Some lingering thoughts about Bo Burnham’s ‘Inside’

It’s been over a month now since I watched Bo Burnham’s ‘Inside’ and, I must admit, it’s made quite the impact. Like most people in the UK (and perhaps over a certain age) I randomly clicked on a thumbnail in Netflix without knowing exactly what I was going to get. 

This is what it felt like when I realised what it was I was getting.

So, yes, it’s provoked some pretty deep existential thoughts that haven’t been entirely resolved by watching Harry Kane smashing a penalty on repeat. Perhaps, what I’ve found most disturbing is how well Burnham predicts his film is going to be processed by the internet once it’s been released – like the endless commentaries on YouTube that don’t seem to add anything other than pleasing our algorithmic overlords. Well, at least ‘Inside’ has more Lols…

A very purple screenshot of Burnham commentating on himself commentating.

The other thing I am finding hard to process is the fact that one of his tracks in the film is shaping up to be an absolute SUMMER BANGER. I mean, look folks – it’s even been included on the New York Times’ ‘At Home and Away Summer Playlist.’ 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥  I honestly can’t really think of a track less summer ‘feel-good’ than a person sharing their experience of panic attacks over a sick beat. Not that I’m knocking the tune, or Bo here.

So those are the things I’m currently thinking about at the moment. And then I’m also thinking about all those exceptionally clever parts of the film, LIKE MOST OF IT. Like when Bo apologises for ‘not being able to play the guitar very well, or sing’ – and then goes on to both play and sing very well. Because you’re then left thinking ‘did he just say that off the cuff or did he rehearse that?’ And then you start to realise you are watching an onion of many, many layers.

Lastly, I can”t finish without saying just how great the songs in this film are. Like really good and ‘my gosh that must have taken a fair bit of time to get that right.’ As someone who’s written many ‘this is so bad I can’t upload it’ songs, I just need to doff my pitiful music-making cap here. Especially, when you get words like:

“The livе-action Lion King, the Pepsi Halftime Show
Twenty-thousand years of this, seven more to go
Carpool Karaoke, Steve Aoki, Logan Paul
A gift shop at the gun range, a mass shooting at the mall.”

So, I’ll end there with just the recommendation that if you haven’t watched it yet, watch it – even if it’s just for the BANGERS.

Here’s how to wallpaper your room with synthesizers.

During lockdown I’ve been really proud of making a little music – you know, updating my old plugins, buying the odd piece of hardware now and again. TRYING TO MAKE AN EFFORT.

I also bought a nice little sea shell to go with it all. Look.

And then someone posted this to the internet this week…

And then this…..

And even this…

It turns out, this is Martin Gore’s home studio. Let me repeat that – HOME STUDIO. Just when you think you’re getting somewhere…

I once met Martin at a Nitzer Ebb gig back in the ’90s. I asked him for an autograph, which he really wasn’t happy about, and then we watched someone being booted offstage by the lead singer. This was at the time when it was very much the done thing for fans to get up onstage to then dive headfirst into the mosh pit – but apparently this wasn’t the done thing to do on this particular EBM night. I think about that moment quite often.

Hello Nietzsche, My old Friend.

Now and again, when I have a free lunchtime, I usually find myself wandering into the same local bookshop to peruse the latest sci-fi/fantasy reads. I’d like to say this daily quest involves navigating poorly-lit stairwells and fathomless basement catacombs – but it’s all rather mundane really with everything stacked neatly into their various expanding sub-sections and plenty of lighting, air conditioning and coffee. It seems that ‘speculative fiction’ (a term I hate) has been a real hit during Covid. 

However, there’s one category that hasn’t faired so well and that’s the much overlooked and unloved PHILOSOPHY section. Over the years, I’ve seen this particular area of the bookshop slowly dwindle in size until it was eventually moved to spot you’d really only find if you were lost. Even an attempt to rebrand it as ’SMART THINKING’ hasn’t seemed to work – and so these vertically-aligned relics of the past remain untouched, gathering dust until the nearest flickering basement light bulb eventually splutters out.

So imagine my surprise when, one day, I noticed a new* book on the shelf adorned with the words ’Nietzsche and Hiking.’ It seemed like a curious mix of topics so I immediately bought it and was immediately hooked. Neither completely all about philosophy, and not quite all about outdoor orienteering, it’s really a rather honest account by an author who was so inspired by Nietzsche, he very nearly imploded. 

