Artistic Licence: Tiring and uninspiring, 25 January 2015, by Nadine O’Regan, The Sunday Business Post

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can cope with it anymore. What am I talking about? The increasingly omnipresent inspirational quote.

Don’t get me wrong. I like and admire the pithy words of Oscar Wilde (“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”). I approve of the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi (“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”). I think Stephen King has a lot of pointers to offer on the art of writing (“Amateurs wait for inspiration; the rest of us get up and go to work”). In fact, I’m even keen on what some celebrities have to say – anyone who’s been through the Hollywood grinder must have something to tell us about life, right? But I confess, I’ve reached a tipping point. Is it possible to be exhausted by inspiration? Is it okay to admit that sometimes you don’t want to improve your life, body or soul?

Lately it seems like everywhere I go, somebody is trying to offer me an inspirational quote. Social networking site Instagram is a feast of them, with people offering up pictures emblazoned with pithy lines, designed to engender hope and thoughts of self-improvement. “Just wing it!” advises stylist Angela Scanlon via her Instagram page. “Everything you want is on the other side of fear”.

On Tinder, inspirational quotes are a constant: singletons are frantic, it seems, to sum up their personalities with a line uttered by someone else. Even on Facebook, friends and family are getting in on the act. On the site recently, I was confronted by an article called “24 pieces of life advice from Werner Herzog” (the piece includes the pithy line from the director, “there is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it gets you the shot you need”).

From cutely emblazoned coffee cups to a bewilderingly diverse array of greeting cards, inspirational quotes are the new constant, a feature of everyday life.

In small doses, inspirational quotes are a great thing. Who wouldn’t like to be better? But reading and taking to heart too many inspirational quotes does a rather uninspiring thing – it turns you into an inspirational-quote-spouting turnip, less of a person than the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.

Consider the case of Conor McGregor, the UFC fighter who has ingested so many inspirational quotes that he’s now like Maya Angelou with better abs. Cut McGregor and the man bleeds the things, many of them dreamed up by himself. “I am cocky in prediction. I am confident in preparation, but I am always humble of victory or defeat,” McGregor has said, adding – in truly humble fashion – that he expects other fighters to use his words as inspiration. (One suspects they might prefer the guy who talked about stinging like a bee.)

IQOS (inspirational quote overdose syndrome) is no fun. It makes you into a composite; a rattlingly anxious collection of quick-fix aspirations bundled into the shape of a person. At base level, the need for these quotations suggests the insecurities being carried around by so many. If you’re always trying to fix yourself, the implicit assumption is that you cannot be happy with who you are. In his novel The Corrections, American author Jonathan Franzen wrote compellingly about this tension in modern society, and his perception that in our rush to improve and self-correct, we might be failing ourselves in a larger sense. (If all of us were perfectly hip, his character Gary notes, “who would perform the thankless work of being comparatively uncool?”).

So here’s a thought: maybe now we’ve hit the end of January, we could ban inspirational quotes for a while and we could simply start from where we are. We could be ourselves, not our idea of what others think we should be. We could . . . oh hang on, do all these sound like inspirational quotes? Well, like Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds”. You’ll just have to excuse me this once.

A Swift success, 9 November 2014 by Nadine O’Regan, Sunday Business Post

Bono might have been there in person, but his wasn’t the pop star name on everyone’s lips last week at Dublin’s Music Summit, the Web Summit’s spin-off division devoted to the music industry.

That honour belonged to Taylor Swift, the blonde-bobbed, pert-lipped, 24-year-old pop singer who last week took on the might of music streaming giant Spotify, one of the biggest global sources of music consumption, with more than 40 million users across 58 countries – and won.

Uncomfortable with having her music streamed for free, Swift removed her fizzy-pop new album 1989 from the music streaming service last week, a decision that startled industry observers, but may have contributed to her achieving staggering first-week sales figures for her fifth record.

Between October 27 and November 2, more than a fifth of all albums bought in the United States were copies of Swift’s 1989. Swift sold 1.287 million copies of her fifth studio album, making her 2014’s first platinum artist and giving her the best first-week sales of any artist since Eminem in 2002.

