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January 2020

Singing Auld Lang Syne in September

Welcome to another month blah blah blah no new music no new website or social media updates blah blah blah takes a long time to implement but I’m working on it blah blah blah something about Star Wars blah blah blah punchline. How are you?

I’m in the process of overhauling how I use social media and the James Bell Central website, and working on new music, but it all takes time time time. So in the meantime time time…

This month it's all about cheerleaders, calendars, Sharon Stone, Kathrine Hepburn, and a talking monkey. And knolling.

I got cultural recommendations. I got unrealistic schemes. I got the poison and, conveniently, I got the remedy.

Let’s January.



"Welcome to the Ring of Fire..."

Every once in a while a TV series explodes into the public consciousness. Right now, that series is Netflix’s Cheer, a 6-part documentary following the lives of a champion cheerleading team under the helm of the new toast of Twitter: coach Monica Aldama.

Pretty much every major English-speaking news outlet has some feature on Cheer right now. For a quick(ish) summary, this is from Vox: Why Netflix’s fantastic new docuseries Cheer is so addictive. It has the tagline: “Netflix’s Cheer will make you want to ruin your body for Coach Monica.”

It’s reality TV at its best: the interviewees are extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. And if you can watch the competition final with your eyes open you are a better person than me.


Musician Explains One Concept in 5 Levels of Difficulty

Wired magazine has a recurring YouTube series where they make videos in which one person explains a concept to five different people, with increasing levels of difficulty.

For example, a musician explains a musical concept to a child first, and eventually to synth jazz legend Herbie Hancock.

This is YouTuber Charles Cornell’s parody. In which a jazz musician explains, first to a child, then a teenager, then a college student, and finally an adult, how to make a living as a jazz musician.

The video description uses the words “dying inside”, so that should be a pointer.


David Lynch returns. With a talking monkey. Because of course he does.

For me, David Lynch has long been on the list of “Whatever happened to…?” From the late 70s to the mid 00s, everything this oddball movie director did was pored over by critics.

Then he seemed to vanish. He resurfaced recently for a surprise new series of his giant TV hit Twin Peaks. But where were his films, which were always cinematic events?

It turns out he’s spent the last decade making about a million short films, which I only found out when writing this. And I’m excited to learn that, because for many years I was a David Lynch super-fan. (Although I have cooled on his work a little bit: technically it’s all amazing – the frame is always overflowing with imagination – but the gangsters and voyeuristic sex feel stuck in the 90s.)

But low and behold, Netflix (yep, them again) has released a short film in which hard-bitten film noir detective David Lynch interviews a (possibly) murderous talking monkey in a train station. Then the monkey sings a love song.

It’s pretty much exactly as it sounds.


"This racoon's got some fight in him..."

This is a slightly clunky compilation video taken from Saturday Night Live, and not all the material is great. But Kristen Wiig’s impressions make it all worthwhile.

Watch it for her Kathrine Hepburn alone. Particularly the last clip.



Hiking 60 Miles Alone in Hornstrandir Iceland

A simple 12(ish) minute video made by a guy hiking around Iceland. From start to finish. With no dialogue. It's essentially a silent film.

The photography is amazing. The landscapes are amazing. The storytelling is amazing, in that you really get a sense of what it would feel to hike 60 miles by yourself in stunning countryside.

Without you having to do anything as traumatic as putting up a tent.


everything i wanted

Latest video by Billie Eilish

I recommended Billie Eilish a while ago. She basically won All The Grammys at the beginning of the week, and this new track just dropped on YouTube.

I’m still a bit uncomfortable with what feels like her suicide chic angle, but I’m giving this the benefit of the doubt that it's a genuine exploration of her own mental health.

In this music video, she and her producer/co-songwriter/brother drive into the sea. She directed it, and it looks amazing. 

Projects Which I Would Do If Only There Were 25 Hours In A Day…

New Year starting in September

Why do countries in the Northern Hemisphere start the year in January? It’s insane. I literally cannot think of a worse time of year to be burdening ourselves with judging the old year and making resolutions for the new.

