Entertainment & Music

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Entertainment & Music

Former My Chemical Romance guitarist Ray Toro dedicates latest song to Leelah Alcorn

Ray Toro, former My Chemical Romance lead guitarist, and now solo artist since last year, has released his latest track for free and dedicated it to Leelah Alcorn, the Ohio transgender teen who took her own life last week in a suicide that has rocked the world.

Approaching 300,000 people have signed a Change.org petition to end the conversion therapy that Leelah was subjected to rather than the gender therapy and transition she requested.

Although the song, “For The Lost And Brave”, was written “about a year ago”, there are many lyrics that are spot on for Leelah and other trans and LGB youth who feel forced to hide and deny who they are:

“Something in my head
Tells me I’m nothing…
Always been afraid
Of who I am
Forced to hide away”

Toro writes on his blog that there were “many times that I’ve almost put it out, but have always found a reason to hold it back.” He continues:

“lately there seems to be so much hate and misunderstanding in this world. As I’m sure many of you felt after reading the news of young Leelah Alcorn taking her own life, my heart sank. I felt sick. Yet another young life gone because of not being heard, not being understood, and not being unconditionally loved for who they truly were. After hearing her story, and reading her final Tumblr post, I finally felt it was time to share this song. It is time we learn to accept each other for who we truly are. Being seen, heard, and truly loved as our authentic selves is something we all want, and something we all deserve.”

Leelah’s final Tumblr post has been deleted along with her social media account at her parents request, but can be viewed here:

The song also signals an awareness of those lost, those who continue to face life and all its sometimes brutal challenges, and those who are left behind in grief – something that various commentators have found hard to balance amidst all the highly-charged emotions of the last week:

“For the lost and brave
For the ones who stayed
For the ones we left behind”

On Soundcloud the track has already prompted 160+ comments and led some to tears, many from appreciative LGBTQ+ youth.

A poignant comment under a Youtube upload of the song said:

“This song has given me hope where I was sure all was lost. There is not enough acceptance in the world, and since I heard about Leelah, being buried in a suit under a headstone engraved with ‘Joshua’, her mother stating that she “loved her son”, I thought there never would be. But seeing so much outrage, so many people speaking out, and now hearing this, I think there could be. There might be a way we could fix this, just as she said, “Fix society. Please.” I think we can. So thank you, Ray. And Leelah, Rest In Power, you beautiful girl.”

“The song is absolutely beautiful”, writes Under the Gun Review, “giving assurance and comfort to those that need someone. It’s really freaking good.”

Gigwise reporter, Andy Morris, says that “Toro’s lyrics perfectly articulate an alienated teenager’s perspective”.

‘For the Lost and Brave’ Lyrics

The lyrics of “For the Lost and Brave”, by Ray Toro, in full:

Walking in the rain
The feeling comes again
Something in my head
Tells me I’m nothing

Sorry and ashamed
All the lies I couldn’t face
Always been afraid
Of who I am

Forced to hide away
Nothing is wrong
They say
Leave it alone
And it will go away

For the lost and brave
For the lonely strays
For the ones we left behind
Far away
Don’t ask me why

For the lost and brave
For the ones who stayed
For the ones we left behind
Far away from you we run
Do not ask why

The choice I didn’t make
This isn’t a mistake
The man beyond the glasses
Girl you’re something

The sun will rise again
All the clouds inside my head
Clear away
I know just who I am

I won’t hide away
Overcome your hate
Shield it alone
Let the people say

For the lost and brave
For the lonely strays
For the ones we left behind
Far away
Don’t ask me why

For the lost and brave
For the ones who stayed
For the ones we left behind
Far away from you we run
Do not ask why

Why we hate
A different state of mind and heart
It’s gone on far too long
We are here to say

For the lost and Brave
For the lonely strays
For the ones we left behind
Far away
Don’t ask me why

For the lost and brave
For the ones who stayed
For the ones we left behind
Far away from you we run
Do not ask why

Why
We learn to not ask why
Why
We learn to not ask why
Why
We don’t ask why

Entertainment & Music

Liberation theology for Vicky Beeching, evangelical, Christian music star, theologian, as she comes out as lesbian

“It’s taken all my courage, and all these years, for me to finally do this interview, tweeted Vicky Beeching, “a theologian who spends holy days with the Archbishop, whose God-fearing lyrics are sung by millions in America’s Bible Belt, [on her] coming out as a lesbian”.

Katharine Welby-Roberts, the daughter of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, tweeted her support calling her brave, brilliant and beautiful.

“She will be liberated. She may well, through her commentating work, become a key figure in the liberalisation of Anglicanism. And she will be crucified”, writes Patrick Strudwick in the Independent.

A fraught ‘coming out’ journey

She began to speak out in support of same-sex marriage, a year ago, and since then her loving Christian American Bible belt fan base has been delivering abuse at her, saying she is deceived by the devil. Well the devil does have all the best tunes!

Vicky Beeching Twitter Profile picShe’s also taken flack from some anti-religious members of the gay community, from reading the comments (not always an advisable thing to do) on the Pink News report of her coming out.

At 12 she was attracted to other girls and at 13 sought forgiveness, as an older teenager she experienced deliverance of the “demon of homosexuality”.

I had a similar path, a clandestine same-sex relationship at 15, repentance and forgiveness, vice-President of the University Christian Union, where we were very definitely anti-abortion and anti-gay, deliverance at 22 of my own demons of “a gender mix up in the womb”, years working for a church, as a missionary, then a theologian in a Bible School. The views I held at college I’ve had to repent of and apologise for, but it has made me more openminded and gracious towards those for whom homophobia has often been a cover up of something internalised before they themselves come out. I do believe in redemption and change, just not sure God, if he exists, is always the agent. Be the change.

In all my study of theology, Hebrew and Greek, I never really got why , until I came out, I felt such a disconnect from the God of the Church and the practice of evangelical Christianity versus the all-loving, minority accepting, class and division challenging Jesus of the Gospels. The Old Testament passage that has always stuck with me is, from of all books, Leviticus: “Love thy neighbour as yourself”, that’s the same book that appears on a surface reading to condemn same-sex practices. But the Hebrew and the history are more complex, interesting and liberating.

