing a punch. There are also some diagrams for dance steps. I like the analogy of boxing and music. Dancing can be like fighting, when you dance on your own that is. It can be like sparring with your demons, if you like.
Bowie was still in a suit in this period and had bleached blonde hair. He still looked super cool as always.
The production on the album is absolutely massive. It sounds incredible.
The vinyl was in much better condition.
Maybe my Dad listened to it less (I think having kids and a job took up most of his time) or maybe the technology had improved since then, and vinyl records were just better made.
“Let’s Dance” blew my socks off completely. Still does.
“China Girl” also sounded incredible. The musicianship was so tight. It was produced like an up-front commercial dance album. Apparently Bowie didn’t like it that much. I think it just didn’t match his artistic vision, but I love it – because I love the work of Nile Rogers (think tracks like “Good Times” by Chic or “He’s the greatest dancer” by Sister Sledge, and many other records).
My Dad told me that he thought China girl was a song about heroin. That was really intriguing to me. “How could those romantic lyrics be about drugs?” and also, I was interested to know if Bowie had used heroin, because I know how dangerous that drug is – just watch the film Trainspotting and you’ll know.
It turns out the song was written by Iggy Pop. That explains it. Iggy was the heroin addict.
Listening to it, there’s a lot of pain and despair in the lyrics. Bowie screams in pain, including the line “It’s in the whites of my eyes!” to describe the depth of Iggy’s drug addiction. That’s scary, but it’s a pop song.
In fact, the raw upbeat power of the song overwhelms the dark sentiment of the lyrics. Maybe that’s why Bowie wasn’t so keen on it.

Since listening to that album as a teenager (and throughout my life) I’ve learned that by 1983 Bowie had managed to get clean and had left his drug habit behind. That was always really impressive to me. He always managed to maintain such distinction and class, even when he must have been feeling so terrible sometimes. He really kept it together, but there must have been some pretty dark and difficult times. I respect him for having the strength of mind to stop. Lesser people would have been destroyed by the lifestyle he had. Apparently, to help him stay clean, Bowie had a tattoo on his leg of the serenity prayer, which is the common name for a prayer authored by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971). It has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs. The best-known form is:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Which means I think – he wanted to remember that he could never go back to using drugs. I think some addicts slip back into using when they think they have the power to stop again, but they have to remember that their drug addiction is something they can’t change. If you believe you can control the addiction, you’re wrong. But you can control yourself by choosing to stay clean.

It’s something like that. But to me it’s impressive that he tattooed that onto his leg. He was really committed and strong-minded.

The 80s were a slightly mixed period artistically for Bowie. I think he probably got his personal life together but his art suffered a bit. Fair enough. I think he deserved to have some happiness and stability for a while and so what if some of his work in the late 80s wasn’t that great.

I remember seeing him again in about 1986 or 1987 when as a family we went to the cinema to watch a film called Labyrinth. David Bowie played the bad guy in the film – called Jareth The Goblin King. Basically it’s a kind of dark fairy tale about a girl who goes on adventure into a maze in order to rescue her baby brother who has been kidnapped by the goblin king. Bowie’s performance is pretty hilarious. He’s dressed up in a very camp outfit with big hair and tights. He sings a couple of songs. I remember being a bit disturbed by the film but I didn’t know why. Watching it back more recently I think I realised what it was – it’s Bowie’s tight trousers. They were… well… a bit too tight. I mean, you could see everything. The film was supposed to be scary and there were a few monsters in it, but really the most frightening monsters were on display under David’s tight pants. If you don’t know what I’m getting at, watch the film and you might see what I mean. I’m not the only one to have made that observation by the way. Apparently it was intentional too. The director wanted to create a villain who was attractive yet dangerous – like a rock star.

Bowie came back again in the 90s with another creative period. He reinvented himself as a kind of godfather of British rock music. He wore an awesome jacket with a union jack on it, and collaborated with drum and bass artists like Goldie.

For me the rest of his career is interesting but not quite as great as his earlier work, in terms of music. But he did lots of TV interviews and live performances and many of them are on YouTube. I like to think of his later period as his interview period, but of course he was involved in loads of other projects. There are plenty of things I’m not mentioning here just because it would be impossible to cover everything. One thing he did was use the internet to share his music, right from the beginning, before most other artists or companies used the internet for publishing. He really had his finger on the pulse. He was always ahead of his time.

His TV interviews on YouTube are great. He was always really interesting to listen to. He was very thoughtful, intelligent and articulate, and funny. He was really witty and had a fantastic sense of humour. That’s perhaps one of the most attractive things about him. He never ever took himself too seriously. He took the art really seriously, but never himself. His attitude was so refreshing. No ego.

He had a characteristic voice and way of speaking. It’s fun to do impressions of him and many comedians have done that over the years. My favourite impressions of Bowie are done by Hugh Cornwell on a TV show called Stella Street, and by Adam & Joe who are both Bowie obsessives, particularly Adam Buxton. They do great Bowie impressions. Check out the page for this episode to see those Bowie impressions and to listen to a long documentary that Adam did about Bowie. It’s brilliant.

Bowie released a few albums during the 2000s that were well received by critics, including Heathen and Reality.

Then he went quiet for a while after having a heart attack. He sort of disappeared from the media, except to help promote his son’s film “Moon”.

Then, more recently he came back with The Next Day, and just a week before his death his final album called Blackstar.

What’s interesting about this last couple of albums is that he seemes to be singing about his career as a whole, revisiting some of the themes, places and images that he created earlier.

What none of us predicted is that his latest album Blackstar is about his mortality. Listening to it now, immediately after his death, the songs and videos take on a much deeper significance. The album is very poignant and moving, and is full of puzzles and enigmas that seem to express his experience of coming to terms with his own death, and then dying, leaving us with a completed body of work. It is the perfect ending to his career.

Just over a week ago Bowie released his new album on his birthday.
Lots of people were talking about it, and Bowie fans were excited as usual to get some more music to explore.
We were all celebrating his return and wishing him a happy birthday.
So when we heard about his death, it came as a painful shock.
It was so unexpected, because we had no warning. We had no idea he was sick. He’d kept it secret.

It might seem like a small thing, but a new album of music from an artist you love can make a difference to your life in subtle ways.
A week before he died, early on a dark Monday morning while eating my corn flakes, I had watched the video to his song Blackstar. I found it to be really strange and quite frightening, yet with an appealing and catching song in the middle of it.
Just like much of Bowie’s best work, it’s both avant-garde and poppy. It’s not easy listening, it’s quite dark and moody, but I like that. Music shouldn’t always be safe. It should be challenging sometimes.
Anyway, the video disturbed me a bit. It was full of nightmarish visions, and seemed to be symbolic of something but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
I went to work that day and put it to the back of my mind, deciding to just come back and listen to the whole album at some point later.
Then a week passed and last Sunday evening came around. I couldn’t sleep.
I just couldn’t get to sleep.
That doesn’t always happen to me. Usually I get to sleep quite easily. I love sleeping.
This was one of those nights when I couldn’t rest. My mind was just wide awake and it was racing in lots of different directions at the same time. I ind it very frustrating and annoying, especially if I have work the next day. I just want to sleep but my mind seems to be connected to something and won’t switch off. (perhaps I should have listened to my own sleep episode – or tried the relaxation techniques, but I couldn’t focus)
It was disturbing to be still awake at 4am, just lying there in the darkness, with the stars in the sky outside, just staring into space even though my eyes were closed.

