Sunday, January 21, 2007

'Roy Blumenthal -- The Movie' -- The Soundtrack of My Life

Hmmmm. Here's one of those viral tag things that actually caught my attention and seems worth doing.

I read Victoire's soundtrack, and thought I'd give it a shot.

Here's what you do...
  • Take your mp3 player, and put it on shuffle.

  • For each 'act' in the movie of your life, write down the song playing on your mp3 player.

  • Add a short 'interpretation' of what that song means to you in the context of the act (this is my addition to the game).

So. Here's my soundtrack...

01. Opening Credits: 'Only You' by Portishead

'We suffer every day... what is it for...' Hehehehehe. Part of the opening lyrics. So. This song portends a life of misery and suffering, with 'only you' able to help me out of my misery. I wonder who this 'you' is?

02. Waking Up: 'Colours' by Ayub Ogada

This is gentle world music. A very emotive track. Killer dude's voice. It could actually be a lullaby. Suggests that things start smoothly in this life of mine. That I wake up easily and quietly. But knowing me, knowing my history, I'd say it's a false idyll. Cos in actual fact, my mother is already an alcoholic as I'm born, and my father is a wifebeater. So while all's seemingly well in my world, there's this underbelly lurking.

03. First Day at School: 'X&Y' by Coldplay

'I dive in at the deep end... you become my best friend'. Yeah. It WAS the deep end. I was petrified of school. My first day, I clung to my mom. And at the door of the classroom, I wedged myself into the doorframe, and it took two teachers to pry me loose. I was crying like crazy. I think it set the scene for Miss Light to hate me. One good thing about my mom is that she taught me how to read by the time I was three years old. Which in the South African schooling system, in a Germiston government school, was NOT such a great thing. Cos I was considered 'too big for my boots'. And when it took me three minutes to complete a writing exercise that took the rest of the class 30 minutes, I was forced by Miss Light to stand in the corner INSIDE A DUSTBIN. Coldplay is singing the phrase, 'Drifting into space', as I type. Yup.

04. Falling in Love: 'Bring It On' by Gomez

Two words... Hayley Moffat. I fell in love with her in Standard One. And have been in love with some version or other of her ever since. I often wonder what became of her. Gomez sings, 'I've been walking far too long... drag my feet like everyone.' This song is passion-filled, but it's an underground passion, contained mainly in the lead singer's voice. Cos it's also filled with weariness.

05. Fight Song: 'Greetings To the New Brunette' by Billy Bragg.

'Shirley... it's quite exciting to be sleeping here in this new room. You're my reason to get out of bed before noon.' This is one of my favourite songs of all time. I can sing this song in the shower on infinite repeat. I love love love it. 'Shirley... sexual politics has left me all of a muddle... We are joined in the ideological cuddle.'

So what's it got to do with fighting? Hmmm. Gotta think about the connections here. I guess it's about yearning. Yearning for a better life with a girl I love.

Back in primary school, I turned into a bit of a bully-basher. My dad was a ruffian, and he taught me and my brother how to fight pretty effectively. His advice was, 'If the guy's bigger than you, climb onto a wall with a brick in your hand. When he walks past the wall, jump on him and smash his head in with the brick.' I've never done that, but the principle is sound. I've used the principle.

So my own reality is that I was a kind of superhero in my own world, which was something I did to makeup for a pretty bad childhood.

06. Breaking Up: 'Treasure' by Perplexa

This band makes very edgy industrial-tinged sweet music. It's definitely edgy. The lyrics are kinda mumbled on this track. It sounds like someone making excuses for something. Sigh. Breakups. I've had a few of those. Some long-ish relationships. But quite a lot of ones that didn't make it.