We’re all cold, ill, light-starved, still recovering from Xmas Xcess. The weather is terrible.

If you elect me as your galactic emperor I promise to make the new year start at the Autumn equinox (for both hemispheres - we'll work it out). Because I love you all, and I want what’s best for you.

So the year starts like the academic year: you ideally come back from a summer break and start thinking about the year ahead when it’s still probably the most pleasant season. If you want to make any changes, you can start them when the going is easy.

And as it starts to get colder, you can start to knuckle down and focus on your goals. By January you’ve already got a quarter of the year under your belt, and by July you’re basically done.

And then, hopefully, you can have a few weeks to reflect what comes next, rather than those disembodied days at the end of December, when the Christmas rows and sugar hangovers are still clouding your thoughts.

The academic year is there for a reason.

I am actually semi-seriously thinking about starting my own tradition, with a completely different numbering system (nothing against Jesus – he just isn’t the centre of my world).

And singing Auld Lang Syne in September.

Movie roles for Coach Monica

So, I mentioned the Netflix show Cheer earlier.

Actor Reese Witherspoon tweeted her love of the show, and there was much a-chitter a-chatter about how Witherspoon should play Monica Aldama in a movie.

This is NOT a good idea. Reese Witherspoon generally is a thumbs up from me, but (a) we already have the series, which is all the more dramatic for being real and (b) she’s a totally different energy.

No. If we want to bring good Cheer to the movies, we need to start giving Coach Monica movie roles.

And I have been mulling for literally minutes on end. And I have come to the unavoidable conclusion that she should take Sharon Stone’s part in a remake of the mid-90s Western: The Quick And The Dead.

Don’t argue with me, people – let’s just make this happen.

A proper Calendar app

Okay, here's the thing about Apple. Yes we Apple idiots keep singing their praises, even though they cost at least twice as much as the competition. And yes, although generally their products are better quality, they’re usually not two or three times better.

But the reason why they’re more expensive is because they invent everything, and then everyone else scrabbles around to produce it as cheaply as possible. The iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, Airpods, the Macbook Air, iTunes, the ‘cloud’, Siri… these may not be the best value in their category, but Apple was first. (Yes, someone else was always technically first, but Apple was first to make them must-haves.) Time and time again, they invent the thing that we’ll all be using eventually, even if ours is a much cheaper imitation.

And if you’re one of those naysayers who claims “Well, someone would have invented them pretty soon anyway”, may I draw your attention to all of the things that Apple never got right to begin with?

They’re still crap.

I give you: the Calendar app.

The best calendar app around at the moment, in my opinion, is Microsoft Outlook. It’s the most intuitive and can do the most in the most reliable way. But most calendar apps actually copy Apple’s design, which is one of the worst pieces of software they’ve made.

Every time I want to move an event, it creates a new one. Every time I want to change the name of an event, I need to click 12 things. And if I need to change the name of 12 events, I need to click 144 things.

So if there were 25 hours in a day, and 365 days in a month, I would make it my mission to revolutionise the ease of use and functionality of the humble calendar app to the same extent that iTunes revolutionised listening to music.

There. I have spoken.

Upcoming Events

Friday 7th February

Every second Friday of the month. Except Valentines Day. When it's the FIRST Friday.

Dear Diary...

Happy Brexit day. And that’s all I’m going to say on that subject, as I consider it a national embarrassment at best, and at worst it doesn’t bear thinking about.

As I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, it makes no sense whatsoever to start the year in January. But here we are, it’s another unpleasant thing that’s happening anyway, so what can we do about it?

I’m not normally into New Year’s Resolutions, but this year I do seem to be a bit more… well, resolute. That said, I haven’t set myself specific resolutions, and if you’re feeling bad about not having kept to yours, here is a great CGP Grey video on why New Year's Resolutions are a Bad Thing:

Your New Year's Resolution Has Already Failed

So yeah. January. I mentioned last month that I was going to start posting again on James Bell Central (i.e. the website and social media), and I was hoping I would have got more of that finished this month.