Eventually I dropped off and got a couple of hours of sleep, but I was feeling pretty delicate on Monday morning. You know how it is if you haven’t slept.
I had corn flakes again like normal. I have to get up extra early on Mondays in order to teach. My wife was still sleeping peacefully. Lucky her!
I got to school in the rain.
I was holding it together, getting my lessons prepared and someone came in the room and just said to me “David Bowie’s dead”.
Immediately I just said “WHAT???”
In fact, the news spread around the teachers’ room pretty fast. Usually people are busy getting their lessons planned but everyone just stopped.
It’s hard to comprehend that someone is just not in the world any more.
There’s a period where you can’t come to terms with it.
I felt a bit empty or something.
Then I had to go and teach.
During the classes that morning, when I wasn’t interacting with my students, like when I was getting the CD prepared, or when I turned away from them to write on the board, it came back to me quite quickly, and I got surprisingly emotional and had to try to get control of myself!
Fair enough I hadn’t slept much so I was feeling a bit weird anyway.
But I’m still quite surprised at how moved I was.
It was so unexpected.
It’s like David Bowie himself had punched me in the stomach.
Apparently he used to train as a boxer to keep fit.
Well, apparently he was still pretty fit because laid a combination of punches on me that morning that I didn’t expect.
In those moments when I wasn’t occupied by something else I couldn’t help thinking of the times when David Bowie’s music was in my life. They were all key moments for me somehow. Like being in the car with my Dad, discovering new feelings as a teenager in the corner of the living room, dancing in a nightclub somewhere with girls, doing Bowie impressions with my best friends, singing a Bowie song to try and seduce my girlfriend (it worked – the song? “The Prettiest Star”).
They all struck me, but I wasn’t the only one of course. Millions of people around the world were feeling pretty much the same things as me at that moment.

And later on I thought about that scary video that I’d seen exactly a week before and it made a lot more sense to me.
Bowie knew what he was doing. He new he was sick with cancer and he knew that he was going to die, but he didn’t tell the public. We had no idea. So he decided, probably very quickly, to make this music and throw into it all his feelings and experiences when confronted with his own mortality. Apparently he had 6 heart attacks in the year before his death, while recording the album, but he kept fighting to finish the album. Wow.

Apparently he was very close to the edge during the period when the album was due to be released. But he managed to time it somehow so that he would die a week after his birthday and the release of the album.

Even his death was a flawlessly judged artistic act.

Imagine my sleepless night, the frustration of not sleeping, the weird thoughts and fears that passed through my head in that condition. It was weird but what must it be like to be lying in bed, not waiting for dawn to come, but waiting for the end to arrive? What would you be thinking and feeling? I think Bowie has done a great job of expressing that in this music. It’s scary I know, but it’s powerful, and it’s not just morbid and depressing. There are moments where I feel he’s exstatically happy, looking back on some of the victories and joy he had in his life.

Also, the music is good. It’s got some bubbly electronic sounds and some jazz/funk drumming, and some soulful elements and sweeping string arrangements and saxophone.

But what’s mind-blowing is that Bowie used his death as a way of delivering his art to us. That punch in the stomach is a great way to get someone’s attention. Now he has everyone’s attention and we’re all listening. It’s the perfect exit! He really left with a bang.

Now what we have is a complete body of work with a distinct beginning and end, which makes it all the more powerful. I’m sure that all his best music will stand the test of time. In 100-200 years, if we’re all still here, I think Bowie will still be considered one of the most influential and significant artists of this age.

For me personally, I hope there will be many more moments coming in the future that I can share with David Bowie and his music, like the ones I had in the past.

The man may be gone, but the artist remains – preserved in the music, in the images and in our memories.

Thank you David Bowie.

Here are lots of David Bowie Links and Videos.
Just take your pick and dive in.

Space Oddity studio version with lyrics

Space Oddity live on TV in 1969

Ziggy Stardust sings Starman on BBC Top of the Pops in 1972

David Bowie announces the end of Ziggy Stardust on stage

Aladdin Sane

Bowie interviewed by Dick Cavett in 1974, clearly under the influence of cocaine

Thin White Duke


Bowie in Berlin
Guardian article www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jan/13/david-bowie-berlin-years-heroes-just-a-gigolo

Fascinating interview from 1979

Bowie in 1983 criticises MTV for not playing black music

Bowie talks about acting and touring in 1983

Nile Rogers describes meeting David Bowie

Bowie – “The Interview Years”

Bowie & Comedy – Ricky Gervais described meeting Bowie

Phil Cornwell on Stella Street (skip to 5:00 for the David Bowie impression)

Documentaries


Adam Buxton’s Audio Bowie Documentary
This is my favourite Bowie tribute.
archive.org/details/AdamBuxtonOnDavidBowie31stMarch2013
YouTube version here but with the songs removed

The new tracks – Blackstar (the creepy video I watched on Monday morning while eating corn flakes) and Lazarus

Adam & Joe talk about Bowie and do some impressions
If you watch just one of the videos in this list, please watch this one. Adam & Joe obviously love Bowie very much, and their impressions and improvisations are a lot of fun.

323. David Bowie (Part 1)

This episode is all about the life and work of David Bowie, the English musician who died just a couple of days ago. In the episode you’ll hear me talk about the cultural significance of Bowie as an artist, why he is such a legend of British music, and what his music means to me personally. I hope you can use this episode as a way to learn more about British culture. Almost 100% of the episode is transcribed below.

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David Bowie was an English singer, songwriter, record producer, painter and actor. He was a figure in popular music for over five decades, and was considered by people around the world as a cultural innovator, particularly for his work in the 1970s. I am a big David Bowie fan, and in this podcast my aim is to explain to you the appeal and significance of David Bowie as a cultural icon. I’ve had a few messages from listeners over the last couple of days asking me to talk about this subject, and I am very happy to be able to do that on my podcast.

This subject is significant to me personally, and I expect to many of you too, but also it’s a very significant to British culture in general, and I think it’s important to teach you about British culture or English language culture on Luke’s English Podcast, as well as to teach you the language itself, because ultimately, it’s all part of the same thing. The language exists within the culture, or perhaps the culture exists within the language – they are intertwined together in complex ways. So, to learn the language like a native I think it helps to know about the culture of that language too, so you can start thinking in the same way that native users of that language think too. Also, if you ever talk to native speakers of English you need to know the cultural references. For example, at the moment and no doubt for a long time afterwards, people will be talking about David Bowie, his music, his art and its significance. Would you be able to hold down a conversation about Bowie? Hopefully this episode will help you do that.

David Bowie changed our culture, not just in Britain but also around the world. How did he do it? What did he do that was so significant? Why is his death such a big deal? What was his appeal? What do most people know about David Bowie? What did he do during his life? What were the messages he communicated through his art? Why will he be considered one of the greatest artists of our time?

There are so many questions to answer. I don’t have the answers to all of them. Some questions will go unanswered. But there are always more questions than answers, aren’t there?

I think the world still doesn’t fully understand what Bowie was doing or what it was all about – or at least we can’t easily put it into words, but those people who value his work certainly feel a powerful emotional connection to David Bowie and his work. He was an artist, and I suppose part of the work of an artist is to express ideas and feelings in other ways – not using words alone, but using anything else as a way of conveying a message or feeling. David Bowie definitely did that. Not only was he a musician, but he was an artist, maybe one of the greatest artists of our time, and he used everything he could in order to communicate with us – music primarily, but also video, theatre, mime, the internet (he was an early adopter), the media and even his own body, his fame, his image and ultimately his identity itself. He even used his own death as a way of communicating his art to the world.

David Bowie’s whole life turned out to be a work of art itself, and as an artist he used his life to tell a captivating, mysterious and complex story.

Here are the main questions I’m going to try and talk about
Who is* David Bowie? (*was ?)
Why is he significant?
Why is Bowie significant to me personally?

I have to say that this is a really difficult episode for me to do because there’s just so much to cover, and I want to do justice to the subject. I don’t think I can say everything I want to say about Bowie in this episode. I would love you to just listen to his music with an open mind. Listen to the beats, the grooves, the moods and let your imagination do the rest. he was also a great speaker in interviews – he was articulate, charming and very funny too. I’m not going to play you any interview footage or any of his music (except perhaps for a couple of seconds per song) on this podcast. But what I have done is collect some videos and other links for you on the page for this episode and I strongly recommend that you check them out. There are other documentaries, interviews, podcast episodes and music that are really really great and will give you loads more perspective on the subject. So go to the page for this episode and just dive in. Please do watch and listen to Bowie in his own words, and in the words of other people who have talked about him too.

I’ve been a fan of Bowie almost all my life. I grew up with his music and it has been with me at various important emotional moments for me.