The album (which debuted at No 1 in Ireland) has sold more copies than the previous week’s 70 biggest-selling albums in the United States combined.

Swift’s digital and physical release sales will yield her a considerably higher return than anything Spotify could offer – the service pays artists between $0.006 and $0.0084 per play, meaning that even millions of plays delivers relatively meagre rewards.

“I don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free,” Swift told Yahoo. “I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists and creators of this music.”

In a record industry torn asunder by dwindling sales, free streaming and music platform fragmentation, Swift’s achievement firmly anoints her as one of the most powerful figures in pop music.

For observers, the trick is to figure out how she did it, and whether her path might work for other artists.

“I think she’s a unique case,” Jimmy Chamberlin, Live One Inc chief executive and former drummer with Chicago rockers the Smashing Pumpkins, said at the Music Summit last Thursday. “It’s a numbers game. She ran the numbers and made an economic decision.”

“Taylor Swift is one of the few artists who can drive sales and not just streams,” said David Holmes, an editor for tech publication Pando Daily. “Over time, if artists want their music to be heard in any meaningful way, they need to be on a streaming service.”

But as more than one industry observer pointed out, Swift has not removed all her music from streaming services, she has simply customised her approach, opting to keep her new music back entirely, but allowing her older music to continue to stream on paid-for, subscription-based services, which do not, like Spotify, allow for free, play-what-you-like streaming with adverts.

“From an artist’s point of view, subscription services have to work for the artist,” said Anthony Bay, chief executive of the music streaming service Rdio. “We have all of Taylor Swift’s music other than the new album. She’s not anti-streaming. She’s anti-free-streaming.”

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Cumming’s memoir lays bare a troubled childhood 03:55, 18 January 2015, Sunday Business Post

Not My Father’s Son

By Alan Cumming

Harper Collins, €17

Reviewed by Nadine O’Regan

In the afterword to this memoir, Scottish actor and Tony award-winning theatre veteran Alan Cumming – best-known these days for his role as the brash, witty campaign manager Eli Gold in the Emmy-winning The Good Wife – describes the conversation he had with his agent about writing this book.

Much to his surprise, Cumming was not asked to write a typical memoir about “my fabulous celebrity life”. Instead, Luke Janklow asked him to write about something he felt passionate about. Surprised and intrigued, Cumming was happy to comply.

The result is Not My Father’s Son, a brilliantly vivid and heartrending account of Cumming’s early life, interspersed with some well-observed, comic and intriguing scenes from his more recent past.

The book begins with a shocking recollection: Cumming as a young boy in his family kitchen near Carnoustie, on the east coast of Scotland. His father has walked in and demanded that Alan gets his hair chopped. “I’ll take him to the barber’s on Saturday morning,” his mother tries to interject. But that’s not good enough. Alan’s father drags him across the kitchen, through the hall, out the front door and to the bike shed, where he grabs a rusty pair of clippers used to shear sheep.

“They were blunt and dirty and they cut my skin, but my father shaved my skin with them, holding me down like an animal,” Cumming writes.

Later, as he cries in his bedroom, eyes so puffed up he can barely open them, he feels like he wants to die. It won’t be the only time either. Throughout his adolescence, he and his older brother Tom are kept in constant suspense, fearful of their father’s every move, knowing that the wrong glance, the wrong words, are enough to set him off. It wasn’t the actual violence that hurt the most; it was the threat of it, the anxiety that it generated as a constant.

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Artistic Licence (published in The Sunday Business Post, Ireland, on 11/01/2015)