Beeching, herself, ended up in America, first Nashville, Tennessee then California mid-Prop 8 anti-equal marriage rallies, at which she performed her music, whilst knowing inside she didn’t agree with the message. She had record contracts with EMI’s Christian sub-division which included a “morality clause” which would have precluded her from speaking out had she been ready to at the time. This was 2008.

Then she was hit by a life-changing illness that included extensive chemotherapy. Many fundamentalists would no doubt point to this being a judgement from God, not my kind of God. However, the doctors did say it could have been triggered by trauma – Vicky felt this to be the stress of her hidden sexuality.

She’d not met an ‘out’ gay or lesbian till the age of 30. When I came out at 40, I’d never met another trans person, to my knowledge, but by then a couple of friends from university Christian Union days had come out as gay. With my own revelation, which resulted in divorce and a mid-life crisis, I soon made contact with what transpired to be more than a couple of old CU friends, who had come out as lesbian, bisexual or gay. We’d all repressed it for decades. Some, to my knowledge, still are. Some are ‘out’ but still trying to “rid themselves” of homosexuality through reparative therapy.

Beeching began to explore the possibility of coming out and met with Ruth Hunt, the now new chief executive of Stonewall, who suggested she met with some other ‘out’ lesbians including BBC newsreader Jane Hill, sports presenter Clare Balding and her former Radio 4 newsreader wife, Alice Arnold. “They said, ‘Be yourself and everything will follow.'”

But being yourself is very hard with evangelical baggage and a lifetime of repression. Coming out is hard enough when school and society can be so homophobic and transphobic, but it is doubly hard when you have faith, and belong to a denomination that sees your sexuality or gender identity as sin. The pressure to conform can lead to mental health problems and deny you your free existence for years.

She has been called “the bravest” to come out, because of her conservative evangelical Christian background, by Alice Arnold in the Telegraph, but can now look “forward to writing music again, for the first time in her life with no secrets to hide.”

LGBT Theology

Those following Beeching’s blog may have seen the signs before this week’s coming out. She has been writing since April on LGBT Theology with thousands of views and hundreds of comments online.  The responses to her support of LGBT issues were to call her a “disgrace” and boycott her music, to tell her she was “no longer welcome”, how Christian! How unlike Jesus.

She recommends numerous books on her blog including Sex and the Single Savior by Dale B Martin which I’ve also read. “Martin concludes that our contemporary obsession with marriage–and the whole search for the ‘right’ sexual relationships–is antithetical to the message of the gospel.”

She also lists for reading:

  • Bible, Gender and Sexuality by James Brownson
  • God And The Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
  • Torn/Unconditional by Justin Lee
  • Permanent, Faithful, Stable – Christian Same-Sex Marriages by Jeffrey John
  • Sexuality and the Christian Body by Eugene F Rogers
  • Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin

Beeching, Channel 4 news & Scott Lively

Beeching bravely appeared on the 7pm Channel 4 news on Thursday and was set up against the infamous Scott Lively, the US Christian activist who has called for the criminalisation of “the public advocacy of homosexuality” and has allegedly done much to stir up the anti-gay debate and homophobic criminal justice bill in Uganda.

On C4 News, Lively said that lesbianism is something to overcome, “I’m very sorry she has given into the lie that she is a homosexual” and suggested she could be cured still, has Beeching not already tried that and acknowledged that it “fractured” her and “really messed” her up.

Lively says that all sex outside of Genesis’ “one flesh paradigm” of man and woman is “illicit”. He’s obviously  not read Genesis too well and its half-dozen sexual and relationship paradigms. “There is no such thing as a gay person, it’s an identity you adopt”, he says.

Agree to disagree on theology & sexuality but still love you?

In response the the C4 news broadcast a UK police chaplain, in Brighton of all places, has called her sexuality a choice, disagreed with her theology, and subtly dissed her via Twitter by saying that he was “Leaving [the] conversation to pray for really (italics mine) courageous people” referring to the Christians in Iraq, as opposed to her courage in coming out as a lesbian Christian. Sitting on two police equalities boards, I cannot understand how this guy can be active as a police chaplain with his biblically homophobic mindset.

In Beeching’s raw and honest interview she says that “her parents have agreed to disagree on the theology around homosexuality”, but have supported her lovingly nonetheless. My own were the same, my father at least still struggles with my so-called choices and lifestyle – of course I don’t see it as that. But over time, my mother has come round as a full-on supporter and advocate and reads everything on trans and gender in the papers, often sliding it under my father’s eyes to move him forward slowly.

Only last week I had to come out to another old college and church friend and they admitted that whilst being sympathetic to my struggle and journey they could not agree with my stance of homosexuality and transsexuality. Churches have so much to learn and it is sad that in many if not most cases they are behind the times, in terms of equality and diversity, something that centuries ago they might have once led on.

Christianity out of step with social equalities evolution

Certainly, at times, Christianity has been groundbreaking in its attitudes to and liberation of women and slaves, removing and equalising barriers of class and race. Yet on sexuality it is as if it is still stuck in the dark ages and is Christianity’s last great taboo and the cause of an exodus from the church as it is seen by the young as irrelevant and just plain wrong on LGBTIQ issues.

It has led to my agnosticism now, but I can’t let go of the radicalness of Jesus’ love and inclusion 2000 years ago. Beeching has written a foreword to the book on “The Liberating Truth: How Jesus Empowers Women” – Jesus may do, but the Church does not. The Church of England has finally agreed to women bishops nearly a century after women got the vote! Catch-up for G*d’s sake, Jesus was a feminist, don’t you know?

If only the Church were more like Jesus. Beeching, remains committed to the Church and “rather than abandon it and say it’s broken, I want to be part of the change”, she says.

