Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lou Reed's Berlin - Belfast Waterfront Hall

The last time I went to the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, I was greeted by a very lacklustre effort from Sinead O’Connor. Although I had higher hopes for Lou Reed, who brought his Berlin tour to the venue last night, I left disappointed by an average performance and bewildered by the audience’s hysterical reaction.

My main gripe was Reed’s tendency to sing the songs according to whatever lyrical phrasing that pleases him. Okay, they’re his songs and he can do what he likes with them, but I’d have preferred them to sound more like they do on the record. Surely that’s the point of presenting an album in its totality, live on stage. Reed’s delivery is generally conversational but I thought his ambling, talking style ruined The Kids and Caroline Says II.

The Berlin album runs for just under fifty minutes. Reed and his band compensated for this by ensuring the closing bars of nearly every song repeated over and over, while Reed and his guitarist engaged in over-bloated guitar jamming.

The mood improved towards the close of the album. The Bed and Sad Song translated beautifully and Reed sang in time to the music, although the refrain of the latter song seemed to go on for an age.

The encore consisted of near-unrecognisable versions of Rock and Roll and Satellite of Love. Reed’s boredom must have been complete by this point, as he didn’t even bother singing most of the words, leaving these duties to his bass player, backing singer and child-choir. Unfortunately, the final song The Power of the Heart was marred by Reed’s guitar sounding distinctly out of tune with the rest of the band, although Reed seemed aware of this, judging by his perplexed scrutiny of said guitar as he continued to play.

It seems standing ovations are commonplace in the Waterfront Hall. Like O’Connor last month, Reed’s audience was quickly on its feet and clapping like mad. Maybe they were on strong drugs, or something. The people in the row in front of me were waving their arms and whooping. I didn’t quite get it, although the sight of middle aged men dancing in the aisle and supplicating themselves, hands outstretched to their hero was somewhat bemusing.

Maybe I was just spoilt by an excellent Leonard Cohen performance in Dublin the week before.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Two Minutes Hate - Iris Robinson

On looking at pictures of the DUP's new ministerial team, I was reminded of Gore Vidal’s assertion that “Politics is show-business for ugly people.” Never has such a horror-show image assailed my eyes.

Absent from said pictures is MP MLA Iris Robinson, who has recently exhibited herself as ugliest of all, with her uncompromising views on lesbian and gay people.

It all started last week, when Mrs Robinson appeared on BBC’s Nolan radio show to praise the efforts of one-time moral crusader, Mary Whitehouse. It wasn’t long before she connected with the DUP homophobic mainframe and used her Christian beliefs to attack the morals – or lack thereof – of lesbian and gay people, although Mrs Robinson used the rather outmoded term, ‘homosexual.’ She spoke with a kind of smug superiority and even chuckled, as if she was sharing a joke.

There was nothing sophisticated or socially responsible about Mrs Robinson’s comments or tone. She seemed unaware of the impact of her words and denied she was fueling the sort of violence that was visited on Stephen Scott, a 27 year-old gay man who was attacked in Newtownabbey the previous evening.

She noted: “I have a lovely psychiatrist who works with me in my offices. I have met people who have turned around and become heterosexual, so it does work. This is a long process. The gentleman, who is a psychiatrist, but more importantly is a born again Christian, has links right across the world. I’m happy to pass on any names to him!”

The “lovely psychiatrist,” is Dr Paul Miller, an honorary clinical lecturer at Queen's University Belfast and senior health advisor to Mrs Robinson. He also came onto the Nolan show to talk about how he was able to turn gays straight. He said he felt compelled to undertake such work after one of his patients, who was struggling with his sexuality, died by suicide. This statement was delivered without insight or irony.

Dr Miller’s views have since been dismissed by the Royal Society of Psychiatrists, whose statement noted: "Such treatments do not work and can actually cause quite a lot of harm. Homosexuality is a state and a sexual orientation and is not a question of behaviour."

You would think that would be the end of the affair, but Mrs Robinson was not to be gagged. A couple of days later, she reappeared on the Nolan show to continue her tirade against lesbian and gay people. One notable exchange focussed on the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of the word ‘Abomination’:

Nolan: Do you think, for example, that homosexuality is disgusting?

Robinson: Absolutely.

Nolan: Do you think that homosexuality should be loathed?

Robinson: Absolutely.

Nolan: Do you think it is right for people to have a physical disgust towards homosexuality?

Robinson: Absolutely.

Nolan: Does it make you nauseous?

Robinson: Yes.

Nolan: Do you think that it is something that is shamefully wicked and vile?

Robinson: Yes, of course it is. It’s an abomination.

Mrs Robinson is now under investigation by the PSNI, following complaints.

You would think that would bring the matter to a close. Not so. Mrs Robinson reappeared soon after, and equated gays with murderers:

"Just as a murderer can be redeemed by the blood of Christ, so can a homosexual. And that’s the message and it’s the word of God and if anyone takes issue they are taking issue with the word of God."

There have been cries from many quarters for Mrs Robinson to apologise, which she refuses to do, and to resign from her post as chair of the Assembly Health Committee. There’s even a Make Iris Robinson History campaign on Bebo.

It will be interesting to see if police action is forthcoming. Article 9 of the Public Order (NI) Order 1987, notes:

"A person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, is guilty of an offence if :
  • (a) he intends thereby to stir up hatred or arouse fear; or
  • (b) having regard to all the circumstances hatred is likely to be stirred up or fear is likely to be aroused thereby."
Whatever happens, I can’t help but feel that Mrs Robinson’s current media profile may be related to her husband’s elevation to the post of First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly last week. She either has a strong competitive streak and seeks to claim her own place in the limelight, or wishes to somehow undermine her husband’s recent achievement.

However, in considering the religious fundamentalism of Mrs Robinson and her followers, I’m reminded of a speech about the Party’s sexual puritanism, in George Orwell’s 1984:

“Sexual privation induced hysteria, which was desirable because it could be transformed into war-fever and leader-worship… There was a direct intimate connection between chastity and political orthodoxy. For how could the fear, the hatred and the lunatic credulity which the Party needed in its members be kept at the right pitch, except by bottling down some powerful instinct and using it as a driving force?”