Christmas Rant 2016

Dear All:  Christmas is a time of year when, using the birth of the baby Jesus as an excuse, we like to give and especially receive presents to and from our loved ones.  Everybody has their own agenda when it comes to Christmas; be it presents, family, joy, love, and – just occasionally – Christ himself.  Nevertheless, I know many of you – and indeed many of my subjects around the world – feel immense pressure at Christmas, and for a variety of reasons.  The big day itself is a culmination of months of planning, buying presents, buying food, more planning, inviting friends and family, buying wrapping paper, still more planning, and buying decorations.  Have I left anything out?  I’m convinced that the biggest winners through the whole festive period are the makers of Sellotape.

Oh, and what constitutes ‘the festive period?’  Note that I don’t use the word Christmas for the sake of inclusion.  Sure, it’s a Christian festival…or is it?  When Christians first arrived in this country via the Romans (I believe) they adopted a British pagan festival celebrating a sun god to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  This we know.  And we also know that Christmas long ceased to be a Christian festival for the majority of people once all the other things that I listed above became more important.  Anyway, to cut a long story short, as far as I can tell, the festive period begins around the time the kids go back to school at the beginning of September until the official ‘twelfth day’ which is traditionally January 6.  The main reason, of course, that Christmas begins so early is so that our supermarkets, and other corporate online retailer giants, can sell you stuff.  Lots of stuff.  And relatives with kids (both young and old!) feel the pressure to buy the gifts ‘from Santa’ that they actually want.

In every sense, the mask has fallen to the floor, the defences are down; no-one gives a s*** about Christmas as a festival celebrating the birth of one Jesus Harold Christ.  It’s a commercial one, pure and simple (feel free to run the Hear’Say No.1 hit in your head right now).  Money, money, money (feel free to run the ABBA hit…oh, you get the drill).  If it were suddenly made illegal to give and receive presents, Christmas would collapse right now and be celebrated by about three people in some small village fundamentalist Church of England in the middle of nowhere.  And that’s another thing; the bloody Christmas No.1!  Some of the CRUD that gets released in the good name of having the festive chart topper.  Thank goodness that Clean Bandit’s single, ‘Rockabye’ beat them all off (if you’ll pardon the expression) with a sharp stick.

All of this relates to Christmas as a general institution.  Let us now, dear subjects, look at this year’s festive season and how we have arrived here on our journey through 2016.  Many have travelled through 2016 with much sadness as family, friends and fans have grieved the loss of their heroes from the world of arts and entertainment, not to mention politics and other areas of life.  For me, it was David Bowie, Victoria Wood, Muhammad Ali, and Prince.  Yesterday, I was floored to hear of the death of Rick Parfitt, out of Status Quo.  All of these knocked many around the world for six, but for me these deaths left me feeling still more desolate as I struggle to cope with more personal losses of family and friends.  Even now I feel lost, walking in the desert with no compass or sat nav.

And, of course, both Britain and America suffered losses of their own as sovereign nations – Britain voted by a narrow margin to leave the ‘European Union,’ or ‘Brexit’ as some bright media spark must have struggled for hours to come up with.  Only problem was, those who campaigned to Leave the EU had forgotten to come up with a means of HOW to do it.  Thus, like the proverbial rudderless ship, our beloved Government have been leading us all round the houses trying to figure out the best way to do it without upsetting too many of their beloved voters.  David Cameron resigned and took his cabinet with him; once again we have a Prime Minister NOT GIVEN A MANDATE TO BE SO by the British people.  Bloody Tories.

Speaking of which, now that the Tories have sold our N.H.S. off good and proper, it is with depressing inevitability and regularity that we hear almost every day of some local ‘trust’ or other failing to provide enough beds, services, doctors, nurses, cleaners and medicine for those who need it – the taxpayers who pay into it in the first place.  Not that staff don’t want to provide the service – the vast majority are more dedicated to their jobs than in other vocations – and that makes the situation even more sad.  Even as the Tories passed the Health & Social Care Act in 2012, pigs were waiting at the trough to start diving in and grabbing the choicest services for themselves.  See my video on the subject here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpHoyrXJcaI  People often go in with one illness and come out sicker with another. And nothing is changing in 2016 because the general public, us, are not willing or able to fight back.  This was the year they beat us down.  For good?  We shall see.

