“Anyone who thinks that life is fair,” Richard M. Nixon once said, “has been seriously misinformed.”
So, as I’m sitting on the toilet Monday morning — as is my wont and my joy to do so — checking the weekend’s rugby results, I begin to get a sense of extreme unease and the near certainty that something is dreadfully wrong.
There’s no mention of the Munster v Racing game.
And this means that something terrible must have happened.
And so before I begin today’s blog, I want to say a word or two about Anthony Foley.
If you haven’t heard of him, Foley — nicknamed “Axel” — was the glue in the Irish Rugby Union team for ten years.
Foley won 62 Ireland caps and made 201 appearances in the back row for Munster, leading them to their first European Cup triumph in 2006 before becoming Munster’s Head Coach in 2014.
He died in his slumber on 16 October 2016, while staying at a hotel in the Paris suburb of Suresnes with the Munster squad. A French coroner confirmed that the cause of death was acute pulmonary oedema, caused by ‘a heart rhythm disorder’. The team was preparing to face Racing 92 in its opening game of the 2016–17 European Rugby Champions Cup. The game was postponed.
The Guardian’s obituary writer described Foley as “… an unflashy No 8. An intelligent
player, he was essentially a team man and best appreciated by his team-mates. Keith Wood,” he continued, “the former Ireland hooker and captain, once said he never saw Foley play a bad game but, despite being a permanent fixture in the Irish back row, Foley, unlike Wood, was overlooked for the Lions side and his omission in the squad to tour Australia in 2001 particularly rankled.”
Tyrone Howe, the former Ulster, Ireland and Lions wing, who had been appearing on Sky Sports on Sunday when news of Foley’s death broke, delivered an apt tribute to the Munsterman, with and against whom he had played for more than 15 years.
“He personified the ‘Stand Up And Fight’ spirit of Munster rugby and played a leading role in turning Thomond Park into one of the great citadels of world rugby. Above all, his ultra competitive spirit was founded on the most solid of core values, of which family was at the heart.”
Gone at 42.
Where’s the fairness in that?
And so we move seamlessly on to what I regard as another piece of unfairness: The Nobel Prize in Literature, 2016, which was awarded to Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.
Now, I know that this is going to be a tad divisive and — dear reader — you may well support the decision to give the award to the brilliant but rather underwhelmed Dylan; however to me, it creates a very dangerous precedent.
You see, as far as I am concerned, Literature is, well… literature, and lyrics are the accompaniment to a piece of music. And no matter how brilliant they are, they should be regarded as the icing that goes on the cake.
To give Dylan the Nobel Literature Prize is a bit like entering a cat for Crufts.
Or, for that matter, presenting Tony Blair with an Oscar (although you could make a plausible case for this) or even nominating Andy Murray for a Mercury Music Award because he has a guitar in his bedroom.
All this artistic cross-pollination began when that dreadful woman Tracey Emin won the Turner Prize for the representation of a teenager’s floordrobe — that’s bedroom, to the unenlightened.
Awarding a ‘work’ of such preposterous and unequivocally inartistic nonsense meant that nothing would ever be the same again.
There were, from that moment onwards, no longer any rules in art.
Now of course some of you will be thinking that this is just sour grapes. As one of only three people ever to have won the Portora Royal School Poetry Prize on two consecutive years — Wilde and Beckett being the other two — I could build a case for my own name being in the frame.
However, I would grudgingly admit that my body of work still falls a little short of what the Members of the Swedish Academy are looking for. It doesn’t even have as heavy a word count as the combined lyrics of Blonde on Blonde.
But to me the dangerous thing is this: just how far are we going to go with this cross-mixed-genre thing? I mean, it’s conceivable that something by Andrew Lloyd Webber could win it… or God forbid, Paul McCartney* — I mean, why isn’t C Moon regarded as a trail-blazing work of literary genius?
It all began in Africa.
No it didn’t… it all began with the decline of religion and the rise of celebrity culture. And for this I blame Eric Clapton, although Clapton, to be fair, never claimed to be God. In fact, he never claimed to be anything other than a better than average guitarist and because of this unprecedented modesty, he is one of the few artists to have made it in the U.S. without giving in to the American obsession with celebrity.
John Lennon once said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. And where, exactly, does that leave God himself (Eric Clapton) beneath the harsh spotlight of celebrity culture?
“He is the reluctant star, pushing more for intimate interactions instead of mass appeal, shying away from commercializing himself while staying true to those who appreciate him for his music, not just for his celebrity status”, according to his biographer, Paul Scott .
However, “… the most extraordinary love triangle in history”, as The Daily Mail referred to the goings-on between Clapton, George Harrison and Pattie Boyd, fanned public interest for information that really had no place in The Public Interest, but it also blew the fame of all three to new heights. And so, folks, that’s how celebrity culture was born.
Back to Dylan.
Of course the man is a genius and if I suspend my hang-ups over mixed genres then it is perfectly reasonable that his lyrics, described by his biographer Michael Gray as “… a unique mixture of the visionary and the colloquial” should receive some sort of formal recognition.
But then there’s also Leonard Cohen, whose new album, You Want it Darker, is reviewed here .
Or what about Sir Van the Man for that matter?
If only, you understand, in the interest of fairness.
*Note — I refuse to refer to McCartney as Sir Paul McCartney in the same way as I refuse to refer to Bradley Wiggins as Sir Bradley Wiggins. In my book, people who use banned drugs in the course of what is basically a recreational pursuit should not become Knights of the Realm. And before you say it, Sir Ian Botham was a very different kettle of fish.