And it’s not hard to see why.

Way back when I was a student studying English Lit, we were given a brief introduction to what was called the ‘Premiere League of Philosophy’. We were told two things: firstly, that we were ’ships in the night’ and would probably never return to this subject again because this topic was, of course, naturally reserved for full-time philosophy students – and the second was to read two texts and comment on one of them. The first was Plato’s account of the beginning of the Universe which was absolutely crackers (honestly, you should give it a whirl) – and the second was ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’. Thinking back, I wish that second text had come with some kind of health warning because I only gave it a cursory read and I was smitten: it didn’t seem to contain any of those long drawn-out logical arguments the other books seemed to bang on about PLUS it was always being referenced by my favourite artists. What wasn’t to love?

What swiftly followed was a real desire to read everything Mr. ‘Dynamite’ had written, without much context and with certainly very little understanding. I soon became an aphorism-reciting cliche and definitely not the kind of person you’d want to meet at parties and casually ask ‘So, how’s life?” It all reached a very predictable conclusion like a scene from ‘Withnail and I’ which I’ll simply leave here with the truism that there’s nothing like having to pay your first month’s rent to make you reconsider your life choices.

Anyway, I wanted to celebrate John Kaag’s book because I don’t think too many people have written such an honest account of how a philosopher can have such a dramatic affect on the psyche of a reader. We’ve certainly seen that scenario played out in various plays, books and film scripts – but not quite in real-life, and probably not with academic professors. The only book that has a similar approach in it’s sensitivity in this area is Yalom’s ‘When Nietzsche Wept’ although that work is entirely fictional which makes Kaag’s confessional all the more thought-provoking. And even if the biographical element doesn’t appeal to you, Kaag makes light work of explaining some of the more complex ideas and characters in this period of Continental Philosophy.  It’s the kind of introduction I wish I’d read back when Guinness was only a pound a pint at the student bar – although, perhaps, that’s also another reminder that there’s sometimes more to life than spending your day thinking about things.

The allure of Nietzsche is that once you start listening to his arguments, the questions never quite go away. We should thank Kaag for giving us a personal insight into where those questions might take you – even if that’s to places many of us would fear to tread.

John Kaag – Hiking With Nietzsche.

*New-ish. It was published in 2019.

Marathon Thoughts

Bewl Water Marathon 2021. In the rain.

On Saturday morning I got out of bed and ran 26.2 miles around a lake in the pouring rain. In fact, it had rained so hard overnight that in many areas of the course you found yourself slipping sideways down the banks of the lake towards the water. At mile 2 I felt a slight ache in my ankle which I knew it was going to get worse – and it did. As I spent the next four hours negotiating various waves of pain, I would like to tell you that I spent a bit of that time wondering why I put myself through that kind of discomfort each year. But I didn’t. I just kept on putting one foot in front of the other, kept my head up, spoke to other people, made sure I was taking in the fluids and gels at the right time, examining the ground to stop myself tripping over, adjusting the layers I was carrying, breathing correctly, keeping my hat on to prevent sunburn, taking it off when I got too hot, putting it back on…

The point of me telling you this, I guess, is that, after something like 10 marathons, I think the key of having a really good run, is probably not to think too much about it when you’re doing it. It’s a very odd experience but you have to stop you’re mind from wandering otherwise, when you focus again, you can get quite overwhelmed by it all. How bonkers is that?

Another interesting thing I learnt this weekend is just how powerful your mind can be when you set yourself a clear goal. I met another runner who had a serious leg operation a year ago and was going to run the Boston Marathon in a few months. When I asked him a bit more about it, he said he’d already run 460 marathons and wanted to get to 500. 

When I got back to my car with my recently-won medal it all seemed to pale into insignificance. What an incredible achievement. I wonder if I could ever get to 50 marathons. Now, there’s a thought…

WANTED: Freelance Video Producer / Journalist @ Global (London)

The video desk at Global is looking for a self-motivated video editor / journalist from to help pitch, source, clear and edit videoclips for our radio brands, which include, Capital FM, Heart, LBC, Classic FM, Radio X, and Smooth.

The opportunity will see the ideal candidate working alongside the Group Video Editor to source and edit videos made up of news and viral video clips as well as celebrity and entertainment videos. 