Artistic Licence: My tardy resolve
03:55, 11 January 2015 by Nadine O’Regan

First, an admission. I’m one of those terrible people who is late for almost everything. I try my best, I really do. But it seems like in my head I think there’s a magic carpet that’ll get me to the right spot on time, not a taxi wheezing through heavy traffic or a bus inching along the quays. When I was a god parent at a baptism some years back, I arrived at the church exactly on time, miraculously, even slightly early. Then I stood bemused in a sea of empty pews, wondering if I was in the right place, until it hit me: I must have been given the wrong time on purpose. Reader, I am officially one of those people to whom other people lie about meeting times. It is not a good place in which to find yourself.
Still, right now, it is me. So in that spirit of tardiness (well, it is Jan 11, after all), and better-late-than-neverdom, allow me to belatedly offer up an alternative set of New Year’s resolutions to you. Resolutions that connect not just to traditional self-improvement but to my continuing quest to adapt to a world that sometimes seems to be evolving faster than I can quite keep step with.
1. Admit ignorance and take steps to improve matters. Find out how to use Spotify properly, get on track with gifs (short, animated online clips); generally speaking, do not be afraid to ask, discover, learn. A friend recently enquired on Facebook what the acronym ‘lol’ (laugh out loud) meant. Embrace her confident ability to admit absolute ignorance in the face of potential sneerers. Never be afraid to say: “I don’t understand.”
2. Declutter your life. Throw out gadgets that you do not use or even understand how to use. Every time I move house, I bring with me a box that contains a bewildering number of leads and connections. They could be for old printers (I don’t own a printer anymore). They could be for cameras. Maybe put together, they’d power that magic carpet I’m so keen on. I no longer have any idea. But I have them. This madness must end.
3. Don’t be condescending in your approach; the only loser in that game is you. In the case of the arts, remember that just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s bad. This is true not just for artists (Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and U2), but also for television shows. Sometimes, when everyone is watching Love/Hate, it’s easy to give the whole thing a skip just because you missed the first season and you’re feeling huffy about being out of the loop. But do get on board; don’t maintain a sniffy distance.
4. Do what you love. It’s much easier to cope with having failed abysmally at something you really love, than to have grafted for years at something that was never right for you in the first place. Even if your passion can’t become your career, make it your hobby; that, too, will make you happier. By the same token, don’t be afraid to end bad relationships, whether they connect to work, friendships or romance. Better to have a short-term life disaster than a long-term life fail. That really would be a shame, wouldn’t it?
5. Don’t be afraid to fail, at objectives great or small. It is in this spirit that I will accept the challenge, given to me by friends and family, to take my driving test again in 2015. Second time lucky? I doubt it. In fact, I rather suspect I’ll be that 90-year-old on a provisional licence whom the guards all know, but the point is not the failing, the point is the trying.
There are other resolutions, of course. I’d like to buy a house, although that’s less a resolution than a hazy aspiration. But primarily this is the year that I’m going to be on time perhaps not all of the time, but definitely more of the time. Baptisms, weddings, coffee with friends; I will finally be that trusty buddy who’s first in the door. Or second. Or definitely no more than five minutes late. Well, it’s important to be realistic, right?

The Feminism of Fashion

Artistic Licence: What not to wear, taken from The Sunday Business Post
03:55, 28 September 2014 by Nadine O’Regan

