Friday, 6 August 2010

Please, God. Something Other than Advertising

Please. Take off your checked shirt, stop talking about design and fashion shoots and your collaborative cenceptual art project for a fucking sports brand, and listen very carefully to me for just. One. Moment. Don't take this the wrong way or anything, but...

Working in the "creative industries" isn't really that interesting, exciting, or remarkable. It's certainly not creative ('clue's in the "inudstries" bit), and writing inevitably ugly, insincere garbage for shit, sanctimonious businesses all day just isn't a sufficiently stimulating endeavour for someone of my, not inconsiderable, intellect to waste even more of my time talking about it to a load of people with equally obscure, marginal and insignificant media careers as my own.

So. Today I'm not going to write about clients, art directors, suits, planners, or any of that bumwash. I'm not even going to namedrop my cool ex-girlfriend who runs a record label in New York in a crass attempt to look more creative than I really am.

No sirree.

Today I'm going to write about something else entirely for a change. Something I actually like:

Dmitri Shostakovich. Arguably the greatest composer of the 20th century.

This is him:

Like a knackered Harry Potter isn't he. But don't let that fool you. Old Four-Eyes there wrote 15 of the greatest symphonies the world has ever heard, the first when he was just 19 (and really did look like Harry Potter). If you like your music mean, complex, thrilling, playful and devasatatingly beautiful, then look no further than this man. Granted, it's not always easy listening, but then, that's kind of the point. When you work in an industry as solipsistic as advertising it's important to stretch yourself, ok.

So, why Shostakovich then Mr. John?

Well, for a start he was a child prodigy. After enrolling in Hogwart- I mean, the Petrograd Conservatory, he learned to smoke, and became a decadant young bastard along with a whole new generation of experimental Russian artists, writers, film makers and laa-dee-dahs. Life was great. Or at least, not bad until the stumpy-armed despotic ballet lover, Stalin, came to power in the 20s and buggered things up for a few million people.

As a trained practitioner of the "bourgeois" avant garde, Shostakovich spent the majority of his creative life embroiled in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with the higher echelons of the politburo. Loved by the public but denounced in Pravda as a kind of degenerate intellectual anarchist effectively for not writing anything Stalin could dance to, he had to whore himself writing film scores and ditties, suppressing his work and, ultimately, his personality at a time when less compliant artists were being executed for treachery. With Koba breathing down his neck, Shostakovich was forced to find a new kind of voice or perish.

Which is exactly what he did. With fiendish intelligence.

Firstly Shostakovich took the relatively unsophisticated, pan-nationalistic music of the Party to absurd, and at times hilarious, lengths. His rousing anthems become bloated caricatures under the weight of their own self-importance, while ferocious, posturing choruses splinter into sarcastic ballerina pastiche. Epic, volatile, and a wee bit jazzy just for good measure, Shostakovich became the undisputed master of what you might call The Art of the Straight Face. Like a sort of musical Derren Brown, he was able to convince the entire establishment that everything was above board while performing the ultimate transgression right under their noses.

He also lived in constant fear of being found out. A fear which almost killed him.

Now, as I live in constant fear of boring people to death talking about Shostakovich, I'm guessing anyone still reading this either shares my penchant for difficult Russian composers, or you're wondering what the fucking hell my point is.
Well, I kind of lied when I said I wasn't going to talk about advertising. (This is an advertising blog, after all). Or rather, I intended not to talk about it, but then realised there was something particularly germaine about Shostakovich's story us Advertising Party conformists could learn from. Which is: even if your client is as thick, nasty, unreasonable and tasteless a dwarf bastard as Stalin was, it's still just about possible to create something outstanding.

You just need to keep a straight face.

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