I’m off to Greenbelt, next week, the only Christian festival that I know of that embraces doubters, atheists, LGBTI people, it even welcomes evangelicals! It is inclusive of a diversity of people and opinion. Vicky will be speaking there and chairing a panel on equal marriage. Sinead O’Connor, who came out as a lesbian back in 2000 and is now more label-free, will be performing too.  For one of the most recent interviews with Sinead see PrideSource. At least Vicky has now found her own “liberating truth”, freedom at last.

[This post first appeared on Bubblews]

Entertainment & Music

BBC’s Sherlock returns for 4th Season and 2015 Special – The game is afoot!

Sherlock BBC Benedict CumberbatchWe can’t get enough of Benedict Cumberbatch and the BBC‘s ‪‎Sherlock, fortunately the Beeb have announced they are to return with filming of a 2015 Special beginning next January and then another 3 episode fourth season later in the year to hit our screens in 2016. The dripfeed of tantalising information began last Tuesday with a BBC One tweet:

Sherlock BBC hashtag 221back facebook Of course the hashtags, #221back and #Sherlock, gave it away but talk about teasing foreplay and dangling this before us and yet making us wait over a year. It is because both the actors and writers are so good that they are in such demand elsewhere too. Cumberbatch on Star Trek, Martin Freeman on Fargo and both of them in The Hobbit. Then at precisely 2:21pm GMT, simultaneously in the UK and US, the BBC announced, and serially re-announced, the news formally, again via the trending ‪#‎221back‬ hashtag:

The new series will be “deeper and darker” than before, and Moriarty could be back. Steven Moffat hinted that “the very next thing to happen to Sherlock and John, is the very last thing you’d expect.”

And so “the game is on” – again!

What has become a catchphrase of Sherlock, “the game is on”, is an update to “the game is afoot” which was originally uttered in just one Sherlock story, The adventure of the Abbey Grange:

“It was on a bitterly cold and frosty morning during the winter of ’97 that I was awakened by a tugging at my shoulder. It was Holmes. The candle in his hand shone upon his eager, stooping face and told me at a glance that something was amiss. ‘Come, Watson, come!’ he cried. ‘The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!’ Ten minutes later we were both in a cab and rattling through the silent streets on our way to Charing Cross Station.”

“The game is afoot” was not an original Conan Doyle inspiration but rather a phrase borrowed from that other English master craftsman, Shakespeare, some 300 years earlier. It first appears in a Shakespearian play, spoken by the Earl of Northumberland, in Henry IV, Part 1, Act 1, Scene 3:

“Before the game is afoot, thou still let’st slip.”

It also appears in the famous speech of King Henry beginning, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends…” and ending:

“I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot: Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'” (Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1

Appeal of Sherlock Holmes

Many people, especially women, find intelligence attractive – “brainy is the new sexy”, but self-confessed cold aloofness and detachment?

Sherlock BBC Benedict Cumberbatch Brainy is the new sexySo why the appeal of Sherlock with his narcissistic superior personality not to mention narcotic escapism on the side. Just why is Sherlock so addictive? Is it that we too are escapist fantasists wishing for an attachment with someone so detached, or do we want to be him, as intelligent and as apparently not needy? Although, it is clear from his weaknesses for drugs and Dr Watson, that he is, however idealised, still far from emotional self-sufficiency.

“My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplaces of existence.” – Sherlock Holmes

It’s not as if Sherlock is great marrying material, given his views on the subject:

“Let’s talk about…murder. Did I say murder? I meant to say marriage. But, you know, they’re quite similar procedures when you think about it. The participants tend to know each other, it’s over when one of them’s dead. In fairness, murder is a lot quicker though.” – Sherlock, BBC

Sherlock himself was not one for emotional attachment, as the modern Sherlock says, “Sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side”, but his one weakness was for Irene Adler, whom Conan Doyle describes thus:

“To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen…. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.” – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Holmes Paget 1903 The Empty House - The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Holmes and Watson in the The Empty House – The Return of Sherlock Holmes, illustrated by Sidney Paget, 1903

I’ve loved Sherlock ever since reading all 60 stories – published over a 40 year period, aged 15, and writing my English OA level special paper on him. I love his intelligence, but not his supposed rational avoidance of emotion for it is clear he loves Watson, not to mention the allusions to attraction and love for Irene Adler.

Elementary my dear Watson

Whilst the US adaptation of the Sherlock brand, the TV series Elementary (Season 1 – 2012, 2 – 2013/14 and Season 3 announced), has been running nearly as long, it takes a different road. Sherlock, played by Jonny Lee Miller, gains the first female crime-busting sidekick with Lucy Liu as Dr Joan Watson – Sherlock’s sobriety companion, a form of addiction counsellor. Sherlock in this is more gritty, troubled, emotional – indeed more human, but no less intelligent despite essentially being in rehab.

It would be a massive SPOILER ALERT for watchers of the US series to reveal the clever twist in just who Moriarty may be. More details, if you already know, or don’t care, on the Wiki list of Moriarty portrayals.

Whilst Elementary is quite different, both play upon the original stories and cleverly leave us guessing as to how they will interweave Victorian plots and book references whilst remaining gripping narrative arcs with surprise twists. That said, Elementary drifts ever further from the originals and seems to exhibit little loyalty to the originals, not that Moffat and Gatiss are renowned for traditional faithfulness either, especially with the way they’ve reinvented Doctor Who – albeit, in my opinion successfully and brilliantly.

Holmes, House and 221B

Although, contextually further away from the criminal detection, the American series House, again with a British actor playing the lead, transposes Holmes and to a lesser extent Watson, to a medical milieu. In many ways, it has been argued, the series is more faithful to the character of Holmes whilst straying almost completely from the plots. In this case it is Dr Gregory House, played by Hugh Laurie with his medical friend Dr James Wilson, same initials as Dr J Watson. They both live at 221B’s, House actually on Baker Street. Their first patient is named Rebecca Adler and later a reference is made to another patient, Irene Adler.

