Sunday, July 24, 2011

All I can ever be to you is the darkness that we know.

In a weekend overshadowed by news of death, once again comes an inevitable temptation to protest about some perception that there should be some hierarchy of grief, some way in which the news of what happened in Oslo should eclipse the death of Amy Winehouse, or that those speaking of their sadness at her death are disrespecting those who died in the insane, brutal tragedy in Norway.

There's no such thing, of course.

Of course we find our feelings about Amy Winehouse's death a lot simpler to articulate. It's closer, in many respects, to many of us. The songs she wrote reflected truths about the way I've been - and am - living; her death is once again a reminder that it's a dangerous game I'm playing by living outside of the nine to five cage that would choke me far faster than I'd gag on my own tongue from kissing cute punk boys and tasting the ketamine on their smile or from using mine to lose hours chatting about art to the beautiful people whose love without which I'd surely drown.
I cheated myself,
Like I knew I would
I told you I was trouble,
Yeah, you know that I'm no good.
The death of one intimate stranger; the deaths of hundreds of strangers. There's no hierarchy, just that one's easier to talk about, easier to relate to.

I was at Justin Vivian Bond's show at the Soho Theatre a couple of weeks back and there was a line there about listening in to some people sharing coke in a toilet, saying "take what you need and give a little back" and how that should be the basis of a new economy. I think there's a kind of resonance there. Although Justin Vivian Bond's not one of the performers where that music's as if they found my letters and read each one out loud, there were clearly people in the audience for whom it was.
What kind of fuckery is this?
One man, alienated from the people around him, motivated, it seems, by a twisted drive to cause as deep a wound as possible between faiths and his people. It makes me cold to hear people describe "religious extremism" as a term to justify terrorist behaviour. His actions were not religiously motivated, just as the bombings in London or the attacks in New York were not religious in nature. They were the actions of wounded, angry people lashing out.

To say it's the actions of one madman is to distance ourselves from his actions, to wash our hands of him and to say that we have no collective responsibility for one another's actions as a community.

What he did really wasn't that difficult. Face it, I've done a chemistry GCSE. I pissed around and spent more time making the bunsen burners into flamethrowers and wishing I could get my hands on some magnesium to watch it burn, but if I could figure out that level of simple mischief, then I'm aware that it'd be a piece of piss for me to go online, read a little, then visit the chemist downstairs, some of the hair supplies shops in Deptford and a few other shops and I could make a viable device that'd get a much better kill ratio than the ten for every suicide that the 7/7 bombers managed, proving that it was a lack of education that led them to feel so horribly alienated, more than a religious imperative.

In some ways, we can take solace and draw faith from the knowledge that we all could do what this one man did - when I saw a man kick another man to death all those years ago in Leeds, my fear for a long while was that he could have been any of us; that we al have the capacity to kill with that kind of feral brutality, without needing weapons or plans. It took a few years to realise how amazing it is that we're all carrying with us the capacity for murder, but we do not.

It's beautiful, really, to think that this kind of thing doesn't happen more often. That we look after one another well enough that when a woman loses her job, she doesn't drive her car straight through those kids crossing the road; that we don't let out those little demons we have on our shoulders all the time. That we know the wickedness and cruelty we're capable of, but that we choose to cage those monsters and instead co-exist.

Where we've let people down, I think, is with looking at people like Amy Winehouse and the man in Norway and by seeing them as different to ourselves. By saying we find a drug addict hard to relate to, then rushing out to pick up Now! to get a fix of schadenfreude is a cruel irony. To say we don't understand how someone goes berserk and attacks people, then to change seats on the bus to avoid sitting next to the person you think looks a bit weird means you're a part of the problem that creates those monsters.

I'm not saying we fired the gun or that we drove her to her early grave, but just as we let those kids down who blew themselves up in London because they felt alienated and angry and wanted to leave a mark, we have some collective responsibility to recognise that it's an unfair society and a society that divides and distances people that is the tragedy here.

We only said goodbye with words
I died a hundred times
You go back to her
And I go back to black.

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