07. Prom/Matric Farewell: 'Zahrafat Al Sa'id (Rejoicing in Upper Egypt)' by Musicians of the Nile

Ah. It was fun. The girl that I took to the dance was a blind date that a friend of mine organised. I don't even recall her name. I bought the most unbelievably horrid Pierre Cardin jacket for the occasion. It was hideous. Ultra thing vertical stripes. White alternating with salmon pink. What the hell was I thinking??? I look like an idiot. The girl is wearing a holy-moly-wow!!! red dress. I didn't even get to kiss her, cos I was too shy. In fact, I only got laid for the first time when I was repeating second year engineering at Wits. Now THAT was memorable. This music is percussion-based, Arabic. Some of my favourite ambient stuff. I actually use this track quite a lot when I do ka huna massage.

08. Life’s Okay: 'Stranger in the House' by Elvis Costello

This is one of Elvis's country-esque songs. Crappy slide guitar all the way through. But, as usual, killer lyrics. 'I get the feeling that I don't belong here. That there's no welcome in the window anyway. And I look down for a number on my keychain, cos it feels more like a hotel every day.' So yeah... to anyone looking at me... life's okay. But in reality? I've fought depression and anxiety my whole life. Still fighting.

But by this point in my life, leaving school, studying engineering, things are pretty hectic. I'm eighteen or nineteen. I get home from varsity one day to find the Sheriff of the Court driving away. There's a writ nailed onto the front door. I'm named as the person whose goods are being attached. I'm in debt for R300 000. A debt I signed for when I was thirteen. My dad handed me some piece of paper to sign way back then, and I did.

I go inside, and look for him. He's bankrupt yet again, so he's not working. I find him hiding from the sheriff in a cupboard in his bedroom.

He's a man I've seen break someone's jaw with one punch, and continue smashing the guy on the ground. I saw that when I was around 11 years old.

I confront him. We're nose to nose. He loses his temper and takes a swing at me. Without even moving my head aside, I swat his hand away, and tell him to TRY and take another swing. He's around 58 years old at this point, and still does twenty pushups at will. He glares at me, and then walks away. A week later, I move out of home into a commune in Yeoville. I drop out of university shortly after.

09. Mental Breakdown: 'Throughout the Dark Months of April and May' by The Cocteau Twins.

Hmmm. What a melancholy song! Phshew. Apt.

1989. I'm twenty years old. I've been called up for National Service in the South African Defence Force. I face the following options:

o Leave the country.
o Stay in the country and draft-dodge.
o Continue with tertiary education.
o Declare my refusal to serve in the SADF, and get a mandatory 6 year jail sentence.
o Serve in the army, but as a conscientious objecter.
o Serve in the army as a normal conscript.

I'm a student leftie at this point, albeit a cynical one. I'm a member of the End Conscription Campaign. I consult with some character at a clandestine meeting. And he gives me the lowdown on all of my options. And under his guidance, I opt for 'serving in the army', as a 'conscientious objector'. He gives me an army rule book, and tells me to learn it off by heart. And he gives me a typed sheet with the steps I have to take in order to be an objector within the army. It clearly states 'conscientious objector' in the section that says, 'Declare to the officer commanding of your unit that you are a conscientious objector, and that you refuse to bear arms in an apartheid army'.

I get to Kimberly. I get issued with my rifle. This will be one of only two times I ever touch the rifle again. The second time is when I hand it back after basic training.

I go to the officer commanding. He is the Commandant in charge of 1 Maintenance Unit. He has a walrus moustache. He has big game heads mounted on his walls. He has hunting rifles under the heads. I salute him. He salutes me back. He offers me a seat.

'Yes, Private Blumenthal,' he says.

I say, 'Commandant, I am a conscientious objector, and I will not bear arms in an apartheid army.'

His eyes narrow, and I realise that I've just been buttfucked by the End Conscription Campaign. I realise, in the narrowing of his eyes, that there's something terribly wrong.

He says to me, inexplicably, 'Private Blumenthal... Do you mean "conscientious" objector, or "religious" objector?'

And I swallow my panic, and say, 'I mean religious objector, Commandant.'