Americans will be mourning the election of DONALD TRUMP to the Presidency, commencing January 20.  How did THAT HAPPEN?  Five years ago, if someone had used the words ‘Donald Trump’ and ‘President’ in the same sentence I would have laughed.  And I mean, properly laughed.  But now he actually is, and even now I have to write it out and stare at it for long periods to even stand a chance of believing it.  Most Americans are worried; Democrats have tried every which way to force Trump out even before he takes office.  Sadly, many liberals and left-wingers are unable to accept democracy – ironic since many belong to the Democratic Party – and the same was true in Britain in June, when many Labour supporters called for a second Brexit vote.  I appealed to my subjects for calm, to accept democracy in both instances, but of course it fell on deaf ears.  Americans simply told me that their nation was a republic and not a democracy, because it says to in the Constitution.  That may be so, but why bother voting at all if that were the case?  As it was some 42 % of America’s voters failed to show at the ballot box; THAT is the reason Hillary Clinton lost, nothing to do with swing states or corruption or any such excuse that Democrats have used to hide their embarrassment.  Republicans, right-wing Christian gun-worshipping hypocrits were whooping up and down in crowing glee, while many of those with a conscience were left mourning the loss of common sense in so many parts of the world where democracy and rational thought once triumphed.  2016 was the year that Britain and America embraced racism, nationalism, and open paranoia about the loss of their borders.

So what, my dear friends, of the future?  On January 20, Donald J. Trump becomes President of the USA, and who knows what happens after that.  Even I have no clue what’s going to happen, other than a period of utter madness that may last the full four years of Trump’s leadership.  Others who are more politically savvy than I may be able to answer that; who knows, they may disagree with me entirely on this.

Meanwhile, I will continue to watch movies and make music.  I will watch the news off the internet and let you know the salient stories as they happen, so you don’t have to.  I will continue to search for a meaning to this otherwise pointless existence.  I will continue to speak from the heart, and not from WIKIPEDIA.  I will continue to adore my dear wife Jane who has tolerated me for what is now almost 29 years.  She has been beside me, supporting me and giving me the gift of her life every day.  And so, in closing, I feel strangely positive about this Christmas and for 2017.  And the nearness of my dear wife is the reason behind that.  I have done wrong many times; it is the ones who stick with me and love me in spite of that who are the keepers in life.  And I hope that you are all able to feel the same or similar* about your loved ones.  I promise you, there is no greater gift.  I’m not pretending that it’s all hearts and flowers either; life has been very difficult for both my wife and myself, but in spite of it she’s still here, and I wouldn’t change a day of it.

And I’M FINALLY GOING TO SEE OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN on January 26, in London.  Bloody hell.  I’ve only waited almost 39 years.  All right, it’s not a regular concert, more of a sit-down celebration of grief and loss promoting an album with two other singers, but I don’t care; it’s Olivia Newton-bloody-John, for goodness sake.  I doubt I shall even hear what anyone else is saying.  And if she comes back to do a regular show like The Tour I Missed in 2013, I’ll be there also.

In conclusion, I invite 2017 to bring me its challenges and achievements and face me with them head-on; I will embrace them.  As all of our heroes who have died this year would testify if they could, life is indeed short and one must try and embrace every day as positively as possible; for even great men and women are not exempt from The Final Croak.  But I also appreciate how difficult it is, in certain circumstances, to remain positive, or even to avoid depression.  For many days, weeks, months or years I have felt its heavy weight upon my shoulders; pushing me to the ground so that all I see is a burnt, blackened wasteland with black clouds above and no life anywhere.  Speaking personally, I have to believe that there is a way out.

May the Force be with you all. x

*You may have to go up or down an insurance group at no extra cost to yourself, depending on availability.

 

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Inevitable Post About the U.S. Election

Here it is, folks, the rant we all saw coming concerning the upcoming Presidential election on November 8.

Oh. My. God.  What have we done?

You mean to tell us that, of the almost 320 million people in the United States of America, only a highly ambitious former First Lady and a business tycoon with less social skills than hair sense is the best you can do?