Modern Film Interpretations

Sherlock Holmes theatrical release poster WikiSherlock Holmes has also been brought back to the big screen, so that we have three adaptations of him running simultaneously, along with the BBC version and US Elementary. In 2009, Guy Ritchie directed the first instalment of a British–American film series, produced by Joel Silver. It was more than sufficiently successful to  merit a sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, coming out for Christmas 2011.  A third film announced that year by Warner Bros is still, according to Jude Law in 2013, at scripting stage. Robert Downey Jr played a believably narcissistic Holmes to Law’s suave updated, rather than bumbling, Watson. Whilst the films were more action based than the originals, they have been updated for our times, just like the TV series, but with bigger budgets.

David Stratton, writing in The Australian, in a piece calledThe Swinging Detective disliked the first film’s Indiana Jones-styled interpretation of the original stories concluding, “The makers of this film are mainly interested in action; that, they believe, is all that gets young audiences into cinemas today. They may be right, but they have ridden roughshod over one of literature’s greatest creations in the process.” The fact that there are literally dozens of versions, though, and that each may drive young readers back to the books, is surely a good thing. Just like stage plays and films of Shakespeare one can go for authenticity or adaptation, if not reinvention, it does not diminish the original, rather it shows how versatile and enduring the stories are.

Actors who’ve played Sherlock Holmes

Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes
Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

Holmes is the most portrayed character in movies, of all time, with some 70+ actors playing him. Of all his portrayals, though, I’ve always loved the classic Basil Rathbone on TV and the sharper, perhaps less likeable, Jeremy Brett. Probably the worst, for me, at least, were Charlton Heston, Roy Hudd, Roger Moore and Edward Woodward – not that I didn’t like these actors in other roles, the latter in Callan, for instance.

On radio, a medium quite well suited to the stories, I loved Clive Merrison, the only actor to cover every story and thus the entire canon of Sherlock Holmes. Carleton Hobbs managed 56 of the stories in 80 radio productions. In the war years, Sir John Gielgud performed several radio versions.

The updated television versions make extensive use of visual demonstrations of Holmes’ thought processes, not to mention texting and phone technology, an advantage of television over radio, which lends itself to modernisation rather than authenticity. It may surprise you to know that John Cleese played Sherlock Holmes in a 1977 comedy spoof The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It. Other unlikely actors included Larry Hagman of Dallas fame playing him in another comedy drama made for television movie as a motorcycle cop who after an accident believed himself to be Sherlock Holmes. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore also paired up in a comic version.

More seriously, Leonard Nimoy, perhaps as the emotionless Spock well suited to the role, played Sherlock on stage for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).

A Growing Audience

It is to be hoped that modern reworkings of Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock, Elementary and the film franchise will create a new young audience for Conan Doyle’s character and send them back to books to marvel at Victorian penmanship.

Sherlock’s Facebook page has 3.7m likes and no doubt after 10 million Brits watched him rise from the dead, that figure will just rise and rise again.

Sherlock BBC 221back facebook

 

[An earlier version of this article first appeared here]

Image credits:

BBC public domain facebook image of Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock   BBC public domain facebook image of Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock BBC public domain facebook image of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes WikiMedia Commons

Entertainment & Music

RIP Rik Mayall aka (P)Rick of the Young Ones, Comic Strip, New Statesman, Blackadder…, 1958-2014

“This house will become a shrine, and punks and skins and rastas will all gather round and hold their hands in sorrow for their fallen leader. And all the grown-ups will say: “But why are the kids crying?” And the kids will say: “Haven’t you heard? Rik is deadThe People’s Poet is dead!”” – The Young Ones  

“Bum”, I mean “Bottom“, Rik Mayall has died a Young One at just 56, the B’stard. The near-30 year married family man was a comedy genius and genuine talent. He will be sorely missed and was working right up to the sudden end, despite his own near-death experience on a quad bike back in 1998 that left him in a coma for days and with epilepsy. Ironically, his most recent project was a Lupus Films/Channel 4 animated comedy about the joys of being dead – “Don’t Fear Death“!

Death “is your passport to complete and utter freedom. No pulse, no responsibilities. Carpe mortem – seize death”

Mayall and Ade Edmondson were contemporaries at Manchester University – where they also met writing partner Ben Elton, and performed together as 20th Century Coyote, their first performance was an improv called “Dead Funny“. As members dropped (not dead) off, the comedy group became a duo, renamed to The Dangerous Brothers, and shifted to London’s Comedy Store, where Alexei Sayle compered. Later they started their own comedy club, The Comic Strip Club, which ran out of Soho porn baron Paul Raymond’s Revue Bar, whilst conventional adult strip acts performed on the other two stages. This is also where they met Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, who Edmondson later married in 1985.

>Comic Strip Presents Complete CollectionTogether they formed the TV series “The Comic Strip Presents…” which ran from 1982, 5 years before French and Saunders aired as a separate series. Their first episode was a parody of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventures as “Five Go Mad in Dorset“.

In 1981 Mayall played “Rest Home” Ricky in Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Picture Show follow up musical film: “Shock Treatment“. Curiously, Rik has managed to play a Rick, a Ricky and also a Richie, aka Richard Rich in Filthy Rich & Catflap (1986).

In 1991 he got to play a Fred, the eponymous mischievous imaginary friend in the film “Drop Dead Fred“. He also squeezed in a Micky in “Eat the Rich” (1987), a Mathias in “Little Noises” (1991), a Marty in “Bring me the Head of Mavis Davis” (1997) and a Mario in “Eldorado” (2012). Not to mention the voice of Prince Froglip in “The Princess and the Goblin” (1991) and Mr Toad in “The Wind in the Willows” (1995).

Another animated character he played was was the voice of Kehaar in the series version of “Watership Down” (1999) and Edwin the Eagle in the spellbinding “Shoebox Zoo” (2004-5). He also played an unnamed man in the pub in “An American Werewolf in London” (1981). In 2000 he managed to play character opposites Robin Hood in “Blackadder: Back & Forth” and King Herod in “Jesus Christ Superstar“!