When did I first hear Bowie’s music?
In the car as a child.
Night time.
Space Oddity.
The song is fascinating – it tells the story of an astronaut on a space mission. He goes out alone into space and loses touch with the earth. The astronaut is afraid, and it is scary – the idea of being so alone, drifting into the void of space, but also it is full of the wonder of the universe – seeing the earth from a distance, and wondering what it’s all about. The song is deep – as deep as the film 2001 A Space Odyssey, which was a direct influence on Bowie.
Looking back on it now, that car was like a spaceship floating through the dark with my Dad at the controls, the lights of suburban London street lamps passing overhead.
The song is like a metaphor for his career somehow.
The astronaut is Bowie the artist, and the spaceship is his work – the different characters he portrayed and inhabited, the multimedia structure around him that he built during his career – like a cocoon, which he has now departed.
Now, after his death, we have just the cocoon, the spacecraft. His life’s work is left with us.
I’m not sure what I’m saying here. And I’m sounding a bit pretentious I expect.
What I mean is that the image of a man in spaceship travelling through space is a bit like a metaphor for the work of the artist going on a journey. I can’t explain it. IN fact, I don’t quite understand it fully. It’s just beyond my understanding, just out of reach, somewhere in space.
That’s space oddity.

Then, later, at other times in my life, I had other moments with David Bowie’s music.
I gave a Bowie album to my Dad for his birthday in 1987. I remember the front cover of the album. I was 10. Bowie was Blue. It felt important that I was giving the record to my Dad. I think my Mum bought it, and I gave it to him.

Then when I was a teenager I started exploring my parents record collection. I discovered a lot of old music, but it was new to me. In our house the record player and the vinyl records were in the corner of the living room. I remember spending quite a lot of time in that corner, with the headphones on, exploring the music while my family were doing other things.

There was an album called “Changes – One Bowie”, which was a greatest hits compilation. I think it was released in the mid 70s and it had songs from his whole career up to that point. It was music from his psychedelic period, his hippy-in-a-dress period, the Ziggy Stardust period and the thin white duke period. These are all different incarnations of Bowie’s rock star identity.

The album cover to “ChangesOneBowie” – the compilation LP that I found in my parents’ record collection.

There was a photo of Bowie on the front of the album – it was a black and white pic and he looked like a Hollywood star from the classic Hollywood period of the 1930s or 40s. I couldn’t quite date the photo. Normally I’m good at predicting the period in which the picture was taken, or predicting when a record was recorded by listening to it, but this photograph just looked completely timeless. I couldn’t work out when it was taken.

The photo could come from any time and that was pretty fascinating. Also, he just seemed so cool and handsome and I thought – how could I be like him? How can I take some of that style and confidence and attractiveness and apply it to my own life. He seemed to be above everything, but not in a bad way – not in an arrogant way. I thought, how could any girl resist this guy? And that was very exciting for me – because I definitely fancied girls but I just wasn’t confident enough. I had no clue about how to talk to girls, let alone get them to fancy me. What Bowie showed me about that is that you shouldn’t fake it – just be confident, express yourself, let your natural style come out and don’t show any fear and you’ll attract girls. In fact, what was really attractive about Bowie is that he didn’t do things for egotistical reasons – the guy in the photo was distant – he wasn’t looking at the camera, he wasn’t begging for your attention, he was looking off into the middle distance somewhere. His mind was elsewhere. He was occupied by his work and by big ideas. I think Bowie’s enthusiasm and commitment to his work made him as attractive as his looks. But it was his looks too. He was the complete package.

I asked my Mum what she thought of Bowie and she said she just found him weird and a bit creepy. I was a bit disappointed, but I was still convinced that Bowie was the essence of coolness. What I saw in that picture was a lot of what is appealing about Bowie. His good looks and cool style, but also his class, his elegance, mystery and weirdness.
Let me describe the album cover.
You see his face and shoulders. He’s looking to our left, into the distance. It’s a black and white photo. His hair is quite short and is combed back with a slight parting on the side. His finger is resting on his bottom lip as if he’s thinking of something.
After a while I noticed that his eyes were different. The pupil of his left eye in the photo is dilated wide, but the other pupil is normal. I wondered if that was an effect added to the photo, to perhaps hint at the fact that he was high on something. It wasn’t obvious, but it was fascinating. Later I learned that Bowie had 2 different eyes – it looked like they had different colours, and the pupil of one was always larger than the pupil of the other. Apparently he had an accident or a fight over a girl when he was fourteen and got punched. The punch caused damage to a muscle in his eye, and since then one of the eyes always looked different to the other. It was another part of Bowie’s allure – there was just something different about his face.

In the photo he’s thin and has ridiculously high cheekbones and chiseled features, like a Hollywood movie star from the 1940s.
He had classical good looks, but there was something else about him – the lines on his face, the shape of his nose – there was something otherworldly and alien about him, like he might have come from outer space.

Also he has femininity in his features, and I think there’s nothing wrong with being in touch with your feminine side.
His ambiguous gender wasn’t the main thing I liked about him, but for many other teenagers throughout the years – teenagers who struggled with their gender identity, David Bowie was someone who gave them self-esteem and confidence. He showed that if you felt confused about your gender, that it was nothing to be ashamed of and that it didn’t matter, and that you could be whoever you wanted to be, and do it with pride. As a rock star, David Bowie was a huge ego boost to so many fans, and for many reasons. For me Bowie was just cool, confident and he made really great music. His confidence and his style commanded respect.
I grew up a bit when I looked at that album cover.

Then I listened to the record. I took the vinyl out of the sleeve and put it on the record player, with the headphones on. My parents had an old pair of 70s headphones. They were really good quality ones.

The first track was called Changes, released in 1971. There was a scratch on the record and it used to jump quite a lot during the introduction to the song. For years, I only heard the scratched version. The song would skip from the intro to the first verse, and then to the chorus quite quickly. It still sounded good to my ears.

It had a piano riff, chunky sounding drums and a good baseline. It sounded amazing in the headphones. Bowie sang words like
I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through
Changes

As a 15 or 16-year-old I was quite aware that I was going through changes of my own and at the time I was feeling for the first time that I was actually having more complicated feelings than just “I want to play football” or “Star Wars is cool”. Listening to this song, even though I didn’t completely understand the lyrics, I felt that I was suddenly part of something much larger and deeper, and it felt really cool. What it meant to me at the time was that we go through changes in our lives and we don’t always know why, but they’re significant and meaningful and we should be prepared for them, and others should let us change and we shouldn’t try to hold each other back or tell each other what to do – that we should have respect for each other’s complex worlds. I didn’t really understand it all, but it meant a lot – I just felt it.

Also, as I learned more about David Bowie’s music I knew that he was something of a changeling himself. He went through many image changes during his career, especially in the 70s, and that was and still is fascinating to me. How could someone become all these different people – and still hang onto himself? What was identity all about?

Here’s a ‘brief’ history of David Bowie.
South London in 1947. His real name was David Jones. Another performer had the name Davy Jones so he changed his name. He tried a few others, including Tom Jones and David Cassidy, before sticking with David Bowie. Good judgement. He chose Bowie because it was the name of an American knife and he liked the symbolism of that. The knife.
Grew up in postwar UK – the same generation as the Beatles and so many other great artists of his generation.
The main theme of his childhood seems to be – boredom and dullness. Living in suburbia was dull and everything looked the same. It seems to me, looking back on that period in the 1950s that life was in black and white. Just boring and quiet. The older generation just wanted peace and quiet after the hell of world war 2.
Like his peers he got hooked on American rock and roll and R&B but also plenty of other forms of music. This new music which he heard on the radio must have brought some colour into his life.
America was the place that seemed to be really exciting and interesting.
He got involved in the London music scene but never really found his style or confidence.
There was a boom in youth culture associated with music and fashion. This was the mid-late sixties.
Drugs and psychedelia were involved, amphetamines for energy and probably LSD for its mind expanding qualities.

