Tuesday 25 June 2013

A moustache for Roger

Roger Federer: cold top lip?
Can Roger Federer do it?

The greatest tennis player of all time is after a record eighth Wimbledon Men's Singles title this year and most learned commentators seem to be of the opinion that if he manages it, it will be his greatest achievement at the All-England Club to date.

This is due to a quirk of the ranking system: Rafael Nadal has spent much of the past 12 months with his knee elevated somewhere on a fishing boat in Mallorca recovering from leg surgery and, as such, is only the number 5 ranked player in the world. This means that, going by seeding alone, to win an OctoWimbledon Federer's path saw him having to beat Nadal in the quarter-final, Andy Murray in the semi and world number 1 Novak Djokovic in the final. An incredible challenge.

Of course, in sport things are wont to change. Yesterday the bookmakers had Federer out at 7-1 to win the tournament. I rather suspect his odds will be somewhat shorter this morning. The headline news was that an out-of-sorts Rafael Nadal fell at the first hurdle to an inspired Steve Darcis in straight sets, but equally noteworthy in my book was the thunderous masterclass delivered by Federer on Centre Court earlier in the day. Up against Victor Hanescu, the Romanian player who is ranked the 48th best tennis player currently on Earth, Federer rolled back the years, playing shots of power, accuracy, grace and invention. His service, meanwhile, peppered the lines of the box, giving his opponent no realistic chance at all. It was a privilege to watch.

But there's still something missing. The answer, nevertheless, is close at hand. Sat in the Royal Box watching, in fact: it was Roger's dad Robert Federer, the silver fox in a smart suit, sporting his trademark moustache. It was a strong look. Roger is definitely a chip off the old block as far as his appearance is concerned - he and his father look very alike. And then it struck me.

The last few percent of any sporting success are always in the mind. That little spark of self-belief and confidence that can carry one competitor over and above another competing at an identical physical level. Roger Federer's path to history remains fraught with huge challenges, but I believe Roger Federer with a moustache would be unflappable and, more significantly, unstoppable.

I have to admit that I would like Andy Murray, the plucky Brit with a heart of gold, to win Wimbledon this year. But I can never begrudge Roger Federer another title at The Championships, he is a magnificent sportsman and my admiration for him grows exponentially. If it came to it, I'd have to cheer on Andy Murray in a Murray-Federer semi-final. But a moustachioed Federer? No contest.

Now, I am a reasonable man. I am, it's true, demanding that Roger Federer grow a moustache, but that is not to say that I will not be giving the great man options. Five options, in fact. Which style he decides to go with is up to him (or, indeed, you - democracy could well win through if you would like to leave a comment with your preference). But nature and reason and all the gods in their heavens have surely spoken: Roger Federer must surely grow a moustache. And then we'll have world peace.


Option 1: Robert Federer Junior
Simple, classic lines. Will make his father proud all over again.

Option 2: Easy Rider
Is it hot as hell in here, or is it me?

Option 3: Terry-Thomas
I say!

Option 4: Freddie Boswell
Lilo Lil = tart

Option 5: Ron Mael
This just made my soft parts go hard and my hard parts go soft.

Come on Roger, do it for all of us.

(You can follow my campaign in real time on Twitter when I remember, just watch out for the #RogerFedererMoustache hashtag.)

Monday 17 June 2013

The powerful influence that American involvement the Vietnam War had on the history of popular music

America invented popular music. It was on a Tuesday. The entire history of pop can be traced back to traditional American music at the turn of the 20th Century. However, if you read any learned books of learned history, you could be hard-pressed to guess that this is the case. This is all because of The Beatles, who by a trick of fate were born in Liverpool, England instead of Liverpool, Ohio and therefore were not required to fight in the Vietnam war in the 1960s.

That's right, Britain stole a march on popular music in the decade that proved to be the most pivotal in the history of the genre and has scarcely relinquished its primacy ever since. American musicians could very easily have pushed the limits of their creativity just as far as their British contemporaries but as soon as they got a groove going they were legally obligated to go and rain hot death on the Viet Cong. It's hard to reinvent rock 'n' roll music when the hot breath of the American Senate is continually on the back of your neck, noisily wondering why it is that, instead of going electric, you're not busy killing Charlie.

I am always reminded of this state of affairs when I listen to Friends by The Beach Boys, an album which I love. In the title song, there is a line: "I talked your folks out of making you cut off your hair", which I have always believed must be a veiled reference to the continuing US involvement in the Far Eastern conflict. Indeed, I think it could even refer to the youngest of The Beach Boys' Wilson brothers, Carl.

"We've been friends now for so many years, brb raining ideological death war on innocent Asian families"

Carl Wilson was drafted into the US Army aged 20 in 1967 but applied for deferment on the grounds of conscientious objection. After a lengthy battle through the courts, the US Government agreed that Wilson would not have to fight overseas as long as he performed free concerts for hospitals and prisons in lieu of national service.

Fans of The Beach Boys will know that this was a pivotal year in the history of the group. The year before the band had released their seminal Pet Sounds album and headed into 1967 in a creative summit duel with their great contemporaries The Beatles to see who could redefine the terms of pop music forever first. Of course, we now all know that The Beatles released Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in June of that year while The Beach Boys spellbinding and ambitious Smile project collapsed in a fug of mental health problems (Brian Wilson) and in-fighting within the band (Mike Love). They were never really the same force again, especially after the patchy and disappointing Smiley Smile was released that September - a watered down and unfinished collection of what had promised to be the most remarkable songs ever committed to tape.

Having a Sword of Damocles hanging over the continued involvement in the group's activities of one of their number was, of course, by no means the be-all and end-all of what caused the breakdown of the group's position at the absolute vanguard of the pop movement. But there's little doubt in my mind that it would not have helped. Carl Wilson's influence within The Beach Boys was growing rapidly. By 1968 he would be their de facto  leader as big brother Brian drifted off into a world of his own. The idea of this rather gentle soul possibly having to go and destroy world communism was anathema to everyone concerned.

But, and here's the key thing, I can't help but feel that it would actually have been brilliant. For a start, it would have won The Beach Boys a whole new legion of more mature fans and other veterans of foreign wars, flushed with admiration that finally one of these floppy-haired, lily-livered rock 'n' rollers had finally had the balls to stand up to Marx. This could not have served the group badly: their output up to that stage was exceptional enough that any new listener would surely be converted into a fan and, therefore, record sales.

Then there would be the immeasurable impact of Wilson's return to the fold, both from the point of view of publicity but also in terms of his new life experiences informing all sorts of new directions for the band's sound. George Harrison playing sitar with Ravi Shankar would suddenly seem old hat, compared with the sprinkling of genuine Laotian folk music now peppering The Beach Boys albums. Perhaps they could even have roped Lon Nol in on bongos. I can't be the only Beach Boys fan who would absolutely have relished the idea of a now one-legged Carl Wilson, wearing an eyepatch, singing a furious song about the 4 Vietnamese soldiers he bayonetted never solved anything.

Of course, it could just be that they had a friend whose parents wanted them to get a haircut but they talked them out of it.


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