Tag: Art

Dire Straits

 Okay, this post is about my less-than-fortunate living situation here, but I am fully aware that I am in a position of  privilege as a white middle-class person with a British passport and a good university degree. Please, as you read it, play the song below, a song which is not by the band, Dire Straits, but by a different band called Pulp, Common People, to keep my words in perspective.

Once again, I am homeless and extremely jobless, which is actually the most authentic way to experience Berlin so that’s good, isn’t it?

Basically, in Germany you need to register with the municipal council (Buergeramt) in order to get an official address, a tax number, and get a proper contracted job. I’ve not been able to do that because I’ve been subletting all this time, because I’m too poor to get a proper place, so I’ve also had to get jobs that are cash in hand or based in the UK, which means I stay poor, so I can’t get a flat … etc. It’s frustrating, and not uncommon, and going from place to place has made this year very bizarre.

There was my friend Rafael’s place, a charming flat near Treptower Park with classic hipster pallet-shelves. I electrocuted myself in this flat! Definitely my favourite of the year.
Then there was the flat I sublet from a friend I met on Tinder. His apartment was a 2.5 room place where most of the kitchen was a shower. (Gross, but very good if you want to eat a hot lunch immediately after washing.) The flat also had many digital canvas prints, apparently of early 2000s Windows desktop backgrounds.
Then, there was the place I shared with up to 200 DJs. (Only one on the lease but he kept loaning his room out to other strange young men I wouldn’t even know were there until I bumped into them in the kitchen at 1am.) I was going to stay there till spring but then the boiler broke and the toilet broke and the gas was shut off because the stove broke and then I was told to the best way to get the landlord to fix everything was to move out immediately. That was just before my trip to Edinburgh, so I’ve now found a floor to sublet for this month while I try and scrape some money together and get somewhere permanent.

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I’m now quite used to scraping money together by whatever means I can. Over the last seven months, I have scrubbed floors and toilets, proofread dissertations, and took a background role in a porn film. (Me and a friend had to walk past a couple on the stairs and *react*. We’re both English so basically we just giggled nervously at the floor.) Most of my income has come from a couple of freelance jobs I picked up as a tour manager for youth choirs, amounting to about €1,200. A lot of the time it’s been very difficult, I’ve struggled, and I really didn’t know what the phrase “living hand to mouth” meant until this year. (But in fairness, it is a bit of a weird phrase.)
When I came back from Scotland to find myself back to square one, realised that I wouldn’t even be able to host my own brother and sister-in-law, who’ve been planning to come and stay with me since May, honestly – I felt truly ashamed.

[Feel free to start playing Common People again at this point.]

But I am, let’s not forget, incredibly incredibly lucky! This year has been really really tough at times, but it’s also been brilliant – when I appealed to my friends, looking for somewhere for Ben and Sasha to stay, so many people got in touch to offer beds, both for them and for me if I needed one. People offered to cook for me. People offered me airbeds even if they have some foot-blood stains on them. Although I am homeless, this city is really starting to feel like home, with the ace network of people I have here.

This year, somehow(!!!) I’ve even made money as a stand-up comedian, something I’d never have expected. The original motivation behind founding SAUCE, my own open mic night, was just to make ends meet and truly it’s one of the best things I have ever done. (Please don’t mistake this as an endorsement of the dangerous + hackneyed old idea that “you gotta be poor to make art! You gotta be hungry!”. It is rare to be able to make literally any money from stand-up this early in the game – I just live in Berlin where the scene is still small and pretty cheap. Being poor does not help me make art, it makes me sad and it makes me tired.) Making money from what I do, from what I love, is such a joy, such a boost to my confidence, a real f***-you to my imposter syndrome: I need the money to live, but it also reminds me that my voice, my creative output, has value. It’s crucial. If there’s something you love that you get for free, think about if there’s some way of sponsoring or supporting it – if it’s an artist, see if they have a Patreon or a PayPal or some way of contributing, it is so essential.

I guess what I’m saying is, pay artists always, and life is very very strange. I didn’t expect to be living like this at 26, or even this late into this year, because I sort of figured it would have worked itself out by now. But I also didn’t expect myself to move to Germany, start doing stand-up, and start my own show, so really, I shouldn’t underestimate myself, and anything is possible, and uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh reach for the stars I guess

Lizard Man

Lizard Man

I hardly slept last night because everything was too funny. Yes, everything.

Okay so to begin with, I need to tell you about my first ever stand-up gig in Berlin. I’d been here a week and got sick in record time. I woke up the morning of the gig and tried to yawn and some kind of hoarse ancestral howl came out instead. “Oh!” I thought. “Well, as long as I don’t have to say any audible words during my stand-up set, we’ll be fine.”

My solution was to cobble together a really high-energy routine and undercut it by wearing a bathrobe and coughing a lot, and then just hope that the steady and unwavering stream of snot making its way down my face wouldn’t affect my stage presence too much. You know: comedy.

