Around a year ago, blogs celebrating awesome things were perhaps a little bit played out. You know, we were all, “Ho hum, another mini-celebration — look, why on earth would I need another reason for good cheer?”
Oh for such simpler days. Then last year a whole bunch of really crazy things happened in the news, and indeed to the world. Things so big (and crazy) to not even need mentioning here. Over the next few years, as each of these “events” breeds again and again more new terrible-event-of-the-day hybrids (like the Agent Smith virus Matrix Reloaded), we’ll come to need frivolous lists of awesome things again — perhaps more than we ever did before.
Journalism is not always very good at the bright side. Most of our time is spent shining light in areas of importance, and asking searching questions of the rich and powerful. Yet not long ago, I was so reminded of the need for balancing the collective “media mood board”, that I planned a feature to look at specifically at the good news.
Enter a little story we did not long ago. The message? Twenty Reasons to Feel Better. Written by one of our most acclaimed news writers Eric Talmadge, the message was that “You’ve seen the bad news; you know it all well from our work — now here’s some (extremely factual) balance”. Joyfully revelling in the fact that since 1978, 500 million people in China were lifted out of poverty, or that 441 new animal species were identified in the Amazon alone between 2010 and 2013, it was a fun and ultimately uplifting read. It made me realise that sometimes it really is almost counter-cultural to remind everyone that while life is often bad, there is still plenty of awesomeness out there. You just have to go looking for it.
Luckily for the content world, amid all the chaos and division we see now, we sit within an industry that frequently comes up with new twists and innovations with the power to cheer us up. Which is, ladies and gentlemen, certainly not a played-out notion any longer.
So without further ado, here’s my own take on three reasons to keep your chin up, courtesy of content.
1. U2’s The Joshua Tree Tour
When Irish rock band U2 recently announced plans for a tour of stadiums across America and Europe starting in May 2017, I suspect some ardent fans — and definitely many anti-fans — complained about yet another has-been band “cashing in” on bygone era successes. Though in fairness to U2, (and I admit I’m one of their fans) they have always tried hard to stay ahead of the curve in terms of spectacle. And I found it pretty silly that some people actually got upset about being given a free copy of their last album by U2 and iTunes. There are many worse things in life than a free album.
So when news came of the upcoming U2 Joshua Tree tour, it was a surprisingly welcome piece of news. While I’m clearly in the “target demographic” spotlight age-wise, it’s not the nostalgia element that excites me. It’s more about the timing: U2 very smartly surmised recently that, as guitarist The Edge noted recently, the world has “come full circle”, with plenty of weird parallels between the Joshua Tree-era time of Reagan and Thatcher and today’s political and social zeitgeist. This in turn helps inject a new resonance to hits like I Still Haven’t Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and albums gems like Red Hill Mining Town. As a set of sing-along songs, these were epic — and since wartime and before, mass sing-alongs have always been a bastion of the beaten-down.
The album-retread-as-show phenomenon is not new, nor is it universally loved. Yet if done for the right reasons and timed well, I like that it upends the familiar concert tour routine — whereby you play all those new and interesting songs in the first half, then for the last hour, you just play your greatest hits. When you’ve seen a lot of concerts, it’s a little like the bio-pic movie format: there’s a serious risk of format fatigue.
Instead, as with films such as Selma, an album tour allows you to return to that exact moment in time and stay there a while, smelling again the air of 1987, reflecting on a moment in time when an album was something that you physically bought at the store — and, at its best, was something that might just change the world.
2. Live Theatre at the Movies
And speaking of films. If you, like me, consume too many episodes of the hit chat-fest The Graham Norton Show, have you noticed that after meeting theatrical stars, you are greeted with the news that if you can’t make the performance in person, you can also catch live cinema telecasts into movie theatres?
Yes, live theatre in the United Kingdom has recently become even more ‘live’ — thanks to real-time broadcasts into cinemas. A recent list of this year’s live broadcasts signals that the innovation is far from a one-off idea: and to me it’s very clever, boosting access to live plays and proving that sports, disasters and New Years need not be the sole use of the ‘happening-now’ appeal of the live telecast.
Just like the long-term health of the vinyl record market, I find it reassuring that in this case, the digital new-school world of the web, and the dusty old-school stage world, can thrive together. And indeed, digital theatre is now a viable gift option — a live play performance could be the perfect gift for your bed-ridden friends or drama school cousin. Or maybe a season of Shakespeare-on-the-couch could be a perfect antidote for our own political winter of discontent.
3. Star-Delivered Audio Books
I have recently transitioned my well-documented love of podcasts into a hybrid obsession — the audio book. Thanks to a colleague’s recommendation and a handy monthly subscription to Amazon’s sub-brand Audible, I’ve delved into a selection of narrated books, which I listen to on long bus rides or when my eyes are too weary to read.
User note: choose the narrator with care. For older recordings in particular, some of the delivery leaves a bit to be desired. Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, an otherwise ripping read, was recently made more laborious by the reader’s attempt at a Pakistani accent — which was sadly closer to a Mind Your Language style parody than it should have been. In this instance, the author’s voice you have in your head clearly clashes with the narrator’s attempt.
That problem however is erased thanks to a recent masterstroke — books narrated by their own writer. As a fan of the occasional memoirs, I’ve recently had a great time sitting down to in-person book narration by Johnny Marr of the Smiths (Set the Boy Free), Anthony Bourdain (Medium Raw) and Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run).
In these cases, the fact that the voice of the writer and the narrator synch perfectly — and are delivered by someone you’ve long admired — adds discernable sizzle to the already intimate and enjoyable medium.
My only regret? That self-read Audible-type books weren’t as ubiquitous in the days of Kerouac, Tolkien, Lessing or Fitzgerald. If they’d given us fireside readings of all their best works, the idea of escaping the next four years of politics would feel like an even more viable prospect.
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