He says, 'I'm relieved, Private Blumenthal.' And he points out of his door. And there are two red-bereted troops standing at attention at a door. 'See those two soldiers? They're military police. If you'd MEANT "conscientious" objector, I would have had to call them in and send you to prison for six years.'

And so, Roy Blumenthal, scurrilous half-Jew, chorister in an Anglican high school, atheist (or agnostic, at best), becomes a 'religious objector'. And has to invent a religion.And be a pacifist. Which I'm not.

And is suddenly the most profoundly alone person in existence. Insanity. Insanity squared. With at least two psychotic episodes under duress. One near-death experience. All of it tightly tightly tightly controlled by the strongest force of will in the world (my own). What I've come through lets me know that NOONE will fuck with me and live. I'm one of the most hardcore motherfuckers I know. And I know this very well indeed.

10. Driving: 'Got the Time' by Joe Jackson

Ah! Out of the army. 'Sit down, got another letter to write...' Yup. I'm a writer. I've been studying at Unisa while I was in the army. And I'm now free. And I'm driving a Fiat Uno, which I'll own for around 10 years before progressing to a little red convertible sports car.

Time is ticking. But I'm allowing myself the time and space to learn as much as I can. I'm an avowed autodidact. And I'm soaking up knowledge. I become an advertising copywriter. And I get headhunted to Hunt Lascaris FMC. A HUGE ego boost. The best agency in the world at that point wanted ME. Yeah! And I flew.

Time. Ticking. I become a hot performance poet. I start writing stuff other than poetry. I write a novel. I write a screenplay. I become a filmmaker.

And now, years later, I'm a fulltime artist, living my art in prosperity and abundance, even though I could do with getting my credit card debt down, and my overdraft shrunk. But I've got time. And I'm using it nicely.

11. Flashback: 'Window on the World' by Bright Blue

Takes me straight back to the army. Oh man. And before the army. I interviewed David Bruce for WITS STUDENT newspaper just before he went to jail for six years as the first objector to the SADF. Interviewing him is what decided me NOT to follow that route. I realised that this gentle dude was going to get completely mindfucked by the jail system when he went in. And I met him years later, after his release. And he's NOT the same dude he was going in. He's damaged.

Bright Blue. Wow. I believe they're one of the bands that changed South Africa and got rid of apartheid. And this song is one of my all time favourite songs. 'For the young men marching everywhere, trying their best to escape. I'm watching it all from my window on the world.'

I saw Bright Blue live at Jamesons in Joburg city centre just a week before I started my army 'sentence'. I cried all the way through the gig. And I took them to the army with me. And stayed sane cos of them. Thanks guys. You saved my life. You and Jennifer Ferguson (cos of 'Dickie Baby'). Thank you. And thanks for changing the country. (I'm crying now as I type. Hard hard hard days.)

12. Getting Back Together: 'You're Pretty Good Looking' by The White Stripes

'Oh yeah you're pretty good looking for a girl... But your back is so broken...' I had a long relationship with a beautiful artist, decades older than me. She taught me pretty much everything I needed to know about THINKING. And sex. And liberation. It was a difficult relationship. She'd been married for years. The marriage was largely dissolved by the time I came onto the scene. I had been seeing her for a year when her son died in a car prang. It fucked her over completely. Our relationship lasted a full three years, with a little six month gap in the third year, when we broke up. OF COURSE it was unsustainable. But I was young, and king of the world, and thought it didn't matter that I was 21 and she was 49. It mattered. She knew. She was wise. I have her art on my wall. She was my first true love.

13. Wedding: 'Volcano' by Damien Rice

'Don't throw yourself like that, in front of me. I kissed your eyes and mouth. Is that all you need?'

Wedding? Ain't gonna happen. I don't believe in the institution. It's a crock of shit. And I'm totally opposed to it. I'm polyamorous. And at best, I subscribe to the pagan seven-year. That's where partners commit to a 'marriage' for seven years, at the end of which they either continue for another seven years, or they part.