But where I’m at, with so much of my work at the moment, is focusing fully on the laying-the-foundations work that needs to be figured out before you can start building a house. (Metaphorically.)

And this is perhaps why I’m feeling a bit more focused and motivated in January.

Because I spent the Christmas period examining in detail why it was taking me so long to get stuff done in several major areas of my life. And I eventually concluded that, in each one, there was some sizeable (but not insurmountable) foundational work that needed to be done before I could even get started on the Main Thing.

And because of illness and financial concerns and all sorts of other things, I just hadn’t got this work finished yet – because I felt I didn’t have the time. And also, because I believed that it was more important to have momentum and to just keep the wheels spinning. I was frightened that if I didn’t keep the wheels spinning, they’d come to a complete stop, and I wouldn’t be able to get them started again.

But in January I’ve bitten the bullet, and brought all the short-term schemes to a stop, and just spent my time focusing on fundamental problems. Problems that mean I can’t really get started until they’re resolved.

Now I’m not dumb enough to think everything is necessarily going to be breezy easy once this is all done. But I do feel like I’m tidying up a big mess, slowly but surely.

In fact, I’m very much enjoying just tidying stuff for its own sake, even if it doesn’t seem immediately urgent. Which is a relatively new experience for me.

And which neatly leads me on to this video:

Always be knolling.

If you’ve been reading this for a while you might have deduced that I’m a bit of a Workflow nut. And this video features a brief intro into one of the techniques I’ve recently been playing with: not just in physical space, but in digital space too.

Okay, I need to come right out and say that Tom Sachs, the narrator, comes across as an epic phallus. But this is sort of an older proto-version of the video I shared a while back about YouTuber Casey Neistat and his super-organised studio. (In fact, Casey’s brother Van co-produced the above video.)

And if you click on the link above it should take you straight to point 8 in his 10 point code: Always Be ‘Knolling’.

Knoll (verb): the process of arranging like objects in parallel or 90 degree angles as a method of organization.

I’m knolling all the time now. Are you?

So What Have We Learnt?

When H saw the CGP Grey video on New Year’s themes, she asked what my theme would be. And I was stumped. I liked his idea of themes for a season rather than a year, and felt that I nearly knew what this winter was, but couldn’t put my finger on it.

But I think I know now. I’m sorry, but here’s one more piece of (evidence-based) new year self-improvement:

Kurzgesagt: An Antidote to Dissatisfaction

Based on the research in this video, godammit, I think I’m going to try keeping a gratitude journal. I’m too old to be self-conscious about self-help, and I’ve been aware of the power of what I call 'negativity spirals' for years, and have been looking for ways to combat them. I’ve been looking for positivity rituals. This might be it.

In fact, I’m toying with the idea of anonymously creating a Twitter account and just putting it there. Right now I’m veering away from it because it feels a bit performative. Although sometimes being performative can be good motivation (especially when it’s anonymous).

It’s actually quite an intimidating prospect to think of things to be grateful for, again and again and again.

But the way I’m going to do it is to not journal the things that I actually feel grateful for. Because if I felt that amount of gratitude, I wouldn’t need the journal.

Instead, I’m going to think of all of the reasons why I should be grateful, whether I feel them or not. With a particular focus on all the bad things that could have happened but haven’t.

I'm also going to keep in mind that this doesn't cancel out the daily problems I might be dealing with. But hopefully it should put my brain in a better place to deal with them.

So yeah, the theme for this winter is gratitude.

If I get hit by a falling piano, you have my permission to laugh.

Ask me things

If you have any questions then seriously, do please drop me a message using one of the pretty social media buttons below. About the recordings. About the gigs. About life. About the universe.

Okay, funny story – after the last newsletter my older brother said to me Were you aware that you spent the whole thing saying about how useless you are at replying to digital communications, and then at the end you said: 'Anyway, do get in touch with me via some sort of digital communication!' I was not aware. I feel that was a wasted opportunity. Nonetheless, I stand by my monthly statement: get in touch! And I'll reply to you, but still take two weeks to reply to his WhatsApp message.

  • Click on the images to see the originals. (It just means less admin for me this way.)
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