Bowie recorded Space Oddity and it was released and became a hit, eventually, particularly as it coincided with the NASA moon landing in 1969. Some people thought of Space Oddity as a novelty song – just a funny story about an astronaut going into space. But it was deeper, more meaningful than that. Space Oddity is now a timeless classic that is not just about an astronaut. It’s an existential comment about the human condition. But it’s also a great little pop song that you can hum along to and which gets stuck in your head.

Despite some success with that song he still felt unsure of himself as a performer, and searched for ways to bring new dimensions and confidence to his performance art.

He started taking risks with his performances and was influenced by avant-garde artists and various forms of theatre, like clowning, mime and Japanese kabuki. He brought those influences into his rock and roll shows.
He collaborated with a guitarist called Mick Ronson who perhaps deserves more recognition than he gets. He’s the one who played those amazing riffs on a lot of Bowie’s glam rock classics like Rebel Rebel and Ziggy Stardust.

Bowie also came out as gay/bisexual during that period, but it’s not clear to all of us if he really was gay or if it was all part of some kind of provocative and experimental performance both on and off stage.

Nevertheless, he attracted devoted and passionate fans who loved his daring style and his outrageous performances. Being a David Bowie fan was a statement of liberty and freedom. He made it ok, and maybe even cool, to be androgynous.

Also, his music at the time just kicked arse. His band made really raunchy and catchy glam rock. It was heavy, fast, funky, romantic and glamorous. The confidence and mystery that he exuded on stage was like a gift to his fans, who were empowered by having him as a role model.

He first became really huge as a star when he created the character of Ziggy Stardust in around 1972.
Up until that point Bowie had not really found his feet as a performer. Apparently, when performing as himself he felt shy. It’s hard to imagine, but apparently it’s true. He didn’t really enjoy performing as David Bowie, because he just felt a bit awkward.

So he invented a character, and played him during the performances.
Ziggy Stardust was just a character – like a character in a movie or a play, and Bowie was the actor.
People still refer to Bowie as Ziggy, like it was his nickname. It wasn’t a nickname for Bowie, it was an alter-ego. Ziggy disappeared in the mid 70s.

Becoming Ziggy allowed Bowie to really let go of himself and become a rock god, and his performances as Ziggy were really extravagant, involving big costume changes, make up and all sorts of rude and lewd acts on stage.

Apparently Bowie was Ziggy not only on stage, but also off the stage, in public appearances, interviews and so on.
So, David Bowie was really an actor playing the part of an outrageous rock star. That’s interesting for me because Bowie’s acting performance was not just confined to the stage, it bled out into every aspect of his public life. His fame was his medium. He used that medium, fame, very well, to convey his art to us, even with his death.

It’s as Ziggy Stardust that Bowie became really well-known all over the UK and then in the USA, where he was embraced as a big star by the rock music scene.

Apparently Bowie’s main influences for Ziggy Stardust were on one hand NY based musicians Lou Reed & Iggy Pop, but also mime artists, Japanese kabuki theatre performers. Bowie loved the way Lou Reed managed to combine avant-garde art with pop and rock music. He loved the outrageousness and energy of Iggy Pop and the mystery and magic of the kabuki theatre tradition. All of it combined to create something extraordinary in Ziggy Stardust. These incredibly theatrical live shows, with stomping fast rock music and avant-garde lyrics. He released an album called Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It’s now a classic.

Part of Bowie’s genius was always that he could take very weird and abstract art and bring it to a wide audience via good old-fashioned rock and roll, and pop music. That’s the genius of pop. A pop song is so short, and so simple. Just 3 minutes with a couple of verses, a chorus and a bridge section. Played on the radio for mass appeal, full of catchy melodies and instant appeal. Bowie, like all the other great pop stars, used this medium to deliver some very powerful and clever ideas. Bowie’s pop songs were not just disposable trash. They had deep hidden meanings that are hard to comprehend, but which really stand up under scrutiny. He wasn’t just lucky either, like some artists who make one or maybe two hit records in their career. Bowie had hit songs throughout his career, and his greatest hits albums that you can buy now stretch over 2 or sometimes 3 CD collections. He knew what he was doing and his music is pure pop art.

He was a mainstream pop act, but he was also a radical avant gardist. Using pop to deliver abstract ideas right into people’s every day lives. Usually abstract art is to be found in galleries, and let’s face it, not enough ‘ordinary’ people see it. Through his records and videos and other projects, Bowie brought that stuff right to hearts and minds of a massive audience. IN that way, he’s way more of a successful artist than so many others. People would play his songs on the radio. He appeared on Top of the Pops on BBC1 – a very mainstream show, and he brought into the homes of normal people some of the craziest and most over the top concept art, simultaneously fascinating and frightening the nation. He sang a song called “Star Man” on BBC TV, dressed in a bright green costume, with his hair dyed bright red. Starman seems to be about an alien who wants to come to earth but is frightened of how the humans will receive him. It seemed to many that Bowie was the alien.

What did Ziggy Stardust look like?

I remember watching a movie about a Ziggy Stardust live concert, with my brother…

Ziggy was Bowie’s way to celebrate rock and roll, and comment on all its conventions. Again, he knew what he was doing. He wasn’t just aiming to get as many fans as possible. He wanted his fans to really think about what was going on in the live show, in music and in life in general. He really encouraged his audience to use their own intelligence and to interpret his work in their own way. I feel a great amount of respect from the artist when I listen to the music and watch his performances. I don’t feel like he’s patronising me or being arrogant. I just feel like he’s doing the performance, but that some part of him is completely conscious of what he’s doing objectively and that he has no ego.

Apparently, according to the things I’ve heard and read about him, Bowie was a really nice and down to earth person. In interviews he was always very intelligent, articulate, sweet and funny. Apparently he was also quite a private man. The characters he played in his songs are really different to the character of the artist himself.

Bowie made a few albums using the Ziggy Stardust persona, and toured America, and moved there I think. He recorded a couple of albums as Ziggy, but the character did change bit by bit, with a slightly different look emerging over time. He released a couple of albums with the Ziggy Stardust persona I believe. These are absolute bona fide rock classics. I’m talking about albums like Diamond Dogs.

I think by the mid 70s his life was moving extremely quickly and that’s evident in his music and his image. He went through so many different changes during that period and produced some wildly inventive yet accessible music. Eventually he killed off Ziggy (you can see video footage of him announcing it during a live concert – the audience seem devastated! He says, this is our last live concert, ever – and you hear gasps from people in the audience.
But he didn’t quit of course, he just came back with a new image, a new character.
Aladdin Sane.
He looked a bit like Ziggy, but he was darker and even more mysterious.

Then within just a year or two, Bowie changed again. Ziggy Stardust, then Aladdin Sane, and then a character was eventually called The Thin White Duke. He wore sharp suits and had his hair combed back. He used to walk around with a cane, and sometimes wore a hat. He was extremely debonair and suave looking, yet very thin and bony. Again, his combination of handsomeness, androgyny and alien weirdness gave him an allure and a charisma like nobody else.

At that time he was influenced by the soul and funk musicians of New York in the mid seventies. I can’t really explain all the influences and details of his different clothing choices. Essentially, he had his own style – and it influenced a lot of fashion that followed him. I think he had a huge influence on the styles of the 1980s. A lot of what musicians and fashion designers did the 1980s, Bowie had already done in the 70s. Bowie basically created the 1980s.

I think the Thin White Duke is my favourite Bowie period, although I love all of his changes. He was called that because he was thin (due to his lifestyle), he was white! (obviously – but this was more evident because of the fact that he had started playing soul and funk music, which were associated with a black audience – so compared to many of the black artists in his band and black people in his audiences he looked really white. And he was very pale anyway during that period, so I think he was pretty much the whitest dude on the planet, but playing what was considered to be black music.

And the music is the main thing I like about Bowie during this period. I generally love funk and soul music from the 70s, regardless of who is playing it – whether they’re black or white doesn’t matter much to me, in fact I prefer to have my music in with the full colour spectrum please – black, white, and everything in between – purple, brown, yellow, green, pink – if it’s a colour, I want it in my music! No black and white music please. So, Bowie’s funk period is really great. My favourite album from that time is Young Americans. It’s got tracks like “Young Americans” and “Fame” on it – deeply groovy, tough and yet smooth soulful dance tracks. He collaborated with John Lennon on Fame. Imagine that! A funky dance classic, with John Lennon of the Beatles.