Rik Mayall as Rick in The Young Ones
Rik Mayall as Rick in The Young Ones

The Young Ones first aired in 1982, the BBC was not entirely convinced, but went ahead to compete with the emerging popularity of Channel 4. Spike Milligan, commenting on Mayall’s farting, nose-picking “Rick”, described him as the “arsehole of British comedy”. (Quoted in McSmith, Andy, No Such Thing As Society: A History of Britain in the 1980s, Constable & Robinson, p149)

Until then most successful comedians and comedy writers had emerged from establishment universities like Oxford and especially Cambridge. Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson stemmed from Oxford, whilst Cambridge and its Footlights Theatre produced talent that went on to make Monty Python, The Goodies, Yes Minister, Bremner, Bird and Fortune, Alas Smith and Jones, Fry and Laurie, Newman and Baddiel, Punt and Dennis, and more recent acts like Mitchell and Webb, Armstrong and Miller, Mel and Sue.

Rik portrayed the crude, pompous poet, anti-establishment anarchist and redbrick university sociology student, “Rick” with great energy and voracious vulgarity. In the “Bambi” episode, somehow the four students end up on University Challenge, appropriately competing against Footlights College.

Young Ones Bambi Prick Wiki
The Young Ones “Bambi” episode

On the show Rick’s namecard has a scrawled ‘P’ added to it and Vyvyan jokes that his name has a silent ‘P’ before it. In the same episode Neil reads out graffiti from Rick’s ‘O’ Level History text book – “Prick is a wonker – signed, the rest of the class”, although Rick dismisses this as classroom banter until Neil then reads out a further scribble – “I agree with the rest of the class – signed teacher”.

“I live on the limit, Vyvyan. The limit, because I’m a rider at the gates of dawn and I take no prisoners!” – Rick in The Young Ones

For all his character’s pseudo-anarchy Rick seemed to have a conservative background and was a Cliff Richard fan. He didn’t seem to know much about the politics he claimed to believe in and was a lazy socialist, in terms of political theory.

“If you’re a wild eyed loner at the gates of oblivion then hitch a ride with us, because we are riding on the last freedom moped out of nowhere and we haven’t even told our parents what time we are coming home…” from the introduction by Rick to Cliff Richard’s “Living Doll” for Comic Relief  (1.5m views)

It was no surprise when Rik evolved Rick into slimy sleazy scheming Conservative politician Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman, which ran on ITV from 1987 to 1992 for 4 series. I completely forgot that Vyv’s surname was also Basterd in the Young Ones.

New Statesman DVD

Rik Mayall also reprised Alan B’Stard MP, or rather PM, in a political advertising campaign by the No2AV group in 2011. Parodying David Cameron and Nick Clegg entering into coalition and office together he promised no tax or tuition fees, free housing and electricity, and then gleefully burnt the manifesto and its promises.

“You know the really great thing about a fudged coalition is that neither of us need to carry out a single promise of our election manifestos.”

Rather than The People’s Poet, the People’s Prophet, perhaps?

At the same time as the New Stateman was airing Rik also popped up in Blackadder II and Blackadder Goes Forth, playing the loud lecherous bragging Lord Flashheart.  In 2006 he returned to the nobility as Lord Reginald in “SpongeBob SquarePants” (2006).

Whilst Flashheart was crude in an upper class slimy sexist way, Rik returned to the gutters again for “Bottom” (1991-1995). Mostly containing scenes of frying pan bashing and slapstick violence akin to classic Laurel and Hardy or old Warner Bros cartoons. For all its base comedy, Rik and Ade had acted together in Waiting for Godot in 1991 and created Bottom as a crude take on the play. The characters, again a Richie, Richard “Richie” Richard, and Edmonson playing flatmate Eddie Elizabeth Hitler, went on to appear in four series, a film “Guest House Paradiso” (1999) playing Richard Twat, and a touring stage show – “Bottom: Live“, which left them in hospital, on occasion! Bottom last toured in 2003 but the 1997 stage version, “Bottom Live 3: Hooligan’s Island” nearly made it back to our screens in 2013, but was cancelled due to competing projects that Ade Edmondson wanted to pursue.

One of my favourite banal Bottom scenes from Season 2 Episode 2, bemoaning what to do in the absence of television…

Richie: What about “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”?
Eddie: We haven’t got a donkey.
Richie: Well, “Pin the Tail on the Chicken”
Eddie: We haven’t got a tail.
Richie: Oh. Well, “Pin the Sausage on the Chicken”?
Eddie: We haven’t got a chicken.
Richie: (Annoyed) Well, “Pin the Sausage on the Fridge”.
Eddie: Or a pin.
Richie: (Angrier) “Sellotape a Sausage to the Fridge”!
Eddie: We haven’t got a sausage!
Richie: (shouting) “Put a Bit of Sellotape on the Fridge”!
Eddie: (Beat) It’s not much of a game, is it?
[Richie and Eddie have just played stick a piece of sellotape on the fridge. Eddie won]
Eddie: Who won?
Richie: Ha ha ha ha. Eddie, it matters not who won or lost, but how you play the game.
Eddie: Oh, you mean I won? Ha! Ha-ha. [wets his finger, draws a figure 1 in the air, waves his hands in the air]
Richie: Yes, I suppose so, yeah, I mean if it’s so important to you, yes. Yes, you did win. I mean for Heaven’s sake, Eddie, it’s only a game! [walking away, to himself] Shit, shit

Waiting for Godot, was not his only conventional acting role, he also appeared made a “brilliant debut” as Ivan in Gogol’s The Government Inspector at the Olivier Theatre in 1985. Indeed, The Telegraph ran an article back in April this year on the 2012 film Eldorado, “the worst film ever made…weapons-grade awful”, in which Mayall played a Verdi-singing, cannibalistic chef, Mario – in contrast to the dire film, his scene stood out as “fairly watchable”!

During the 2000s Mayall was marketed by Playstation on games and ads, to be seen as more “edgy” over Sega‘s success. The money he made from this bought him a house which he jokingly named “Nintendo Towers“.