14. Birth of a Child: 'We Suck Young Blood' by Radiohead

Probably not gonna happen. I'm not keen to bring kids into a world at war. I believe we're in the last world war on this planet. It's happening as we speak. And the key player in it is the American right wing and the rise of Islam.

I'm an adult child of an abusive family. And I don't want to perpetuate any cycle of abuse. I don't WANT to bring a kid into the world to be abused. I don't THINK I'll be an abusive father. But I can't guarantee it. I simply don't KNOW enough.

I do know that I'm aware and alert and awake. I do know that I'm incredibly gifted in communicating with children. I do know that I'm NOT my mom or dad. But I also know that the co-dependent hooks were driven deep into my core. And they tear at my flesh every day and night of my life.

15. Death Scene: 'Weeping' by Qkumba Zoo

Wild stuff. My second-most favourite song of all time is the Bright Blue original. And it's so apt for the death scene. 'I knew a man who lived in fear. It was huge, it was angry, it was drawing near. Behind his house, a secret place, was the shadow of the demon he could never face.'

I don't think I need to say anything at all about this song. Except to say thanks again to Bright Blue for smuggling Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika into this song, and giving hope to the ordinary people of this country when the censors didn't spot it, and it made the radio charts, and spread and spread and spread. Only now this country faces the spectre of Jacob Laduma Zuma being our next president. And people like Tony Yengeni walking free. We're in trouble. A country that I sacrificed stuff to make better. It feels so awful.

Actually, I will say something. When I die, I want to know that I did NOT build walls to hide behind. I want to know that I spent my life breaking walls down, and shining light for other people too. That's why I'm an artist. I want people to be able to avoid the horrors.

And thanks to Kevin and Jeanne (as they were once known, when they were in a folk band called Ocean Road, a band I shared a stage with at the Black Sun theatre in Rockey Street in Yeoville so many years ago) for such a beautiful rendition of this amazing song.

16. Funeral Song: 'The Devil's in the Details' by Lowen & Navarro

Ag. Wrong song. I wish it could have been Shriekback's 'The Cradle Song'. The chorus is so beautiful for endings... 'May the fire be your friend, and the sea rock you gently. May the moon light your way, till the wind sets you free.' But yeah, I suppose 'The Devil's in the Details' is apt. It's about the sting lurking.

But here's the thing. For me... no funeral. I've been to only one funeral in my life, and that was my older-lover's son's funeral. It's the last funeral I will ever go to. And that includes my own. Cos there won't BE a funeral for me. I'm not interested in that institution. I think it's a hurtful institution. I think there are better rituals to work through someone's death. I think there are better ways to acknowledge someone's life.

I am donating my body to science. And I want my friends to know that I'm not dishonouring them by asking not to have a funeral. They can have a party somewhere without me. And they can laugh and cry and have fun and seduce strangers and just be cool about it all.

17. End Credits: 'To Love Someone' by Slobberbone

Jeez. I've just googled this song to try and find out who did the original. Can't crack it. Someone like Percy Sledge or something like that. This version is pretty cool. It's from an UNCUT magazine sampler, and it's the only Slobberbone song I've ever heard. I think it's a pretty neat closing to my film. 'What good will it do if I can't have you? You just don't know what it's like to love somebody the way I love you.' May it all have a happy ending. May my life in art give me some light moments. May my journey out of my abusive childhood bring me love and light and joy.
So. There were have it. A musical journey through Roy Blumenthal. A bit more stirring and painful than I would have imagined such an exercise would have been. But a good eye-opener. It's a pretty cool thing to do. Give it a try.


  1. Was troweling through some of my archives, followed a few links and ended up on this post. Man..what a revelation.

  2. Wow. January 21 2007. Seems a lifetime ago. I met Jennifer about a month and a half later. Now she's the love of my life. And the visual facilitation breakthrough came just after.

    Thanks for the comment, dude.


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