END OF PART 1


CLICK HERE FOR PART 2

Here are lots of David Bowie Links and Videos.
Just take your pick and dive in.

Space Oddity studio version with lyrics

Space Oddity live on TV in 1969

Ziggy Stardust sings Starman on BBC Top of the Pops in 1972

David Bowie announces the end of Ziggy Stardust on stage

Aladdin Sane

Bowie interviewed by Dick Cavett in 1974, clearly under the influence of cocaine

Thin White Duke


Bowie in Berlin
Guardian article www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jan/13/david-bowie-berlin-years-heroes-just-a-gigolo

Fascinating interview from 1979

Bowie in 1983 criticises MTV for not playing black music

Bowie talks about acting and touring in 1983

Nile Rogers describes meeting David Bowie

Bowie – “The Interview Years”

Bowie & Comedy – Ricky Gervais described meeting Bowie

Phil Cornwell on Stella Street (skip to 5:00 for the David Bowie impression)

Documentaries


Adam Buxton’s Audio Bowie Documentary
This is my favourite Bowie tribute.
archive.org/details/AdamBuxtonOnDavidBowie31stMarch2013
YouTube version here but with the songs removed

The new tracks – Blackstar (the creepy video I watched on Monday morning while eating corn flakes) and Lazarus

Adam & Joe talk about Bowie and do some impressions
If you watch just one of the videos in this list, please watch this one. Adam & Joe obviously love Bowie very much, and their impressions and improvisations are a lot of fun.

294. California Road Trip (Part 7)

Hello listeners and welcome back. This is part 7 in this series which is based on my recent trip to California. I didn’t expect this to be a 7-part series, but it just keeps going because I’ve found more and more things to talk to you about! It’s like the podcast episode that refuses to die, it keeps coming back for more! It’s like the Lambton Worm or something – just when I think I’ve finished it off, it gets longer! I think this will be the last episode, but who knows. Time seems to shrink when I’m recording episodes of this podcast. An hour seems to disappear in just a few minutes because I get really involved in what I’m saying. I wonder if it’s the same experience for you. I hope so.

Small Donate Button[DOWNLOAD]
If you haven’t heard the previous 6 episodes in this series then I suggest you go back and listen to them first. So far I’ve talked about lots of things including the history of California, some British & American English, Venice Beach, Segways, Baywatch, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hollywood & Celebrity Culture, Hotel California by The Eagles, Yosemite National Park, bears, The church of Scientology, an interview with AJ Hoge from Effortless English, a biography of Robin Williams, and descriptions of the things I did and saw while on my honeymoon with my wife.

In this episode I’m planning to talk about San Francisco, earthquakes, the hippie movement, customer service, the California coast and some more British and American English vocabulary.

A lot of what I am saying is transcribed on the page for this episode at teacherluke.co.uk. Look for episode 294.

*I’m expecting a package to be delivered by the postman at some point, so you might hear a knock at the door or the buzzer. It goes ‘buzz’, so it’s not a doorbell it’s a buzzer.*

Let’s get straight into it.

August 16
Cemetery & view of Golden Gate Bridge.

Fisherman’s Wharf & tourist area. Sea lions that weirdly arrived in the harbour just after the 1989 earthquake. Why did they suddenly arrive after the quake? Perhaps their previous social spot had been damaged or something like that. I’m not sure.

Cable car. Long delay and pretty grumpy service but it’s a great experience, hanging on to the side of the car as the driver pulls various weird levers, making the car move up and along the steep streets. We met an American couple who had been married for over 30 years. The wife did all the talking. Apparently they’d been to a Giants game (baseball) and he had caught a loose ball that had flown into the crowd. Apparently this is quite an honour in the states. You can keep the ball.

I met AJ Hoge in the afternoon. Listen to the previous episode for that interview.

That evening we ate dinner in a really well-reviewed Japanese restaurant just near our hotel – Sanraku – incredible sushi! This is the best Japanese food I’ve ever had outside Japan, and I had a load of sake and a couple of beers. Sake is really nice and a little dangerous to drink because you get drunk without realising it because it has such a light taste.

August 17
Earthquake in the morning!
A bit about earthquakes.
Tectonic plates.
They move against each other. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they press against each other.
Sometimes pressure builds up and then the plates suddenly move at the fault lines. This causes ripples of movement through the ground, or the whole ground to suddenly shift position. The movements, ripples, vibrations or whatever you want to call them can last some time, and they can cause huge amounts of damage.
If the quake happens off-shore, then there’s likely to be a big tidal wave or tsunami after the event. As the ground is displaced very quickly, it can displace massive amounts of water. For example, it might cause the water level to rise suddenly. Imagine filling a plate with water and then tipping the plate slightly. It would cause some of the water to run off the side of the plate. It’s like that but on a much larger scale of course. The water has so much volume and mass that it is almost impossible to stop. When it reaches the land it carries lots of earth and all kinds of detritus with it, turning the wave into an incredibly powerful and unstoppable wall of destruction. You can see footage of this from the Japanese tsunami of 2011. What a tragedy that was (although the Japanese showed characteristic strength and determination in the way they recovered from it).

It pretty much impossible to predict an earthquake, but it seems that along the San Andreas fault at this particular spot near San Francisco, there is a really big earthquake every 70 years or something, and the big one is long overdue. In fact, the whole region of California is subject to earthquakes quite regularly.

Earthquake Myths and Facts
Here are some myths and facts about earthquakes, from the U.S. Geological Society website.
www.usgs.gov/faq/taxonomy/term/9830

San Francisco style
Everyone’s wearing sports gear and they’re all really health conscious. They’re constantly in their gym gear and they look very active and healthy. In fact, being healthy and looking after yourself seem to be important aspects of life in this part of the country.

Acai bowls
My wife persuades me to switch to these instead of the big plates of pancakes and its a good move.
Acai are berries that grow in Brazil and apparently they contain everything you need. Vitamins, nutrients, amino acids and all that stuff. These acai bowls are popular all along the coast. They’re a bit hipsterish, but they’re good. The acai berries are turned into a kind of powder, which is mixed with things like almond milk or hemp milk, and frozen fruits, and then blended to form a sort of sorbet. This is then put into a bowl and mixed with granola, nuts, cut banana and strawberry, and is topped with coconut flakes or other things. They’re really good and they keep you going for ages without making you feel bloated. In fact, you don’t feel that full, but you’re not hungry either, and it gives you plenty of energy and no guilt.

My wife is now on a mission to make acai bowls popular in Paris!

Haight Ashbury
We then walked towards the Haight Ashbury area. The plan is to walk all the way over to that part of town, picking up some coffee on route. Then we’d walk through HA, pick up lunch at Wholefoods there, and eat a picnic in Golden Gate Park where apparently there is live music every Sunday. I’m quite curious about Haight Ashbury, because I’ve heard about it and read about it so many times, especially in documentaries about music and art from the 1960s.

History of Haight Ashbury & the Hippy Movement
What happened in Haight Ashbury in the 60s? What was the hippy movement all about?

There was a counterculture movement, a youth movement in the USA (and in many other places of course) that started in the late 1950s but really gathered momentum in the 1960s, seemed to peak in the middle of that decade, and was pretty much over by the early 1970s. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, as I know that a lot of you listening to this are fans of the music that we associate with that time, and you may well know as much about this subject as I do, but nevertheless here is a brief history of the hippy movement.