This is truly unbelievable.  It’s almost like a parallel universe.  As if we are already in Hell and our worst nightmares are being paraded before us in a round of never-ending torture.  Already many Americans are talking about voting for the ‘lesser of the two evils,’ and some are talking of not voting at all.  This is a dreadful situation, and not one that suggests that democracy is a Good Thing.

Donald J. Trump is making is policies up as he goes along.  He has to; he’s been too busy throughout his 70 years of life building up his business empire, and lately making his name known as a T.V. celebrity with The Apprentice USA.  Too busy to formulate detailed policies about the stuff he purports to care about, such as immigration and jobs.  Build a wall and fire all the Mexicans seems to be his expressed method of coping with the next four years of a Trump administration.

Hillary R. Clinton, who I like to refer to as Slick Hilly, already has her policies firmly in place.  Thing is, they are mostly her husband Bill’s policies from when he was in office, with the additional brilliant idea of blaming the Russians for hacking into her email accounts and trying to stir up trouble with Vladimir Putin.  She likes to take the credit for popping Osama Bin Laden.

By the way, there are also a number of other candidates, including the Green candidate Jill Stein, who would get my vote if I were given the opportunity to do so.  It’s a shame that her party simply do not have the financial backers that Clinton has, or Trump for that matter, although he is paying for his own campaign (mostly).  The U.S., like us here in the U.K., will never see such a seismic shift in the political will of the population so as to allow a party like the Greens into office.

Effectively, then, it is between Trump and Clinton.  Who will you choose?  I repeat what I said at the beginning: Oh. My. God. x

Tears Before Brexit

I have studiously avoided making any reference to the Brexit fiasco until all of the dust had settled and the insane madness had died down a bit.  Now it has, and there is a sense of fatalistic acceptance across the whole of society (minus a few radicals who want a second referendum) that we must leave the EU because 52% of the country voted for it.  I was one of the 48% who voted the opposite way.

In my entire life (I am a few days short of my 50th birthday this coming Saturday) I have never known an issue that has divided families, friends – and indeed the entire country – such as whether to stay in the E.U. or not.  I experienced this division first hand.  It was not pleasant to fall out with someone over a political issue such as this.  But we got over it, just as Britain did; David Cameron, our Prime Minister, promptly resigned and through the usual Tory shenanigans we suddenly found ourselves living in the shadow of the second un-elected PM in a decade: Mrs. Theresa May.  She promised to make our departure from the EU as smooth as it was possible to be.  As of the time that I write this, she has already begun negotiations.

I, many of my friends and family, Great Britain – in fact, the majority of the ‘Western’ world expressed its shock at what the 52% had done.  The reason why so many had voted this way was simple enough: immigration.  You see, the UK has, and always will have, that ‘island mentality.’  We don’t like so many foreigners coming over and taking our jobs, claiming our benefits, and jumping in front of us in the queue at the doctors.  Of course, we don’t mind getting cheap flights to Magaluf, becoming absolutely rat-arsed, swearing and beating seven bells out of the locals.  Most people didn’t even bother to think that, after ‘Brexit,’ that might become a little more difficult, and those that did, simply didn’t care, as long as it stopped so many Europeans coming over just to claim the benefits that they could send back to their families in Slovenia, or wherever.

But, now that the vote is done, and the 52% have won the day, as far as I am concerned, that is it.  We must do as the majority voted.  We were fortunate to get a referendum in the first place, and to schedule another referendum, which many on the left of the political spectrum want to do, would be undemocratic.  This is what politics should be about: you have a vote, and whoever gets the most wins.  See?  It’s not difficult, but within minutes of the announcement of the result, many were shouting at the tops of their voices that the ‘Remain’ campaign – led by Boris Johnson & Nigel Farage – had all got it wrong and we must have another referendum so that we can correct it.

Huh?

No, I’m sorry, but in a democratic society the majority must win and the rest of the population must deal with the consequences.  We must now leave the EU and take the effects of that – good or bad – on the chin.  Sorry, leave campaign, I voted with you, but I am more prepared to accept its result than you appear to be.  I have been accused on Facebook of being ‘apathetic.’  If that’s what you call accepting a democratic result, then yes, I am apathetic.  There will be tears, there will be things I don’t like, but I prefer to accept democracy than try to circumvent it by calling for referendum after referendum until you get your way.

x

Footie Phonetic

Many of my fans and followers know I have had something of a love/hate relationship with football (‘soccer’ for our U.S. cousins) over the past few years.  This particular sport has been ruined by one thing and one thing alone: money.