Recently I was browsing through a clothes shop in Temple Bar when I became aware of two women, a mother and her indie rocker daughter, lingering nearby. The conservatively attired mother was showing pretty necklace after pretty necklace to her slumped-shouldered teenager.
“Would you not think about this one?” she beseeched. “Or this one?” The daughter had a face like a squashed bug, she was pale and mortified. I winced with sympathy for them: the daughter having the day from hell, and the mother trying to force her child into her own clothing ideals, not realising her daughter wanted to wear anything but her mother’s version of herself.
This being September – the key month in fashion’s calendar – every newspaper and magazine, including this one, is putting its best face forward, ready to advise its readers on the hottest Autumn/Winter trends to wear. And for most adults, fashion is that simple: a collection of things nice and not nice. But consider the lot of the indie-rock teen discovering themselves. A decision about whether to wear Doc Martens or high heels isn’t simply a sartorial issue to them, it’s an expression of the kind of person they want to be. Fashion as an expression of indie-rock individuality is the 1980s tan trench coat worn by John Cusack in Say Anything. It’s the succession of cool band T-shirts sported by Jack Black in High Fidelity. It’s the Ramones’ dusky fringes. It’s every cool on-stage outfit Meg and Jack White ever wore.
Fashion is about being yourself, even when that self is a cross 16-year-old who wants to do anything but wear something “nice” or “attractive”. Going to my teenage discos in west Cork in the 1990s, I used to wear suede Doc Martens, pale blue cord flares with scuffed ends and a plain top. None of these things was attractive. That wasn’t the point. I remember my mother’s friend Evie sitting by the fireside, looking at me with a horror verging on despair. “But would you not wear heels?” she asked, in a strained voice. “And a dress?”
Evie wasn’t to know that what actually happened at our town hall disco was hardly quiet waltzing. No, our favourite thing at the time was to wait until Nirvana or Rage Against The Machine blasted from the speakers, then literally pile ourselves on top of each other in a kind of human pyre. Breathing was difficult in the pyre. Heels would not have been the correct sartorial option.
At the time, if you’d asked me, I would have said that fashion didn’t matter to me. I wouldn’t have understood then that – as a child of the increasingly feminist 1990s – my anti-fashion stance was in itself a statement, and a very definite choice. Forget fashion, I wanted to be judged on my brain, not my shoes. And I didn’t have the confidence back then to think the world both allowed girls to wear short skirts and to be simultaneously perceived as intelligent.
Are things different now? You’d hope so. But last week, the former Harry Potter actress Emma Watson gave an impassioned and important speech on feminism, broadcast to millions. She wore a conservative white dress doing it. The tabloids later ran the story, but alongside old pictures where she was attired in a tiny skirt, clearly on a casual day off. They used her clothing to undermine her, juvenilise her and patronise her. They were like a parent insisting on one interpretation of their child, unwilling or unable to admit how much more there was to see.
Fashion can be frivolous. It can be fun. And it should be. But fashion is also socially important in ways that sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to admit. I’d like to think that if I were a parent, I’d allow my children to be who they wanted, to find a form of expression through fashion and also to find themselves while doing it. Let them eat cake and wear capes – or goth boots, if that’s their bag. If nothing else, the pictures in later decades will be amusing.

From the Archives: Artistic Licence: Getting robbed

[Note: I’m posting the below article from Spring 2014 because I had cause to think back to it this week, when my landlord announced that he has decided to raise the rent by 10 per cent, despite the fact that I’ve been living in my shared house for just six months and got robbed two weeks into living there. Dublin, eh? Oh, the humanity! I wrote the below piece on an iPhone — I’d come home at 7pm to write my column that night, but then of course, with the robbery, had nothing left to write the piece on except the phone I was carrying. Nothing was ever recovered — which won’t surprise anyone, I guess. Anyway, here ’tis.]


Artistic Licence: After the break-in
By Nadine O’Regan
How do you measure what’s valuable to you? One answer, I guess – at least if we agree to forget about monetary terms for a while – is this: its value can be calibrated according to how much you feel the pain of its loss when it’s gone.
I’ve had cause to think about this question lately. Not to go all U2 on you (you may not start humming ”all that you can’t leave behind quite yet”), but last Wednesday night I came home to discover that my house had been broken in to and many of my things were gone. So many things that it hurts to think about it.
So many things that when I walked into the Dublin 6 house, past the forced and jammed front door, after my housemate told me the news, I felt a little faint. The drawers from my bedroom lockers lay sprawled across the ground. Photo albums were open on the wooden floorboards. Bits of my life – notebooks, mix CDs – were flung into odd corners. Even my wash bags had been rifled through, suggesting the thieves thought I had diamonds buried in my toothpaste. I had been living in the house just two weeks.
When the guards arrived, they quickly adopted what I’ll call The Calm Face of Crisis. Garda Brian saw my stricken expression, as I started reciting what I had lost – laptops, a microphone, my jewellery – and his face grew calmer and calmer. By the end, he was so calm that I felt myself almost sedated by his placidity, ready to crack jokes about the burglars’ borderline offensive taste in my possessions – why did they skip taking my sunglasses?, I found myself idly wondering. Did they not like them? Is it possible to be aggrieved that your burglar didn’t steal something?
Of course, as the hours spiralled on, I couldn’t help but dwell on the missing stuff that’s of little monetary value, but that was still hugely prized by me. They took an old laptop with a bad virus on it, but which also contained the novel I wrote between the ages of 21 and 24. Now let me tell you, I wasn’t about to give James Joyce a run for his money. It was an intense coming-of-age drama, and I would never have wanted to publish it. But still: it was part of my history. They also took a necklace given by my late father to my mother, who gifted it recently to me. Bad timing, I guess.
People ask you questions when you’ve been robbed. Questions about house insurance. Landlords. Locks. Security. Questions that, when you answer, you feel like you’re failing an exam. They talk, too, about violation of space, and it’s true that you do feel differently. Did they look at your pictures? Do you even want to think about it? Or should you just concentrate on being glad, glad that you weren’t there, glad that no one was harmed, glad that Apple Macs and fancy gadgets can be bought back with money? And grateful to remember that at least you’ve never been too hung up on possessions anyway? And that it’s not good to be so?
A friend of mine took a decision a few years back to become a Buddhist monk. He went off to a monastery in England. For two years, he wore orange robes, he gardened, he meditated, he sought to reach a higher plain. Then, abruptly, before Christmas, he left, deciding that his fate lay elsewhere. The last time he emailed me, it was from Thailand. He was raging because his Kindle had broken. I shouldn’t have laughed, but I couldn’t help it. If a trainee monk can get upset about a broken Kindle, then there’s hope for all of us yet.
I’m going to do my best not to mind the burglary. And to be very evolved indeed. But reader: I may be a while with this. And if anyone buys a laptop off a truck with a brooding, unpublished novel on it in the meantime, let me know, will you?