This was a subculture and ideological movement which started with the beatniks earlier in the decade. “Beatniks” – that’s kind of a nickname given to the movement that came before the hippies. The beatniks were writers, artists, intellectuals and radicals who were united in a general feeling of dissatisfaction with the status quo. They rejected materialism (e.g. the idea that happiness in the USA can be found by marrying, getting a steady job, buying the right home with the right car, and the right modern accessories in your home and all that kind of square thinking). The Beats were more interested in soul-searching and trying to find some deeper meaning to life. This seems pretty normal now, and part of the dominant culture these days. Everyone has their soul-searching teenage period where they write a diary, write poetry and get all deep and meaningful. Well, that was common for teenagers of my generation in the UK, who got into indie music, started dressing like goths and smoked self-rolled cigarettes. The beats were the first to do that (although I expect there were other movements in Europe that did essentially the same thing, like the Bohemians). The Beats were heavily inspired by jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and like this kind of jazz music, life for the Beats was a free-form search for truth and inspiration in the creative process. It was like a big improvisation with no boundaries. Sounds pretty groovy, hip and cool right? In fact those are words that come out of that time. All of them were probably coined by jazz musicians, but the beat generation appropriated them, or at least used them too. So, if things were good they were ‘cool’, or ‘hip’. You ‘dig’ things which are ‘cool’. The opposite of ‘cool’ was ‘square’.

We associate the Beat movement with certain writers, who are called the Beat writers, or Beat poets. These are people like Jack Kerouac, Allan Ginsberg, William S Burroughs and Ken Kesey. Some of the beats were into buddhism, sexual liberation and drug use. Out of this subculture came the hippies, who pretty much based their whole way of life on the ethos of the beat generation, and used books like “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac as a starting point for their own rejection of materialism and ‘normal’ life.

The word ‘hippie’ comes from the word ‘hip’, meaning ‘cool’ or in tune with this way of thinking. People also used the word ‘hipster’, but now we know we use the word ‘hipster’ for another kind of modern subculture – those uber-cool people who you find in East London who grow their own denim butter, have long beards and skinny jeans, use no electricity, ride fixie bikes, reject mainstream products in favour of vintage or handmade stuff, reject the dominant political system, and live in an apartment paid for by their rich parents. They’re similar to the beat generation or the hippies but today’s hipsters just seem to be more interested in just being cooler and more culturally aware than everyone else, and don’t have the same sort of communal spirit or mission as the hippies did.

Anyway, a whole generation of young people in the USA and in other parts of the world in the 1960s were really influenced by the beat generation and took on their values, and pushed them further – not everyone did this – not everyone at the time was a hippie. No, it was a subculture after all, but enough people lived the lifestyle for it to be a significant cultural movement. The hippies took it a bit further and embraced the whole concept, forming communes (shared living communities) in certain places – notably Haight Ashbury in SF and Greenwich Village in NYC (where the likes of Bob Dylan were playing protest songs and folk music in cafes).

The introduction of certain drugs, especially LSD into these communities really accelerated the whole movement, along with certain key events like the escalating conflict in Vietnam and the release of records like Bob Dylan’s first album, and albums by the Beatles. LSD was a drug that was created by accident by a pharmacist/chemist. It ended up being appropriated by the hippie movement because of the way it gave users incredibly transcendent mind trips, which made the hippies feel like they were experiencing things on a whole new level of consciousness. The innocence, youth, energy and vitality of this movement peaked in 1966/1967 particularly in the community of Haight Ashbury where, according to the accounts of lots of people, there were all kinds of open, free gatherings of people who took LSD, danced, made love and generally were very peaceful and transcendent, when they weren’t organising protests against the Vietnam war or other injustices. The hippies were for harmony with nature, sexual liberation, the use of drugs for mental liberation (aka consciousness revolution), peace, free love, communal living and eastern influenced spirituality. For the hippies, their immense optimism, fuelled by psychedelic drugs and perhaps a certain amount of naive idealism created the feeling that their love was going to change the world, and that there would be a sort of consciousness revolution which would cause the whole world to realise a totally new way of thinking and to start living in peace. The soundtrack to this period was albums like Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band by the Beatles. The thing is though, all the drug taking and free love did not come without a price, and it was naive of the hippies to think that their lifestyle was sustainable. True spiritual transcendence could not be achieved by simply taking a 2 dollar hit of acid, and many people just ended up mentally damaged by their use of LSD, and when harder and more addictive drugs like heroin arrived, the scene became much darker. In fact, hard drugs and other things like the later threat of AIDS pretty much killed the innocence and youthful spirit of the movement.

The optimism of the hippie movement and its decline were really well described by writer Hunter S. Thompson in his book Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. There is one particularly famous passage in which he describes the essence of the movement as like a wave that travelled across the country, then broke and flowed back again, leaving a sort of cultural high-water mark, or a cultural mark on the country. This is probably Thompson’s most celebrated bit of writing. There is a film version of the book, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp, who does an amazing acting performance in the role of the main character, who is a version of Hunter S. Thompson. Let’s listen to the scene from the film when Thompson talks about Haight Ashbury and the hippie movement. This is Hunter S. Thompson, played by Depp, in 1971, looking back at the previous 5 or 6 years, surveying what had happened before.

Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas – The High Water Mark

The Woodstock Music Festival was probably the culmination of this whole movement. It didn’t take place in San Francisco, but near New York. That was a massive happening, with hundreds of thousands of people who gathered together to celebrate love and peace, with some of the great bands and musicians of the time, like The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills & Nash playing the soundtrack.

The end of the dream came with a few events that showed the dark side of all that drug taking and chaos – Charles Manson, Altamont (a Rolling Stones concert that involved the Hell’s Angels who killed a guy), hard drugs and their damaging effects, AIDs.

How does this relate to that Eagles song? They’re singing about people damaged by loss of innocence – the same people who used to be idealistic, but ended up lost in decadence and the temptations of sex, drugs and rock & roll.

Talking of rock & roll, let’s listen to George Harrison, who of course was a member of the Beatles and someone who was at the heart of this whole scene. Here he is from the Beatles Anthology documentary talking about how he visited Haight Ashbury in 1968 expecting it to be a kind of hippie heaven of peace and love, but in fact by 1968 it had become quite a scary place with lots of people just living in the street, begging and taking hard drugs (he described them as ‘bums’). I think it was quite a shock to him and that’s when he decided to stop taking LSD and he sort of rejected the hippie movement and instead chose to embrace Indian transcendental meditation – a much more disciplined and well-established form of spiritual exercise.

George Harrison (originally from Liverpool, UK) – Haight Ashbury 1968

What’s Haight Ashbury like now?
It still has that general atmosphere, but the original feeling is long gone I think. But it’s still a really cool place, and I was very interested in visiting it in order to see what it was really like. Now it’s artisanal coffee shops, a mix of branded clothing stores and unique clothing boutiques. Really it’s just another tourist destination where you can buy Bob Marley posters, hippie clothing, bongs, pipes and fake retro t-shirts. It’s a bit like Camden Town or something. It’s not a genuine place of consciousness revolution any more although there are still some communes of hippies living there and I think that there’s a lot of housing which is offered to homeless people, or people of no fixed address. In the surrounding streets I saw quite a few homeless people, or homeless looking people and people who seemed to be suffering from mental illness, or on medication for drug addiction. You also find some interesting murals painted on the walls with anti-capitalist messages written on them. That’s partly the feeling of the area, but also there’s a sense that the place is a bit of a tourist attraction. There’s Nike store there for example, which is like a temple to individualism and materialism.

Many people think that the place is not what it used to be. I can’t help feeling a bit sad about this, because the hippies were onto something good. Their intentions were good, but maybe they were idealistic and naive. Maybe they were reckless with their drug use and their free sex, or maybe their movement got crushed by the establishment. Anyway, now in Haight Ashbury there are just remnants of those old values. Lots of organic shops and incense and stuff like that, and certainly some people who believe in ethical and sustainable living, but still a sense of increasing commercialisation. I wonder about some of the locals who have lived in the area for a long time and who now find themselves living in a commercialised tourist attraction.

I think I may have come across one of these people during a visit to CVS – a chain of pharmacies that you find all over the USA. We went in to buy some bottled water. We chose one bottle of Californian water and one bottle of Fiji Water, which is bottled in Fiji and then shipped to shops around the world, including California. We got to the counter to pay and the middle-aged woman who served us just said, in a very passive aggressive manner, “Yeah, why NOT buy bottled water from the other side of the world”.

I recognised the sarcasm, and immediately felt judged. What was she really saying?

Guilt trip! This made me feel pretty bad for a while, until I snapped out of it.