Now, before we start, let me just say this.  I have nothing against clubs making money for themselves.  That’s not what this is about.  It’s about the money men and women running the clubs.  Money coming in just to make money.  Since Roman Abramovich took over at Chelsea and took them to a number of league titles, FA Cup wins and all sorts of European adventures, other clubs, such as Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Newcastle United and many others, have sold their clubs off to eccentric billionaires who couldn’t give two shits about the club but have thrown enough money at them to enable them to hire the best managers, players and staff that the world of football has to offer – with mixed results.  In the case of Manchester City, it was a rapid rise to the top; as for Newcastle United, it was an almost as rapid fall towards relegation.

I also feel the need to interject something of my own football allegiances before we continue, for the benefit of the one or two fans across the globe who may not be aware:  as a child, I supported Liverpool, mainly because at the time their big star was Kevin Keegan, who was my hero.  So, when he moved to Southampton, I followed them for a while.  After he moved to Hamburg, however, my football heart went back to Liverpool until I discovered that Keegan had signed a contract to see out his career at Newcastle United.  Ironically, soon after, my family moved to the North East of England – Tyneside to be precise – and it seemed predestined that I should follow that club, which I have ever since, even though I have moved around the U.K. many times over the subsequent 30 years.

Until last year.

For those of you who don’t know, Newcastle United is owned by Mike Ashley, a British businessman who owns a company called Sports Direct.  They sell sports gear and stuff.  In 2007 Ashley bought the majority of the club’s shares off Sir John Hall and at the beginning of 2008 reinstated Kevin Keegan as manager.  All seemed well; but the joy was short-lived as Keegan resigned after eight months, and a year later the club were relegated.  They came back up quickly enough but have never been any better than mediocre and just this year, in April 2016, were relegated for a second time under Ashley.

But none of that is the reason why I have withdrawn my support for Newcastle United.  The reason is that Ashley has put 90% of all of his staff at Sports Direct on a ‘zero-hour’ contract.  This is a type of contract whereby the employer has no obligation to provide a certain number of hours employment, although equally the employee has the right to turn down any work offered.  It’s essentially turning all employees into temps and completely changing their working conditions.  In the case of Sports Direct, it affected about 20,000 employees and they were given no choice over the matter, which affected their income, their lives, their rent, their food etc.

That is why people like Mike Ashley are billionaires: if one of the 20,000 employees is not working, they don’t get paid.  But they still have (or had, up until U.K. legislation was passed in 2015) to gain permission from their employer before accepting other work.  In addition, the written terms of a zero-hour contract have been proved to be invalid in a U.K. Court of Law, but still Ashley uses them at Sports Direct.  Many other public services, hotels, restaurants, pubs, supermarkets are using them.  They are unfair and employees are lulled into a false sense of security by signing one.

In addition, Ashley is running the club into the ground.  He seems to be intent on making the books balance, and has no regard or interest in what is going on on the field.  His primary concern is finance, not football.  And that is what brings me to the general point of this blog: none of these big corporate owners are interested in anything but increasing the value of that club’s shares on the stock market.  The majority of them don’t even live in the U.K., although in fairness one must make the point that Mike Ashley does.

The worst job that exists in Premier League football today is that of Manager or Head Coach.  Those guys are practically on zero-hour contracts as it is.  To sign a three-year deal, as Louis Van Gaal did at Manchester United in 2014, is meaningless.  Van Gaal was sacked yesterday with over a year left on his contract, albeit with a fairly handsome payoff, but the club have handled him badly ever since they employed him.  Why?  Because they thought he would make one of the world’s richest clubs even richer.  And they sacked him because the club ‘only’ finished fifth, failing to qualify for the Champions League (if you don’t know what that is, Google it) and generate more money for the club; that’s the only reason for the club’s disappointment – nothing to do with fan expectation whatsoever.  I’ll wager if you talk to any true football fan of any club, they will all say virtually the same thing: win, lose or draw, as long as the players give it 110% to entertain the crowd and play good football, fans will be happy.  At Manchester United, the gamble of hiring Louis Van Gaal failed to pay off.  Why?  I’ll never know.  He got the Dutch team to the semi-final of the World Cup for God’s sake, playing some of the most exciting football fans had seen since the days of Ruud Gullitt.  But at Man Utd it was dull, dull, dull – more backpasses than any other Premier League club last season.  Why was Van Gaal’s style so ‘chalk & cheese’ in consecutive jobs?