You will already know the ins-and-outs of Reddit and Twitter advanced search, can dig up gems via the explore tab on Instagram, and will be able to spot a great video before any of our competitors. The ideal candidate will also have experience of verifying original sources, seeking permission for usage and Premiere Pro video editing skills. 

Other details:

  • Education to degree level
  • 1-2 years’ experience gained with an entertainment, lifestyle or news organisation.
  • Experience with sourcing viral video clips and clearing rights.
  • A flexible and willing approach to working under pressure and in a fast-paced environment.
  • Experience editing in Adobe Premiere.

Please email editorial-jobs@global.com with your CV and covering letter. The position to start early May.

WANTED: Freelance SEO Editors

We’re currently looking to expand our team of SEO specialists to help increase our audience from search. These specialists could have either worked previously as part of an SEO team advising editorial teams OR are journalists with proven examples of optimisation and Google wins. The focus here is very much on content optimisation, as technical optimisation is already covered. If you’re interested in working across a variety of brands for a publisher that creates amazing content every day – please get in contact via seo1@global.com with CV and examples of your work. The duration of contract would be between 3-6 months minimum working both from home and from our London office.

Tasks and responsibilities:

  • Act as a daily go-to person for journalists and reporters seeking advice or improvements to articles
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  • Make recommendations to journalists for relevant keywords and keyword combinations to target on articles
  • Report each morning on top pages/articles driving SEO traffic
  • Work with editorial teams to pre-plan for future articles and events by building out topics and doing keyword research for upcoming exclusives or events.
  • Optimise top pages for relevant keywords
  • Forward link top traffic driving pages to other more recent articles to encourage circulation
  • Edit and/or complete metadata on topics and articles

Experience:

Editorial background with experience in a digital publishing environment

  1. Good understanding of the principles of SEO
  2. Experience of optimising websites for SEO
  3. Familiar with a range of SEO tools

thinking about design thinking

This year I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a month-long introduction to Design Thinking with work and it’s been a really rewarding experience. There were about twenty of us in total and our focus during the course was to try and find solutions to some of the challenges faced by charities during this pandemic. 

I’m not going to repeat the methodology we used – you can read that elsewhere – but I just wanted to highlight two areas I found really useful. The first was just basic audience research: we were given a series of questions to ask friends/family/people-we’ve-never-really-actually-spoken- to-for-yonks-on-Facebook to find out a) if they donated at all and b) if their perception of charities or general donating behaviour had changed over the last year. We were also asked to note how animated people became when giving feedback on a certain topic and to explore why that might be.

The feedback I got was really varied but there were four main themes that resonated with our group – (a) a general scepticism about the actual impact bigger charities make; (b) an increased emphasis on ‘supporting local’; (c) people wanted very easy ways of donating and (d) people were looking for incentives to donate. Now, all of these points aren’t exactly rocket science but it was really powerful to collect all these opinions ‘direct from the source’ so we could really hear those emotive responses which you just can’t get via a survey.

Anyway, following this initial audience research we brainstormed a number of possible solutions then agreed as a group on a top three that we would take forward to the prototype stage, finally selecting one for our final ‘pitch.’ One of my ideas did not make it to the final round – and that was because it became very complex, very quickly.

I wanted crate a funny version of the Bear Grylls show on Netflix ‘You vs The Wild.‘ This has a basic story arc: you have to help Grylls to get from A-B and on the way there 4 or 5 ‘either/or’ decisions you have to make. I wanted to take this model and apply it to a ‘Make your own Charity promo video’ scenario – you would choose between a number of good and very bad decisions in the creation of your promo video. Instead of helping Bear Grylls, you would be helping a well-known funny celebrity personality who would be trying at all times, to get you to select one of the bad decisions. The point of the whole exercise would be that you’d something learn about the challenges charities have faced during the pandemic, the value a charity can bring to those in need PLUS it would all be hilarious resulting in a final video that could be shared on the socials.*

To be fair, even as i typed that paragraph I reminded myself that that even a simple ‘Choose A/Choose B’ format can quickly become complex, especially if you’re trying tick off a number of objectives in addition. I started to draft the script but then quickly realised I had to sketch out the whole scenario from beginning to end to make any sense of it. And when I started to do that, I realised I had to get feedback on the structure and the whole project in general – in short, I had to sketch a wireframe prototype, discuss with others, making quick amendments as I bounced from zoom call to zoom call. I think with more available time, I would have eventually refined the model into a decent state – but we had a hard deadline to hit so I had to ditch it.