What do you think? I expect most of you are thinking – ignore her, she was being really rude! And you’re right, but…

I think she had a point to be honest, but I’m not sure if she made it in the right way. (I mean, giving someone a guilt trip about a product they are selling someone may not be the best way to get your message across, or maybe it is – it had an effect on me!) The woman was certainly rude to me, but does that matter if her point is valid? I wonder what it must be like for her working in CVS, while having these values. Maybe she doesn’t have to work there, maybe she has no choice. Who knows. I don’t even know her background, but just that one comment tells me a lot. What do you think? Did she have a point? Is it wrong to buy bottled water which is sourced in another country? Should the woman have said something to me? Is she a hypocrite for working in the shop even when she disagrees with some of the products it sells? Let me know your thoughts as usual.

I did have another couple of experiences with slightly passive aggressive, weird behaviour.
Another guy by the side of the road who seems to be homeless, tried to attract my attention: “Oh did you drop something…hey!” I just kind of shook my head and smiled a bit, but said no. He said “oh no it’s just my brain entrails you’re stepping on” There is a slightly bad vibe from some of these old hippies, but nothing more than that really. I didn’t feel unsafe there or anything, just a bit freaked out by some of these people.

In the park there was a guy who could have been homeless, or mentally ill, I’m not sure really. He was busking, and by busking in this case I mean playing classic American songs, like Motown, The Beach Boys, Elvis on a loud tape player and just singing along – loudly and badly, like a bad public version of karaoke that nobody wanted to listen to. There were three youngish people sitting on the bench next to him, looking pretty awkward because this guy was pretty loud and acting quite crazily and I think it was a bit off-putting for them. After a while they got up to leave and didn’t really acknowledge him or give him any money, and he said “Hey, thanks for the tip!” – A pretty passive aggressive comment considering they hadn’t given him a tip. I think they were a bit put off and possibly slightly scared of him, and they didn’t respond but kept walking away. He repeated, louder and louder “Hey, thanks for the TIP!! HEY THANKS FOR THE TIP!!!” – a slightly disturbing moment, but nothing bad actually happened.

Despite some of these little scenes had a really nice relaxing time in Golden Gate Park, even though there was no music when we were there, except for the “thanks for the tip” guy. We lay on the grass reading and napping a bit, digesting our food.

More Audiobook Recommendations – www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke
Let’s continue to look at a few recommendations for California-related audiobooks you could download free by going to www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke

The two books I’d like to recommend are associated with the Beat movement of American literature, which was so important to the values of the later hippy movement.

“On The Road” by Jack Kerouac
This is probably the book which inspired the hippy movement more than any other. This is what is written in the summary for this book on audible.com: Few novels have had as profound an impact on American culture as On the Road. Pulsating with the rhythms of 1950s underground America, jazz, sex, illicit drugs, and the mystery and promise of the open road, Kerouac’s classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be “beat” and has inspired generations of writers, musicians, artists, poets, and seekers who cite their discovery of the book as the event that “set them free”.

Do you fancy listening to an actor read that book to you? Visit www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke to sign up to a trial membership. You can download any audiobook you want, and then either cancel your membership and keep the audiobook, or continue as a member and enjoy more audiobooks every month.

“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey
Ken Kesey was part of a group of writers called The Merry Pranksters, which also included a man called Neal Cassady who was one of the inspirations for a principle character in On The Road. Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were a group who advocated a particular way of life that inspired the hippy movement. The Merry Pranksters sounded like a cool and funny bunch of people. They drove around America in a big bus. That was the inspiration for The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” film. Basically, Ken Kesey is a very important figure in the American counter cultural movement of the 1960s. A key writer in the Beat generation. Beat writers like Kesey influenced so many important cultural figures that followed them, including pretty much all of the famous rock musicians who emerged from the 60s and 70s, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Byrds, Neil Young and everyone else basically. They’re the ones who defined that whole lifestyle that is now so globally pervasive.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is the story of a charismatic criminal who ends up in a mental hospital when he’s not really mentally ill. He fakes it in order to avoid prison, thinking it will be much easier. What he discovers is that the mental institute is far more sinister than he’d imagined, and he ends up in a great mental power struggle against the strict nurse who runs the hospital. It’s all about the corrupting nature of power, about fighting against the establishment, about the fine line between sanity and insanity, and the idea there is something rotten at the heart of the American administration. What’s more, it’s just a great dramatic story, terrifically well written with some fantastic surprises. The main character is a lot of fun, and the evil Nurse Ratched is a great villain.
It’s sad, joyful, moving, and powerful, particularly at the end. There’s also a great film of this book, starring Jack Nicholson.
You can download the original version, narrated by Kesey himself (abridged and only 3-4 hours), but I recommend the 50th Anniversary Edition read by actor John C. Reilly (who I’m sure you’d recognise if you saw him – he’s a brilliant actor, with a really distinctive voice). It’s unabridged, so you get the whole book which comes to 10+ hours of audio.

End of Part 7. Part 8 coming soon, and I’m sure it will be the final chapter in this series. :)
Haight Ashbury

260. Kingsman: The Secret Service

In this episode I read out some poems written by listeners, and then it’s time for another episode of LFC (Luke’s Film Club). This time I’m reviewing the film Kingsman: The Secret Service. [Download]

Poems
Thank you for your poems in response to episode 258. I read some of them out in this episode. You can find the poems under episode 258.

kingsman_the_secret_service_ver7Kingsman: The Secret Service Film Review
Message from Dongsik (South Korean LEPSTER)
Luke, how are you?
It’s so abrupt but may I ask a favor of you?
Someday in your podcast, could you explain British culture in the film ‘Kingsman : the secret Seervice’? or just tell the audience about your thoughts on the film? If you don’t mind. For example, accent, clothes, social class, colin firth, whatever related to UK in the film. The movie really brings me back to UK. It’s so impressive to me.
I don’t push you, I kindly ask you, so I hope I could listen to those things in your podcast someday.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (Trailer)

Overview
-What kind of film is it?
-Who directed it?
-Who is in it?
-What’s the plot?
-What did I think of it?
-Elements of British culture
Certain symbols or icons of Britishness or certainly London life.
Class: The upper class & the lower class.
Posh people & chavs/hooligans

Good Things
It’s fast & furious, it’s never boring, it is visually quite arresting, there are some great actors involved, some gripping moments of action, and some genuinely shocking and stunning moments. It’s pretty funny and entertaining.

Bad Things
It’s a bit too ‘laddish’ for me. It’s too violent (Did I say too violent? Me?) I’m okay with violence in films usually, but this seemed to go over the top, in one scene in particular – and seemed to just enjoy the cartoon violence a little bit too much, like in Kill Bill Vol.1. It has its cake and eats it too – it’s parodying all the clichés of spy films, but at the same time celebrating them, and bringing the genre back to a point before it was post-modern and deconstructed.

It seems to have the same values as an old Bond film from the 1970s. It’s stylish and very British, but also misogynistic and quite right-wing. The ending, for example, is like something from the end of a Roger Moore film, but even more suggestive and explicit. Perhaps I’m being old-fashioned or something, but I found it to be a confirmation of sexist stereotypes. I think it was misjudged and a bit clumsy to end on a moment like that.
*Spoiler alert* I explain the ending here… (no great surprises though)
Posh images: tailors on Saville Row and their suits, umbrellas, pinstripes, wood panelled offices and gentlemen’s clubs in Mayfair, glasses of whiskey, old school ties, the British Army & secret service, privilege, a sense of entitlement, disdain for the lower classes.
Lower class images: Council estates, pubs full of aggressive criminals, cockneys, young criminals & gang members, petty crime, drugs, alcohol, fast cars, domestic violence, an irresponsible Mum who is abused by a violent boyfriend, London grime music such as Dizzee Rascal (although this side of London life is better captured by Attack The Block), London youth dialect.

Culture clash – between working class and upper class.
Much of this iconography belongs to the world of movies, fantasy or simply to the past. Not many people dress like Colin Firth in this film, or indeed act like him.
Other film/culture references: James Bond, The Avengers, Michael Caine films like The Ipcress File, My Fair Lady, The Bourne Identity.