If Jose Mourinho does take the Man Utd job, he is madder than a box of bi-polar frogs.  First off, he will know that the length of his deal is meaningless.  Second of all, anything less than fourth place in the league will not be acceptable, the pressure on him will be enormous – not from fans so much as the board.  Only those fans who are stupid enough to repeat the guff that is printed on the sports pages will hold up banners calling for the manager’s dismissal.  Thirdly, Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea last December, because for some reason he had ‘lost the dressing room,’ and they were performing poorly.  This was only seven months after they had won the Premier League title!  To recap: in May 2015, Mourinho is a champion, but by December 2015 the club have sacked him because of poor results.  The sacking had no effect – the club still finished 10th and did not qualify for any European competition.  So Man Utd are about to employ someone who was sacked from his last job.  Imagine that happening in your office, or shop, or whatever your place of work may be.  The new boss was sacked from his last job for incompetence, and now you are welcoming him into your office.  And he got to stay in the country and maintain a U.K. residence while not working at all – that’s the power of money for you, but that’s for a whole other blog.

If a club ‘underachieves’ (football fans and chief executives might have different definitions of what ‘underachieving’ really means), then the first instinctive knee-jerk reaction is ‘sack the manager.’  At Newcastle, though, the situation was slightly different.  Mike Ashley did not seek a Louis Van Gaal or a Jose Mourinho, he sought a Steve McClaren, who had never before managed a Premier League club.  For once, it was the fans who questioned this decision from the word go and the club owner dug his heels in and refused to admit that he was wrong until it was too late.  And, predictably, McClaren drove the club down toward the inevitability of relegation, something which, even when Ashley finally made a class decision and employ Rafael Benitez, even he was unable to stop.  McClaren spent £80 million on wasters who had no desire to put any effort in, just kick the ball around for 90 minutes of a Saturday afternoon and get £200,000 tax free for the privilege.

Before I return my support back to Newcastle United, MIKE ASHLEY MUST GO.  It was an awful decision for me to make, a hard one, but I have not watched or followed a Newcastle game, gone to see them, or even sought out a result, for over a year.  Of course this decision is only a protest for myself, it’s not going to affect the club in any way at all, but it was still difficult to make.  I cannot follow a club whose owner’s employment methods I do not support.  Until he goes, I follow no football club at all.  And this actually allows me to make a wider protest about the state of football in general, driven by the money men and women in the City of London; every kick designed to make the club’s shareholders, and not the fans, happy. x

 

Shouting ‘Europe’ at the Sink

All of us in the United Kingdom know the deal by now: on June 23 the Conservative Government is putting the country to the vote in a referendum on whether the U.K. should stay in the European Union, or leave it entirely and lose all of its alleged ‘benefits.’  And it appears to be a rare instance where both Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn both agree: we must stay in.  At the time of writing, the latest YouGov opinion poll also suggests that the ‘Remain’ campaign has a slight lead over the ‘Leave’ one.  Of course, with more than two months to go, that could change either way.

One thing I will give the Tories credit for is their continual negotiation to keep Britain out of the Euro.  We have seen over the last few years how several nations, Greece in particular, have fallen foul of it; if Greece catches a cold, then Portugal sneezes.  For Britain to join the Euro would be heading for eventual disaster.  However, as recently as February of this year, the Prime Minister yet again negotiated that, even if Britain stays in the EU, then we as a nation have no plans to switch to the Euro currency.  Good.

Many of my devoted fans have been asking me: should we stay or should we go?  And I’ll be honest with you; it’s not been an easy decision to make.  But come down on one side or the other I must, if only so that I don’t depart the polling station on June 23 with nothing to show for it but a spoiled paper.  As much as I have to say this through gritted teeth, I find myself agreeing with the Prime Minister and the ‘Remain’ campaign.  We should, in all conscience, stay in the European Union.

