Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I was listening to ‘Mr Blue Sky’ by the Electric Light Orchestra today; they’re not a band I’m normally a fan of, but it’s such a catchy song. I’ve concluded that that song is one they wrote because, by some oversight, neither the Beatles nor Wings ever got round to writing it. I’m not saying that it might be derivative, it’s not a copy of a Beatles song, it’s just like a song that they missed out. If you see what I mean.

I remember reading an interview with Jimmy Page (I think) a few years back where he was asked, as he often is, whether there is any truth to the urban legend that he was the man who played the roaring, mad guitar solo in ‘you really got me’ by the Kinks. I can’t recall his response exactly but as I remember it he started by explaining that no, he hadn’t played that solo, but he really wished he had - that he envied the kinks because, as he put it, there was a whole group of bands at the time who knew that that song was out there somewhere, and wanted to be the ones who wrote it.

I know that it’s utterly irrational but I often find myself thinking along similar lines to Mr Page; that there are certain ideas, whether they are songs or concepts, that have some kind of existence independent of their creators – that want to be made. You just have to look at the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci to see an illustration of this - he drew pictures of helicopters, tanks, steam engines, etc., at a time when there wasn’t even a glimmer of most the technology that would make these ideas feasible.

With things like planes these recurring ideas not particularly interesting, people have always wanted to fly, but when you look at something like this it becomes really striking.

The central four devices are portable transistor radios made in the early 60’s. The outer four are first generation iPods. The radios were a flop, very few were made and little attention was ever paid to them. The thing is that everyone at apple swears that they’d never seen them before. It could be that the iPod just wanted to be, way before the hard-drive or the LCD display.

Terry Pratchett, British fantasy writer and generally funny man, has written a great deal on that idea. In his strange, pseudo-renaissance alternate world ‘Discworld’ technology and ideas that are familiar to us keep appearing, in garbled form in his world. The reason for this, he explains is that the inspiration for these ideas whizzes thought the firmament looking for a receptive head.

Or, I suppose, it’s actually just that shit happens and coincidences can be as implausible as they want to be.*

- Ben

*take, for example, the name 'napoleon dynamite' - when a bunch of young film makers invented a character with this name they had no idea that Elvis Costello made up the same name to use as a pseudonym on a couple of tracks he produced for other people in the 80's