All in all, I think it will do well internationally. The audience in Paris seemed to enjoy it a lot. It will probably be a hit with young blokes around the world who get off on the values of old James Bond movies, and who like comic book violence and a bit of casual sexism too.

Have you seen this film? Would you like to see it?

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258. Award Win / Thank you! / Poem

This is a very short podcast episode because I don’t have much time, but I just wanted to say a very sincere THANK YOU to everyone who voted for me in the 2014 Macmillan Love English Awards. I’m proud to say that I won my category: Best Blog 2014 for the 4th year in a row! I am absolutely delighted, and as a way of expressing my delight I’ve decided to write a poem (extremely quickly – it’s no masterpiece!) I hope you enjoy it, and thank you again! [Download]

Small Donate ButtonPlease write your own poems in the comments section. Just have fun and try to make the words rhyme. You can write a poem about anything, and it can be as short or as long as you like. Thank you! (If you can’t think of a topic – try writing something about LEP or learning English).

My Epic Masterpiece of a Poem – POEM OF THANKS!
I won the award
It’s thanks to y’all
I hope you’re not bored
by me talking about the award
All in all
It’s great to have you on board
You’re all from abroad
And you felt inclined
To take the time
To go online
And vote in kind
for the podcast that’s mine
It makes me feel fine
Like the sun that shines
Thank you to you
For doing what you did
And I hope you consid(er)
You’re the real winner
Because by voting for me you bring more attention to the site, raising the profile of the podcast, broadening the audience, and ultimately helping me to keep doing this with confidence, which then feeds into the way in which I record episodes, and encourages me to continue doing this project which I started 5 and a half years ago and which continues to amaze me in terms of how popular it is, how useful it is to many listeners, and how I could possibly turn this whole venture into a career.

The rhyming broke down, but I did say that I hadn’t prepared it, right?
It’s hardly a masterpiece, but it doesn’t matter. It’s just for fun.

Here’s the rejected part of my poem
And voting for who
You felt was more true
“I listen to you
when sitting on the loo”
Is a sentence that you
might use to describe
a side of your life
that involves listening to me
while you do a pee
because, you see
your time is quality
I mean you can see
That you have to multi task

Here’s the video of Eminem talking about rhyming

Why don’t you try to write a poem in the comments section?
You could try to continue my one (can you think of something that rhymes with ‘multi task’?) or you could create your own poem.
Remember: Just try to have fun and make the words rhyme. No pressure to be the next Eminem!

222. Luke’s Late Night Podcast

Take a musical trip through Luke’s hard-drive, in the middle of the night. Right-click here to download this episode.

Small Donate ButtonLate one night recently, I decided to record a podcast while randomly picking some pieces of music from my hard-drive and talking to you at the same time. This is the result.

There’s no language agenda in this episode in particular. It’s just me talking to you about various things while interspersing the episode with some music and other bits and pieces from my hard-drive.

Any music or other content in this episode is presented for educational purposes as part of my effort to aid people in their learning of English and culture.

Below you can read lyrics of some songs from this episode if you’d like to read to check your listening comprehension or pick up vocabulary.

Thanks for listening.

p.s. Competition Update: Voting closes this evening, and then I will count votes and eventually publish an episode with the names of the winner(s). Thanks for voting!

Song Lyrics

Arctic Monkeys – “Mardy Bum”
Buy “Mardy Bum” on iTunes here.
Well, now then Mardy Bum
I’ve seen your frown
And it’s like looking down the barrel of a gun
And it goes off
And out come all these words
Oh there’s a very pleasant side to you
A side I much prefer

It’s one that laughs and jokes around
Remember cuddles in the kitchen
Yeah, to get things off the ground
And it was up, up and away
Oh, but it’s right hard to remember
That on a day like today when you’re all argumentative
And you’ve got that face on

Well, now then Mardy Bum
Oh I’m in trouble again, aren’t I?
I thought as much
‘Cause you turned over there
Pulling that silent disappointment face
The one that I can’t bear

Well, can’t we just laugh and joke around
Remember cuddles in the kitchen
Yeah, to get things off the ground
And it was up, up and away
Oh, but it’s right hard to remember
That on a day like today when you’re all argumentative
And you’ve got that face on

Yeah I’m sorry I was late
But I missed the train
And then the traffic was a state
And I can’t be arsed to carry on in this debate
That reoccurs, oh when you say I don’t care
But of course I do, yeah I clearly do!

So laugh and joke around
Remember cuddles in the kitchen
Yeah, to get things off the ground
And it was up, up and away
Oh, but it’s right hard to remember
That on a day like today when you’re all argumentative
And you’ve got that face on

Black Sabbath – “The Wizard”
Buy “The Wizard on iTunes here.
Misty morning, clouds in the sky
Without warning, the wizard walks by
Casting his shadow, weaving his spell
Funny clothes, tinkling bell

Never talking
Just keeps walking
spreading his magic

Evil power disappears
Demons worry when the wizard is near
He turns tears into joy
Everyone’s happy when the wizard walks by

Never talking
Just keeps walking
spreading his magic

Sun is shining, clouds have gone by
All the people give a happy sigh
He has passed by, giving his sign
Left all the people feeling so fine

Never talking
Just keeps walking
spreading his magic

Charles Bukowski – “The Life of the King”
Unfortunately I can’t find the lyrics to this, but here is a video featuring Bukowski reading his poem “The Life of the King”, if you’d like to listen to it again.

Curtis Mayfield – “Pusherman”
Buy “Pusherman” in iTunes here.
I’m your mama, I’m your daddy,
I’m that nigga in the alley.
I’m your doctor when in need.
Want some coke? Have some weed.
You know me, I’m your friend,
Your main boy, thick and thin.
I’m your pusherman.

Ain’t I clean, bad machine
Super cool, super mean
Dealin’ good, for The Man.
Superfly, here I stand.
Secret stash, heavy bread,
Baddest bitches in the bed,
I’m your pusherman

Silent life of crime
A man of odd circumstance,
A victim of ghetto demands.
Feed me money for style
And I’ll let you trip for a while.
Insecure from the past,
How long can a good thing last?
No, no, no

Got to be mellow, y’all
Got to get mellow, now
Pusherman gettin’ mellow, y’all

Heavy mind, every sign
Makin’ money all the time
My LD and just me
For all junkies to see
Ghetto Prince is my thing
Makin’ love’s how I swing
I’m your pusherman

Two bags, please
For a generous fee
Make your world what you want it to be
Got a woman I love desperately
Wanna give her somethin’ better than me
Been told I can’t be nuthin’ else
Just a hustler in spite of myself
I know I can break it
This life just don’t make it
Lord, Lord, yeah

Got to get mellow, now
Gotta be mellow, y’all
Got to get mellow, now

I’m your mama, I’m your daddy,
I’m that nigga in the alley.
I’m your doctor when in need.
Want some coke? Have some weed.
You know me, I’m your friend,
Your main boy, thick and thin.
I’m your pusherman.
I’m your pusherman.
I’m your pusherman.
I’m your pusherman.
Lord, Lord

Victor Wooten – “Music as a Language” Click here for a version with subtitles.

144. The Chaos of English Pronunciation

3 poems that demonstrate some difficulties with English spelling and pronunciation. You can read the poems below, and listen to me reading them out loud in this episode, which will help you to understand how these difficult words are really pronounced.

Right-click here to download this episode.

Small Donate ButtonToday I shared a poem on Facebook. It was written to highlight all the inconsistencies in English spelling and pronunciation. In this episode I read the poem to you, demonstrating the correct way to say all the words. It’s a very challenging poem, so I hope I get them all right! If you find any errors, correct me by leaving a comment below.

I also read a couple of other poems about English pronunciation below.

Enjoy the episode and I hope you find it useful.

Poem 1: “The Chaos” by  Gerard Nolst Trenité

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation — think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough —
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!
*This poem is a nightmare!*

Poem 2: “Why English is so hard to learn”

We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

Poem 3: Reasons why the English language is so hard to learn

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce.

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture.

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it
was time to present the present.

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

That’s it for now. More episodes soon.