Certain un-named members of my acquaintances hold a very different view.  We should leave, they say, close the borders to all foreigners and stop the Polish and the Portuguese coming over and taking our jobs.  All they do is come over, sign up for child benefit and send that back to their home country.  To those individuals who have expressed that opinion to me, I say this: Why do people come over from Portugal and Poland (and other countries) in the first instance?  Because the jobs are vacant and available!  If we British are too lazy to take those jobs, why not bring people in from other nations and welcome them?

Another view held by the ‘Leave’ campaign is that Britain will somehow lose its national identity if we stay in the EU.  Really?  This country has been in the EuroZone (or ‘Common Market’ as it was once known) since 1973 and I don’t see any loss of the British-ness so beloved by Europe.  We are still able to travel to other countries and destroy their pubs and clubs, shouting racist obscenities and beating the holy shit out of citizens of the host nation purely for the crime of supporting the opposing football team.  Doesn’t that just make you feel proud?  So don’t worry, UKIP, we can remain in the EU and still be British.

It is very likely that the EU Referendum is the primary reason why the Conservatives won the last General Election, held in May 2015.  As early as 2013 they promised it during the next Parliament should they win, and lo and behold they did.  I thought I would throw that thought in there.

Another random thought: the Leave campaign tell us that up to a million jobs could be created if Britain frees itself from the shackles of EU regulation; while the Remain campaign say an equivalent number of jobs could be lost as car manufacturers, for example, leave Britain to find cheaper EU countries in which to mass-produce.

Nigel Farage and his lot point to Norway and Switzerland, two countries very much on the European map but not member states of the EU.  They are still able to deal, or trade with the EU, but are not constricted by its laws on agriculture and fishing, for example.  And both, sadly, are still able to produce the most dreadful entries for  the Eurovision Song Contest.

The Remain campaign also point to Norway and Switzerland; however it is with the proviso that they are still bound by EU regulations without having any say whatsoever on how those regulations are formed and passed.  Thus it would ever be the same for Britain; bound by rules passed by pin-striped pen-pushers in Brussels without having had our ten pence worth during their creation.

Remember, racists, that as much as people from Portugal have the right to come over here and take ‘your’ jobs away from you, you have the same rights to travel to Portugal – and indeed any of the 27 other nations in the EU – and work and live there.  And you can still buy The Sun there.  The more I think about it, the more I have become convinced that we as a nation must stay in the European Union.  The pros, in my view, far outweigh the cons.  And I get the feeling that the majority of Britain will agree with me on June 23.  x

 

Kesha to the Kingdom

Yesterday, U.S. pop singer Kesha got stung by the courts, who told her that she was not allowed to exit her contract with Sony because she claimed that her former producer and mentor, Dr. Luke, had raped, physically and mentally assaulted her, and generally messed with her mind.  I have a number of issues with this, as you might expect.

Record contracts are notoriously difficult to get out of – just ask George Michael (Innervision & Sony), or Prince (Warner Bros.).  Especially if you sign with one of the major labels.  Oh, when they want you, they wine you, dine you, and mostly make you believe that all is well with the world.  I also believe that they make every effort to stop you from reading the small print in too much detail.  For it is there that you will find clauses which tell you that you must produce a certain number of albums over a certain period of time; they have artistic approval over said albums; you cannot record for anyone else without their say-so – yes, even guest appearances, in short, they own you for the duration of the contract.

I’ll let you into a little secret.  I am a musician myself, and once upon a time (about thirty years ago) I dreamed of a record contract, fame and fortune just like everybody else.  But that dream began to fade as I found out in ever greater detail how archaic these contracts were, and that you lose your identity as an artist once you sign one of these things.  That, and the fact that no record company has ever approached me with a view to signing with them.  Turns out you need a lot more than I’ve got to be a rock or a pop star.