Once I staggered to the venue it was clear that it was not at all the right crowd. They were chatty and sarky and it occurred to me to be very terrified. I backtracked from the original idea, got up on stage, and realised that this now meant that I had nothing prepared. But was still wearing the bathrobe with a box of tissues stuffed into the pocket because obviously that part was rock solid.

Of course, I bombed. In a bathrobe. I somehow sounded both way too sick and not sick enough, I was all over the place, I popped weird German painkillers onstage.

 

DSC_0487.jpg
this is actually how i went onstage

After the show, I was chatting to some of the other acts, who were being quite sweet about how terribly I’d done. A young bloke came up to me and said “I really enjoyed your set – it was – you know, there was something very poetic about it…”

He was quite charming, very talkative. As he spoke, I was running the numbers: he was in his twenties, I guess quite attractive, I was obviously gross and sick, but then it was a very dark room…

Then I came back to the conversation and heard him say: “So, I’m still somewhat sceptical, I’m still reading about the lizard people theory; in my view, perhaps Donald Trump isn’t a lizard man in a skin suit per se, but certainly a snake or an insect person…”

Ah.

So that gig was pretty much a total failure, (or not quite – I did get friended by Lizard Man on Facebook) but it was as good a way as any to get my start on stage here. I didn’t take it too much to heart – that was a month ago now and I’ve done many more successful gigs since then, in a newly-created character of a healthy person.

Last night, I was up at Monday Night Mics, my tenth gig in Berlin. Someone from university I hadn’t seen in years came along, which was a little surreal, but really lovely. (Shout out to Chris!)

I go up and do my act, effectively, lot of stories about dating, my rubbish taste in men, and my Berlin romances so far, of which there have been, surprisingly, any!

Partway through my set, a guy walks in. It’s dark but it looks like a guy I’ve been seeing here. “Ah, that’s sweet of him,” I think. He goes and sits down at the back as I finish my set with a joke about that weird lizard man guy I met after my first gig here. Pleased with how I’ve done, I bound towards the back of the room and it’s only when I’m a step from my seat that I realise that this wasn’t my guy, but Lizard Man himself.

“Oh, God!” I announce to no one.

Lizard Man is already coming up to me, greeting me, and I can’t tell if his tone is angry or amused or reptilian.

But he smiles and says, “You can use me in your comedy anytime.”

Phew!

“…It’s actually really good that you’re giving this theory more exposure…”

Ah.

Soon I’m trapped in his own private discussion of the merits of comedy for spreading conspiracy theories, which he is going into with a Quentin Tarantino-style intensity while Chris has uselessly gone off to bum cigarettes from strangers.

I eventually extract myself and run to the toilets, where I text Chris “Omg please save me from lizard man”. This is a request that he either doesn’t see or interprets somewhat creatively, as when I come back from the bathroom, the two of them – Chris from my year at university, and Lizard Man – are playing table football together.

You know: comedy.

Something kinda hit me today.

David Bowie has died, as I’m sure you well know by now, and it is very sad. The usual things have happened following the death of a person of renown: the family comment, the tweets of support, the Prime Minister blathering about himself as a teenager. And as I write this, I am listening to the Diamond Dogs album (my favourite) and I am able to play and replay, as I do so often, the howls of a man I have never met. I can hear him take gasps of breath. I can hear the sibilance of his teeth. It’s very intimate, the relationships we have with singers we listen to frequently, and it makes us feel close to them in a rare and unusual way.

When I spoke to my 21-year-old brother about the news, he said, “it’s the most shocking celebrity death I’ve experienced.” Although I agreed with him, in that I’ve not felt this way about the death of someone famous before, the phrase rankled me a bit, as “most shocking celebrity death” sounds like a shady sidebar ad, or something from a magazine cover. “Celebrity” is somehow a seedy word, it smacks of tacky endorsed perfume. It seems too broad, too cheap, too universal – there are A lists and B lists and Z lists with celebrities, and David Bowie, although he is known and beloved all over the world, isn’t broad, cheap or universal.

David Bowie was – is – an icon; I don’t believe the word really applies to anyone else in quite the same way. As anyone fortunate enough to see the V&A exhibition David Bowie Is a few years ago, he far exceeds the category of “musician”. He interweaves music, film and fashion, of genders, of art, which make him belong to the public and to 20th Century culture in a way other artists have not. We get more than the sounds of his voice on the radio, we got his image, reinvented over again. He exceeds the regimented passing of time – because he was never passé, he was never outdated, he always had something new, exciting and experimental, as we can well hear in his very last and latest album Blackstar. 

David Bowie did weird things. Weird, amazing things, which captured  the imagination of the public, and evolved with each decade. He wrote songs about outer space, before the Moon landing. He wrote songs about sexual ambiguity. He wrote songs about dystopic futures. He practically invented his own language, finding inspiration from the juxtaposition of nouns across newspaper columns.* But for all their weirdness, his songs were hits. He made misfits mainstream. This skinny young bloke from Brixton made himself into an alien, a being that defied all existing conventions, paving the way for so many artists, rebels, scary monsters, and pretty things after him. 

* David Bowie talks about his Verbasizer programme in the 1997 video Inspirations : https://youtu.be/H7Sgq0XoxPw