Such a shame, that like Faulty Towers there were just 12 episodes of the Young Ones, a 1980s classic “sign of the times” series – it always felt like there were many more, I wish there were, and now there won’t be a comeback series as The Old Ones, perhaps “only the good die young”. The Young Ones page on Facebook has nearly a million likes.

Ade Edmondson had this to say of his long time friend and creative collaborator:

Ade Edmondson on Rik Mayall RIP

“There were times when Rik and I were writing together when we almost died laughing. They were some of the most carefree stupid days I ever had, and I feel privileged to have shared them with him. And now he’s died for real. Without me. Selfish bastard.”

Nigel Planer, hippie Neil in The Young Ones, described him as:

“…inspirational, bonkers, and a great life force”.

The Guardian described Mayall’s characters as “full of life” and “vast mad scribbles, jammed to the margins with noise and energy”.

The level of talent portraying anarchist poet Rick and punk revolutionary Vyvyan, and their reprised characters in Bottom is clear when one realises that both men went on to conventional marriage and fatherhood. They both married in 1985 and had 3 kids each. Prior to, and overlapping, that, Mayall had been in a relationship with Lise Mayer, co-creator and writer of The Young Ones, and who is now married to Angus Deayton. He leaves behind his wife, Barbara Robbin, and three children, who if they were ever told how to behave after seeing daddy in The Young Ones and Bottom, must have been a struggle to get to behave!

Bonnie Mayall, Rik’s youngest daughter, posted on Facebook:

“We will never forget him and neither will the world, R.I.P to the man, the myth, the legend – my wonderful, generous, foul mouthed and hysterical father.”

For a man whose career went from “Dead Funny” to “Don’t Fear Death” via a near-death experience in 1998, Rik Mayall died full of life, love and laughter. He leaves behind a comedy legacy that will keep us laughing for many years to come.

[An earlier version of this article appeared here]

 

 

Entertainment & Music

Eurovision, entertainment, entente or enmity? Austria’s Conchita Wurst Genderqueer Drag act wins! Russian revulsion and reactions

The Eurovision Song Contest was established post-War to bring nations together in peaceful pop appreciation but as ‘greater’ Europe’s nations (including Russia and Israel) battled it out over national pop songs (mostly sung in English!) on 10 May, new conflicts arose.

Conchita Wurst wins Eurovision 2014First, there was the new enmity between Russian and Ukraine and the break-up of the former Warsaw-pact voting block. Second, there was the usual analysis and outcry at nationalist and neighbouring countries mutual self-interest voting patterns, not to mention vast divisions between the newer 50/50 split between public and professional jury votes.

Finally, there was the homophobia and indeed, transphobia, of some nations (Belarus, Russian and even some Austrians) complaining about Austria’s label-defying gay genderqueer drag diva Conchita Wurst, who went on to win the contest.

Russia-Ukraine | Reaction | Voting | Camp/Queer History | Conchita Wurst | Bearded Women

Eurovision Song Contest logo

2014’s Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) in Copenhagen, Denmark, was the 59th competition, having begun in 1956. This year, 37 nations, competed, and it top-ten trended on Twitter most of the week, such is the European, if not international following of the entertainment extravaganza.

Eurovision 2014 – Russia and Ukraine

Tuesday’s semi-final had more at stake than music as rival posturing nations Russia and Ukraine continued their war of words.

Eurovision Song Contest #JoinUs

Both Russia and Ukraine made the semi-finals with Ukraine’s entry drawing cheers and Russia’s, boos. Eurovision 2014’s tagline #JoinUs had a darker new meaning as Russia wants Ukraine to “join us” having already taken Crimea to a dubious vote – just like Eurovision!

One of last year’s Eurovision stories was Twitter top-trending as hundreds erroneously re-tweeted a BBC story about Azerbaijan’s failure to nominate any points to Russia’s entry in the Eurovision song contest and Russia’s foreign minister calling this “outrageous”!  Except this was 2013, and a conspiracy theory at that, with the report that Azerbaijan’s President subsequently ordered an inquiry into how its votes for Russia apparently went missing. In the game of Eurovision “Risk” Russia had given Azerbaijan’s entry maximum “douze points”.

This year, Russia’s entry, the Tolmachevy Twins, aged 17, seemed perfect Eurovision fare, beautiful on the eyes and ears, a popular choice – apart from being Russian. Their song and teenage innocence with respect to all the international politics meant they were received well until they progressed to the final and were booed by the Danish and international semi-final and final audiences, who seemed strongly anti-Russia’s stance against gay rights, Crimea and the Ukraine. During the awarding of points almost every award of any points to Russia was greeted with jeers rather than cheers as the voting public punished Putin for Russian territorial aggression and anti-LGBT laws.

Ukraine’s own entry, Mariya Yaremchuk, also qualified for the final with the added visual drama of a suited male dancer running inside a giant hamster wheel to her song “Tick-Tock”.

In the end, Conchita Wurst of Austria won by a large margin 290pts (beating Netherlands 238pts), but Ukraine, with 113 points to Russia’s 89 points, will be pleased it came 6th over Russian’s 7th place! Ironically, Russia gave Austria (5pts) one more point than it gave to Ukraine (4pts).

Russian news sites during the week reported on the respective nations’ entries as “aggressive”, “militant” or about supposed political messages hidden in the songs.

Russian and International Reaction to the Eurovision 2014 Winner

The morning after Eurovision 2014 was won by gay genderqueer drag artist from Austria Conchita Wurst had Russian politicians reaching new lows of homophobia and European “liberal” condemnation.

The Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, tweeted that the Eurovision result “showed supporters of European integration their European future: a bearded girl.”

According to TheJournal.ie, another Russian politician, the ultranationalist leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), Vladimir Zhirinovsky, told Rossiya-1 state television:

“There’s no limit to our outrage. It’s the end of Europe. It has turned wild. They don’t have men and women any more. They have ‘it’. Fifty years ago the Soviet army occupied Austria. We made a mistake in freeing Austria. We should have stayed.”