Anyway, I ranted about this issue on Facebook yesterday.  Record contracts are as archaic as the ones the Hollywood film studios handed out to their star actors during its ‘Golden Era.’ (Basically, up to around 1948 but continuing after on a diminishing scale to about 1967.)  Now these were in many ways remarkably similar to a record contract of today.  When you signed for a particular studio – let’s say, Warner Bros. – they owned you.  You had to behave in public, you had to conform to whatever image the public had of you, you were told what movies you would appear in with whichever director, fellow cast and crew.  A few actors tried to break out of this – James Cagney and Bette Davis among them – but they always came back.  A few actors – Paul Muni was one – were clever enough to make sure that script and director choice were built in to their contracts, but for many others the lure of fame was too great and they signed without reading the small print.

Oh, and the other thing was, if you objected to a movie, director, any other aspect of the production or otherwise generally caused troubled, you could be placed on ‘suspension,’ (i.e. not allowed to work at all), or ‘loaned’ to another studio, and crucially that period of time was added on to the end of the contract.  Olivia de Havilland signed a 7-year deal in 1934 at the age of 18 and when she thought it ran out in 1941, she found she still had to work out the periods of time that she had been placed on suspension in the past.  She took her employers (Warner Bros., remember) to court in 1943 and won.  This was a landmark judgement and one which, over the next quarter of a century, saw the eventual dissolution of the Studio System and its draconian contracts.

Although Warner Bros. are no longer able to force actors to sign these contracts, there is still nothing to stop them from doing so to their pop stars.  They didn’t sign Kesha, Sony did, but as she discovered, once you sign, you are trapped.  If you look at a typical record contract, you will find almost everything in it designed to benefit the company, not the artist.  For example, if the company is unhappy with the product or you simply don’t shift enough units, they can drop you like a sack of shit.  They can terminate the contract at any time.  Why can the artist not do the same?  Many artists feel that the record company (hereinafter referred to as ‘the label’) has not done enough to promote an album, whose failure the label then blames on the artist!  It’s got to be a two-way street.  If a label calls time on the deal, then the artist should also have the same rights, regardless of whether, in Kesha’s case, there are any foundations in the allegations she made against Dr. Luke.

Now that Kesha and her label are locked in legal dispute, she has found that she cannot record any new music at all.  None.  If she did, the master recordings would automatically become the property of Sony.  That’s another thing that has stung many artists in the past – they don’t own the master tapes of their own songs.  When Prince was in dispute with his label in the early 1990s, he found them releasing albums of substandard material just to fill out his contract; a fact he had no control over.  He came up with the brilliant idea of renaming himself with an unpronounceable squiggle, which meant that he could record independently of his label while they bashed out compilations of unreleased rubbish.  Kesha obviously does not want (or is now contractually prevented from) to do this.  In conclusion for this, artists should be allowed to own the master tapes of their recordings once they separate themselves contractually from the label.

Kesha claims that she is tied to several companies which are owned by Sony, and controlled by Dr. Luke.  Sony deny this.  They claim that if she records for Sony again, she need not have any contact with Dr. Luke.  Kesha has the right, as I said earlier, to terminate a contract on the grounds that she is unhappy with it.  Dr. Luke denies her allegations, and countersued her for breach of contract.  The judges, in all the judgements so far, have sided with Dr. Luke and Sony.  There are some legal loopholes in the U.S. system which are cowardly and allow for those with the most expensive lawyers to generally walk away scot free.  First, is the issue of jurisdiction.  As well as federal law in the U.S., we also have state law, and it seems that because the offences that Kesha alleges took place in California, therefore the New York judges were not in a position to rule on it.  So why is the case being heard in New York, then?

Second of all is another loophole, that of the statute of limitations.  That means that if the offences took place more than a certain amount of time ago, then they cannot be accused of it in court.  That too is ridiculous.  Third, and most damaging of all, is the statement made by Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich, who said “rape isn’t necessarily an act of gender hatred, so can’t be considered a hate crime.”

What the f***?

Rape is not a hate crime?  Coming from a Supreme Court Judge?  That is madness right there, folks, in your face and up your ass.  In addition, Justice Kornreich wrote: “[Kesha’s] claims of insults about her value as an artist, her looks and her weight are insufficient to constitute extreme, outrageous conduct intolerable in a civilized society.”  Holy crud!  So now a judge can determine how upset Kesha can be over the alleged rape, mental and physical torture – if indeed it took place, which I don’t see the judge denying.

