Gosh, has a lesson been learned?
Two recent high profile deaths have been covered in the media with respect and a more rigid adherence to the “de mortuis nil nisi bonum” principle than I was expecting.
Michael Foot’s passing was announced today. I had one of those embarrassing split seconds of thinking “Wasn’t he already dead?” before gathering myself. He was ninety-six.
I was enormously fond of Foot and was pleased to see that this wasn’t an opportunity for his craven, opportunistic political enemies to parade their usual canards and misrepresentations. The tone was muted and complimentary all round and everyone interviewed comported themselves very well I thought regardless of their positioning on the political spectrum.
Foot carried a lot of the blame for the Labour Party’s dogmatic disintegration during the eighties. He was the Labour leader in the 1983 general election, which I just missed out on, and he muffed the opportunity, many thought, to oust an unpopular Tory government. It’s strange to think of it now, but Margaret Thatcher had only been in power for four years. It was popularly seen that Foot missed an open goal by campaigning on a hard left political prospectus when he could have been more pragmatic and maybe got into power.
The longest suicide note in history, some dubbed his manifesto. I personally thought there was something rather heroic in the way that he clung to collectivism, unionism and unilateral disarmament. Foot, to me, typified integrity and moral complexity at a time when those virtues were falling spectacularly out of favour to be replaced by glittery emptiness and a celebration of surfaces.
He had a love of language and rhetoric, and he was fearsomely well-read. His advice for getting through adversity was lifted directly from Joseph Conrad’s words in Typhoon: “Always facing it. Always facing it.”
And yesterday the death of Kristian Digby, under what the police called suspicious circumstances, was made public. It turns out I can write much less confidently about Digby’s life than I can about Foot’s, but what became quickly apparent was that a large part of the daytime TV viewing British public held him in fond regard.
There was a small discreet mention of a “sex game tragedy”, though this was quickly curtained off and that was nice to see. In the three word phrase “sex game tragedy” I am apt to think that one of the words is not like the other ones, but maybe that just reflects my staid lifestyle. It is, in the words of Carl Fredericksen in Up, “none of my concern”.
I genuinely think that what consenting adults do to, for, with and near each other is totally none of my business unless I’m one of them. The prurient attitude that can prevail in the press defeats me.
Back in the early nineties there were criminal prosecutions against a group of men who had formed what was admittedly quite an extreme SM group. These guys were doing amazing things to each other including nailing each other’s scrotums to bits of wood.
Now that’s an ouchy.
But it was all private and consensual. It sounded pretty revolting to me, but they weren’t asking me to take part. I couldn’t quite understand what the police were doing in these guys’ bedrooms, or what justice was being served in prosecuting them.
Britain can be very weird about sexual matters.
Digby was openly, joyously, manifestly gay and what I quite liked was that the media made no effort to judge this or rate his supposed “sex death tragedy” on any moral scale.
This is nearly, but not quite, what happened with Stephen Gateley’s death in October 2009.
Gateley, whose music I really despised, struck me nonetheless as a wholly likeable guy. His coming out whilst still the member of a popular boy band was an act of moral fortitude that I don’t think I would have been capable of under the same circumstances. His death at such a young age was cause for sadness surely.
Whilst sane people mourned, grieved and slightly regretted there was one noticeable spiteful exception. Jan Moir in The Daily Mail wrote an extravagantly scathing, fulminatory article in the immediate aftermath of his death in which she railed against his lifestyle. It is one of the most extraordinarily frothing-at-the-mouth pieces of homophobia ever passed off as journalism. Quite rightly it was deplored globally though never, I think, apologised for by its writer.
I don’t think Moir has commented on Digby’s death and that represents a step forward. Generally this is a tolerant and inclusive society and I love it for that.
Humanity, give yourselves a pat on the back.
I rounded Wednesday off with a trip to Eden Court with Toby and Jason for some jazz guitar courtesy of Graeme Stephen.
What a fabulous gig. Stephen himself is a self-deprecating presence onstage, but his music is just beautiful. He briefly introduced each track before leading his six-piece band into extraordinary jazz evocations of specific geographic locations, mostly in Scotland. The rare exception to this was the spectacular Second Step, a mighty piece of Himalayan jazz about the last 50 metres in an ascent of Everest.
I have been piling my CDs onto my computer over the past few days and, coincidentally, have just reached Frank Zappa. Stephen’s ensemble reminded me very much of Zappa’s late touring band in terms of tightness and rapport. Admittedly Zappa’s concerns tended to be cloacal, venereal or broadly politically satirical whereas Stephen’s are more ethereal, but the comparison stands.
I was moved to buy both Graeme Stephen’s CDs after the gig, and am enjoying them as I type this. The first, Water Soluble, is credited to The Graeme Stephen Trio. The second, Vantage Points, is credited to the Graeme Stephen Sextet.
I’m looking forward to the Nonet he’ll get together for his third.