Zhirinovsky has been described as “One of the most enduring fruit loops in Russian politics” – note that was ‘enduring’ not endearing. He is stubbornly sexist, homophobic, racist, anti-Western. He has called for the deportation of Chinese and Japanese people, threatened a female journalist with rape, and crazily suggested that the British royal baby would suck Russian blood!

Russian hip-hop rapper Timati had over 76,000 likes in just 15 hours for his Instagram post about Conchita Wurst in which he wrote that her win was symptomatic of a “complex mental disorder of modern society”. He went on to bemoan having to explain gay kissing to children, bearded trans – “and that’s supposed to be normal”,and to praise Putin for banning LGBT Pride Parades.

Russia’s reactions are somewhat, ironic and hypocritical given that in the 2003 Eurovision Contest they were represented by faux-lesbian t.A.T.u. and their same-sex kissing. Again, in February, at the Sochi Winter Olympics the Russian Olympic team marched out to the music of t.A.T.u.’s Lena Katina and Yulia Volkova, dressed as schoolgirls, kissing in the rain.

Eurovision Block Voting Scandals

Eurovision’s extra political undercurrent this year is nothing new as block-voting has been allegedly going on for decades, whether Greece-Cyprus, Scandinavian, Balkan or Warsaw pact blocks. Whilst mutual voting may have helped Ukraine win in 2004, Russia in 2008, and Azerbaijan 2011, it seems that for many former Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact countries cooperation is now over with Russia’s perceived aggression in the real world outside of camp pop culture.

Eurovision’s Camp GenderQueer History

Eurovision is no stranger to camp, drag or trans artistes, such as Israel’s pioneering 1998 trans winner, Sharon Cohen performing as Dana International. Sharon had come out as transgender aged 13 and had transsexual surgery (SRS/GRS), aged 21, in London in 1993. Initially, she had performed as a drag act but she had also felt female from a very young age. Her background was Romanian and Yemenite Jewish and her Eurovision entry received strong opposition from Orthodox Jews, calling her “deviant” and other traditionalists who attempted to block her competing in Eurovision as Israel’s entry. She said after winning, “I want to send my critics a message of forgiveness and say to them: try to accept me and the kind of life I lead. I am what I am and this does not mean I don’t believe in God, and I am part of the Jewish Nation.” Winning meant Israel hosted 1999’s Eurovision and again conservative forces attempted to keep “sexual perversion” out of Israel’s “holy city”, Jerusalem.

Eurovision 2002 saw Slovenia set feathers ruffling by entering the first drag act, rather than a transwoman, a trio called Sestre.

In 2007 double divas ruled the competition as Denmark’s DQ performing “Drama Queen” came from the back to pip Ukraine’s own Dolce & Gabbana wearing drag act Verka Serduchka to win the contest. Verka, a.k.a. Andriy Danylko, had to overcome Ukrainian opposition to their act in the form of radio protests and statements in the Ukraine Parliament labelling him as “grotesque and vulgar”.

Last year, Turkey allegedly refused to broadcast the show because of a same-sex kiss by Finland’s entry.

Austria’s GenderQueer “Bearded Lady” Drag Queen

This year’s Eurovision has seen Austria’s innovative genderqueer entry, Conchita Wurst, steal the show and go on to win it. She has not been without controversy, though, and has attracted her own oppositional battles, but along gender/sex/uality lines not state sovereignty lines as with Russia and Ukraine.

Conchita Wurst

Vienna-based Tom Neuwirth performed as a “drag” persona Conchita Wurst – a thinly veiled euphemism for “Vagina Sausage”. What makes this creation stand out further is that Conchita sports a very neat and kempt beard! Well, thickly brushed on eye shadow to be accurate.

It is ‘said’ that Tom-Conchita identifies as “gender neutral”, “trans” and prefers female pronouns. “While identifying as gender neutral, she uses female pronouns to describe herself but still likes to play with drag, satire and gender identity.” Hence most labels struggle to fit them, somewhere between gender identity and gender performance, neither traditional drag nor typical trans, male nor female, seem to 100% fit, and their preference for “gender neutral” seems best, whether that extends to non-binary is something we just don’t know.

Conchita Wurst performs at Eurovision 2014Tom-Conchita’s Eurovision official profile page gets all the gender pronouns mixed up – and some people are still mixed up in trying to define her, I say, let her stay unboxable. 

No doubt some trans may be horrified by Conchita’s depiction of a “bearded lady” after issues with British TV’s Little Britain and Paddy Power’s transphobic “Spot the Tranny” competition. Conchita is happy to use the term “bearded lady” and adopts it as a “symbol of tolerance”. Asked what was special about Conchita’s entry, she said:

“For me the most special and honoring thing is that Austria shows tolerance and acceptance and I’m so happy to be this statement. I’m allowed to be the voice of their beliefs during this time and this really makes me very proud. We, and not at least myself, want to stand for a society without hate and discrimination. And if I’m honest, I think everyone of the contestants should stand for the same, cause we are joining a very opend minded project, so they should be open minded too…I really hope that I get the chance to change some minds all around Europe. I want to show them that you can look whatever you want and that everybody must have the right to live their life however they want it, if nobody gets hurt…I really want to convince them to be the best version of themselves rather than a bad copy of someone else! You can do whatever you want if you’re not hurting anyone.” [sic]

No stranger to controversy and prejudice, their involvement has attracted protests from homophobes and transphobes in Austria, Belarus and Russia, describing the competition as full of “European liberals” and “a hotbed of sodomy”. One Russian politician has called Conchita an “Austrian freak” and that “the future of our children depends on us” banning them from Eurovision. Armenia’s entry, Aram Mp3, described Conchita as “not natural” and offered to, “help her to … decide whether she is a woman or man”. Conchita responded with:

“I am a working woman/queen and an incredibly lazy young man in my free time and that is not going to change. If you have problems understanding that, then I would be happy to sit down with you and explain it to you in more detail. And with your homophobic comments, that is a conversation that we really need to speak about.”