To sum up: although she alleges her boss raped, verbally and physically abused her, she must still record for the record label that he controls (Kemosabe Records, owned by Sony).  It doesn’t really matter to me whether they are true or not, she ought to be able to tear up her contract if she is unhappy with Dr. Luke’s treatment of her as an artist, which she evidently is.  If the allegations are true, then this judgement of two days ago shows an astonishing lack of respect for the law, and for Kesha as an artist, as a woman, and as a member of our society.  There is an enormous amount of online support for Kesha, including myself, which is generally of the opinion that I have stated – that she should be allowed to part with Dr. Luke as of now and then perhaps take the allegations of abuse forward on a separate legal basis. x

Tax, Lies & Panama

An astonishing eleven million documents were leaked from law firm Mossack Fonseca which detailed how the rich and famous – not to mention the politically powerful – used this tax haven in Panama to avoid paying income tax in their own respective countries.   It’s already more or less brought down the government in Iceland, and people are out on the streets protesting even as I type.  And depending on what else is revealed in this vast array of documentation, who knows what may follow.   However, the kind of protest currently being seen in Iceland is highly unlikely to be repeated here in the United Kingdom.  Here, we prefer to take to Facebook, moan and complain for a while behind the sanctity of our computer screens, and then log off to go and watch Pointless.

Since David Cameron became our Prime Minister in 2010, the Government – largely made up of upper-class Eton-fed ex-public schoolboys – has adopted a more or less ‘who gives a f***’ attitude towards the British people.  They know that when a scandal or some less than favourable news story breaks, all they have to do is sweat it out for a while and then it will all go away.  By way of an example, look what happened when it was revealed that Iain Duncan Smith charged the taxpayer (not David Cameron’s father, obviously) £39 for a breakfast at The Ivy in London?  Facebook went nuts for about 24 hours and it all went away.  Sure, it still pops up now and again, but nothing the Government cannot handle.  Speaking of IDS, his recent resignation as Work & Pensions Secretary came as a knee-jerk reaction to waking up one morning with a sensation that he couldn’t identify; it was something he had never experienced before.  It was called a conscience.

What could damage the Government is the upcoming referendum on whether the United Kingdom should stay as part of the European Union or not.  Europe has always been an issue that has split the Conservative Party more or less right down the middle; if the country votes to opt out of Europe, then that spells the end of Mr. Cameron’s tenure as Prime Minister, and he might as well hand over the keys to No.10 Downing Street to Boris Johnson right away.  If the country votes to stay in, as I suspect it might, then it will be business as usual for David Cameron and Boris will just have to wait his turn to become Tory leader.

In the United Kingdom we have an inept and quite frankly corrupt Government whose business and policy decisions are based upon favouring their friends and relatives in business and they are completely disinterested in the approximately 99.9% of the population who didn’t go to Eton, or who are unable to fiddle this country’s tax laws to run fake and dodgy deals in Panama.  “We are all in this together,” they tell us, all the while helping themselves to tax dodges, leaving the lower paid members of society to actually pay those taxes that provide our schools, hospitals, and Iain Duncan Smith’s breakfast.  It’s outrageous.  We should be marching to Westminster in our hundreds of thousands, demanding this Government be brought down.  Every last one of the cabinet must resign.  They are all in it together, not us.  It depends, of course, on your definition of “it.”  The disabled face losing £30 a week from their benefits, while Eric Pickles spends £500,000 a year on limousine travel.  The minimum wage is set at around £7 an hour, while George Osborne – possibly our most unqualified and inept Chancellor – pockets £500,000 from the sale of his “second home” (originally paid for by – guess who – the taxpayer).

How many more scandals must break loose before the British people wake up and start smelling the corruption that has cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, closed hundreds of our valuable libraries and other public services, and made a hypocrite of our Prime Minister, who in 2012 blasted “comedian” Jimmy Carr for dodging income tax while he knew that his own father had done the same?  In 1642, Civil War broke out in England because the King (Charles I) was thought to be corrupt, and while I am not advocating war – or indeed any kind of violence whatsoever – I certainly advocate protest of a peaceful kind that will not go away until every last member of our Government resigns. x