Anyway, my key learn from the whole exercise was simply this: if you have an idea that you think could work, but as you discuss it, it starts to feel complex – sketch it out. The very act of a sketch invites feedback and suggestions for improvements. Confront the unforeseen challenges early in your project and that will save you a lot of time further down the line!

Also, I humbly salute anyone out there creating any kind of visual project – especially if you have to deal with people like me who say things like ‘hey, this would make a cool video, should be pretty easy to do, right?’

For that, you win all the gold stars.

*During this project I never actually said ‘this video will be hilarious’ simply because when people say ‘this will be hilarious’ you can guarantee it won’t be.

A year in lockdown playing around with synthesizers

I wanted to write a few words now that we’ve had a year of living with this pandemic. In many ways I wish I’d kept a diary just like Eno did for a completely different reason but, unlike Eno, my thoughts over the last year have been a chaotic mess with me in the middle flip-flopping from one project to the next. After the brief euphoria of being able to paint my garden fence during my lunch break, the sad realisation slowly crept in – I was going to be looking at that fence for an awfully long time. Cue endless cups of tea and tying to figure out what was coming next.

I didn’t have to wait long.

It was early March and my wife became ill for four days with heavy ‘flu-like symptoms’. At that time we were still unsure where or even how she could get tested – and then I started to feel unwell. I remember sitting watching the TV with the kids and then feeling so tired it was a real effort just to stand up. Eventually, I went to bed, sweated a lot and listened to a 5th century Welsh folk tale all about dying and going to hell – which wasn’t ideal at the time. When I woke up, I felt a bit groggy but logged into work as usual. What then followed was about seven days of feeling increasingly ‘meh’ until I finally crashed and spent an entire Saturday in bed listening to all the Brian & Roger podcasts. I find that all a bit funny now but, back then, it was more than a little surreal.

When I recovered, I made a promise to myself that I would do everything I could to try and stay fit just in case I got ill again. This has resulted in an awful lot of running – in fact I’ve now clocked up about 1500 miles which makes me your stereotypical Forest Gump. But, do you know what the most difficult part of this has been? It’s seeing the scared faces of other people as you’re running because they’re afraid you might not give them a wide berth. Fortunately, I live in the countryside so I can put about a field between me and you – but I don’t go running now without one of those running-neck-warmer-thingies so I can use as an impromptu face mask. I think the immortal words ‘Strange Times’ are reverberating all around these leafy glades – I wonder what Kenneth Grahame would have made of it all?

Speaking of which, another thing that has changed over the year has been my desire to write a book – all of that has gone completely out of the window. Before the pandemic hit I was really motivated – I went to all the writer classes, read a lot of those ‘How To Be A Writer’ books, listened to a lot of ‘How To Write a Bestseller’ podcasts (actually, that one’s quite good) and generally bored a lot of people with the “well, it’s about this teenager in this medieval fantasy world who triggers a multiverse calamity when he starts meddling with magic and ends up in Hounslow in 1991″ spiel. But then, covid kicked off and I started to feel that anything outside of the core requirements (like working or being with the family) was pointless. Thinking about it now, it might just have been an excuse I told myself to escape the whole process. Either way, I gave up.

But it did get a little better. One day I was watching something on YouTube and really went down this rabbit hole about how to make music with Ableton. I’d dabbled with the software before but now it all looked a lot more easier and the computers didn’t crash. Fantastic. Now, I’m pulling what little hair I have out to try get a decent stereo mix and decide on the right kind of synthesiser – it’s like I’m trapped in an episode of Flight of the Conchords…


Still, it’s been a lot of fun. There’s nothing like trying to solve a problem that you alone have created and you alone can fix – partly because everyone else is bored with the incessant ’dist – dist – dist’ coming from your headphones and  – no – they don’t want to listen to another version of your track which you think ‘sounds a bit like INX.’ 

Anyway, this all brings me to my main point. There must be so many people out there right now creating great music, or learning to cook, or code or even sculpt pottery goddamn it – I just hope that we’ll all have the chance to share what we’ve learned. Maybe 2022 will become the ‘Year of the Amateur’ – where there’s going to be absolutely no dance shaming and if someone wants to read their poem about fish then let them go straight ahead and read that poem about fish.

I for one will see you at the front of the crowd, waiting patiently for you to echo your first words – albeit perfectly sealed in my floating bubble like a scene from The Prisoner.

Until then.