Curiously, trying to find the exact source of Conchita’s response results in about 50 references to “working woman” and some 80+ to “working queen”. For instance, the HuffPost version has “I told him I don’t want to be a woman. I am just a working queen and a very lazy boy at home.” For a transwoman, a beard and a name with all the sexual innuendos Conchita Wurst has would be somewhat strange. Yet for a drag queen she seems to prefer life as a woman to that of a gay man. Whatever her labels and self-identity she is free to be who she is and/or wants to be. Conchita said:

“I feel more comfortable in this persona than being a boy at home … Being a teenager, a gay teenager, in such a small village is not that much fun. I am part of the gay community and most gays have a similar story to mine.”

Even in liberal California a Psychology Professor polled their class and 77 out of 138 said they found Conchita’s appearance “offensive or confusing”. Obviously, it is confusing, but there is a big leap from confusing to offensive. They also said:

“I think having a beard and having a feminine body at the same time the singer shows that he/she is still in the process of transformation (from male to female, Which is ok) …[but] … there are only two kinds in all species in the world………male or female? Anything in between is considered unusual… But in Conchitas case, I think he/she is crossing a very thin line which actually is not only unethical, (and I don’t care about the ethical part) but just confusing, absurd and almost unexceptable. Every single one of my gay friends thinks this way and I can prove it… Even my gay friends are offended by Conchhita. Actually they’re furious and angry at her.” [sic].

Conchita’s song called “Rise Like a Phoenix” can be heard here:

You can follow Conchita on Twitter or on Facebook, where she has 40,000 likes, around the same number as the Austrian facebook campaign against her which also attracted nearly 5000 signatures on change.org. Conchita summed up her motivation and message in a Radio Free Europe interview:

“My stance is that I fight for something positive rather than against something negative. I was always an outsider and I was confronted with discrimination. I don’t want this to happen to the next generation.”

Conchita Wurst Eurovision Ireland interviewGarrett Mulhall Of EurovisionIreland.net interviewed Conchita in November 2013 about her music and mission, ideology and identity, and she had this to say:

[Conchita] “I have arms like a man, face like a girl, and also the beard, and I told them that this is, that there are people out there who are in between you know and I took them by the hand and I said you are here (the boy), the girls – here, and I am just in the middle…I think they understood that there is more than a surface of a person” (11m27s)

[Garrett] “I think you being at Eurovision is a pivotal point in Eurovision’s history, and it’s one that I’m very glad about, because, … Eurovision was established so long ago to bring a war-torn Europe together and times have moved on now where we’re trying to bring different people from social backgrounds or gender backgrounds or … whatever, … we don’t want to label people anymore, and tolerance is obviously a very important thing to you…” (12m20s)

Many have challenged her sexuality, gender identity, presentation and pronouns – She prefers “she” and “her” and is more comfortable as Conchita than Tom the “lazy boy” she dresses down as, however. her male partner didn’t know she was Conchita as well for a week or two.

Our need to label, even as minority communities, to claim, correct or reject, her personal expression, is indicative of a common human need to categorise, define and then decide whether they are a threat or not. She is a threat to stereotypes of man, woman, gay, trans, drag queen, for she does not conform to any in a traditional way. Some trans are up in arms over her beard and for the possible inclusion of a drag queen under their umbrella. Some gays see her as too female too often. Some women oppose her use of female pronouns and, again, the beard.

By her own description, she does not fit, but is “in between”, non-binary, and that she is more than just her surface. By her own admission she is not transgender, or at least it is more artistic expression, “I am a drag artist”, she says.

Indeed, in performance, and initially in the interview there is a touch of drag and gender performance about her, but as she settles into talking about equality and acceptance, the seriousness takes over and her feminine expressions remain, but more integrated less performative. These are not judgements or criticisms, for I find the more I listen to her the more I love her. We all need to get beyond the “surface” of a person and cease visual and labelled judgements.

Her goal according to the Irish interview (around 15-17 mins in) is for people to engage and talk about difference, to start to think, to accept – whether they like/love it or not. That much she can 100% regard as being successful in. People are talking – good for her! Conchita made it through Thursday’s semi-finals to Saturday’s live final after some delays down in part to questions as to whether Belarus had even broadcast her act, such is the opposition to her from some quarters. Indeed, after her win on May 10, she was condemned by the Russian Orthodox Church and many in Russia were shaving their beards off in protest – the men that is!

Conchita Wurst performs at London LGBT Pride

After Eurovision Conchita Wurst has been in great demand and was the headline performer at 2014’s Pride show in Trafalgar Square, London on 28 June. She was introduced by veteran gay rights activist and Magneto/Gandalf actor Sir Ian McKellen with the words:

“Showbusiness has always led the way when it comes to the freedom to be yourself. So, Conchita is following in the footsteps of our predecessors. There is a long tradition of outrageousness and confidence that performers embody, and that has an enormous impact. It clears the way for others to dare to be themselves. She has done just that.”

Conchita Wurst said before the parade how much she was “looking forward” to it and what Pride meant to her:

“Let us be proud about who we are and let us give a statement for love, respect and tolerance. And most of all let us be proud and think about those LGBTI people around the world, who can’t make a Gay Pride in their countries.”

Chair of London LGBT+ Pride, Michael Salter said:

“Conchita is an incredible example of the power of having the #freedomto be oneself. Winning Eurovision, she raised the profile of the LGBT+ community across a continent and sent an important political message. We are thrilled that she is coming to celebrate Pride in London.”

Balpreet Kaur, bearded Sikh woman

Balpreet Kaur bearded Sikh woman PCOS All of this recalls the recent challenge to not only typical female gender presentation but also traditional Sikh expectations by Balpreet Kaur who has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) but has embraced her facial hair which it caused and let it grow to a full beard. Her baptism into the Sikh faith now requires her not to cut it. At school and online she was bullied to the point of self-harm and felt suicidal but found huge public support and acceptance for her brave stand. She has now accepted herself, her beard, and discovered a new confidence and humour – read more about her.

[Parts of this article were initially posted here and here.]