From the archives: why music should still matter (August 11th, 2013, SBPost column)

Is indie-rock music anywhere near as important culturally as it used to be? I’ll admit to having that rather gloomy rumination recently while standing in a crowd of thousands at Blur in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. Like most punters there, I was experiencing an intense wave of nostalgia, but it wasn’t simply for the indie music made in the 1990s, when Blur were in their hey-day.

Instead, with a bittersweet pang, I was realising how much I’d missed the thrill of being at a big indie-rock concert where everyone could sing along to the songs – where everyone knew every line. From Parklife to Tender to Out of Time: Damon Albarn sang to us, we croaked joyfully back at him. It was a heady, embracing experience.

It doesn’t happen anymore. Take away your Bruce Springsteen, your Rolling Stones, your hoary grandfathers of modern rock – and you’ll quickly realise that in indie-rock, some time ago now, everyone quietly stopped knowing the lyrics by heart, because everyone quietly stopped being quite as passionate about the tunes.

When did you last stump up for a rock album that made you feel as exultant as you might have done about Nirvana’s Nevermind or Oasis’s Definitely Maybe? Could we mention MGMT in that regard? Mumford & Sons? Mercury Prize winners Alt-J? Or should we fess up and admit that we hear radio singles these days rather than album tracks, remixes rather than records? We have the attention span of gnats and the tolerance of Ian Paisley at a hippie gathering.

And no, it’s not an age thing. It’s not because I’m in my thirties and getting ready to kick out my festival wellies rather than the jams. It’s a technology issue. Like everyone else, I have a zillion songs at my fingertips, so many that sometimes the pressure of all I haven’t heard weighs down on me, like a million countries I’ll never visit. The proliferation of bands has perversely made the experience of loving music more tricky.

We don’t go to trouble for a band anymore. If they birth something ‘difficult’, we’ll shrug our shoulders and click the next download. There are so many fledgling acts, each occupying an infinitesimal, pressuring space. In accommodating the din, we’re creating an attention deficit problem on the part of the audience. Spotify this, YouTube that, stream the other: your new favourite band is still your new favourite band, but only for the next five minutes. And mainstream radio, with its effective kibosh on indie-rock music (pop sells better), doesn’t help. We don’t commit to music.

It’s a shame, because in troubled times, we need communal experiences. Public events, whether rock gigs or football matches, serve to bind us together, hold us in a warm embrace. Rock music can be life-changing. Recently, the British papers were full of an account of a British MP who, seemingly inspired by his love of the band Drenge, decided to resign his post. The story was shocking, because it seemed so anachronistic: here was a man who still cared about indie-rock. On a micro level, at Blur, there was a punter who arrived wearing a giant milk carton, in homage to their Coffee & TV video.

I loved how much trouble he’d gone to – how much Blur mattered to him. I want to live in a world where indie rock music is a powerful force, capable of making people change themselves in inspiration. For all that the likes of services such as Spotify have given us, it’s important to recognise how much they’re taking away.