Eccentricity.

I am not one to jump on topical bandwagons. My posts tend to deal with personal self loathings and musical appreciation. I sing the praises of people and music that you should go out and embrace. As already stated in a previous piece, I have (as you know by now) impeccable musical taste. Many of the acts that I champion are highly original. A band such as XTC were ahead of their own time with a wit and intelligence of words and music that has gained an almost cult following. The avant garde has entered the mainstream of musical culture. Many of these bands are influenced by the less mainstream and more eccentric acts.
In recent days, the shadow of the late Jimmy Saville has darkened the news agenda. Allegations of his sexual behaviour are being unearthed by the hour at the moment. Women who have been reluctant to come forward  from decades back, are speaking of his exploitation and abuse. These revelations are now pulling others into the spotlight, casting real doubts over many well known celebrities from the 1960’s and 70’s.
Jimmy Saville was always seen as somewhat of an eccentric. He wore gold tracksuits, created his own collection of catchphrases; was never seen without a cigar wedged in his mouth. He craved publicity and became a caricature of himself. All the while he was presenting Top of The Pops, he worked raising money for several charities and working as a volunteer hospital porter at Leeds Infirmary and Stoke Mandeville hospital. For many years Jim ‘fixed it’ for countless children and adults. Indeed following the recent revelations, this phrase now seems almost dirty. What struck a few friends of mine during a discussion on twitter was however, the whole idea of eccentricity is now being called into question. Did Saville hide his darker, predatory sexual behaviour behind the eccentric visage he so carefully cultured?

Eccentrics are by their very behaviour and appearance often misunderstood. Creative eccentrics are more able to get away with output that otherwise would be bordering on insanity. Surrealism, the art movement led by most notably Salvador Dali and Renee Magritte explored juxtapositions and often challenged reality. Indeed Dali was a true eccentric even in his dress sense. He sported an extravagant moustache , comparatively long hair for the age and dress sense in the style of the English aesthetes of the late 19th century. An eccentric will often be technically talented as a writer/artist/musician but choose to use this talent to explore their very different view of the world as they see it. It is hard to look at many of Dali’s paintings and understand his meaning behind his interpretation. Often it can seem as if he is merely playing with the conventional appreciation of form/function and composition. Writers such as Lewis Carroll  produced fantastical but bizarre stories such as Alice in Wonderland and poetry. Jabberwocky, his masterpiece holds the reader in suspense and conveys terror and excitement whilst the language is nonsensical.

 Jabberwocky

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought —
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.


“And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’
He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

The truly original have often attracted the attention of the mainstream. Those who flout convention, often prove interesting to performers seeking to expand or deepen their own output.The Beatles having found fame, explored the avant garde art movement and were attracted to performers such as Ivor Cutler. Cutler was born in Glasgow in 1923 and worked for many years as teacher at the progressive Summerhill School. His poetry , music and dress sense were unusual to say the least. He would write and perform songs in the form of a dialogue, often focusing on mundane or trivial subjects. He would adorn his jackets and hats with badges. he often communicated with others by writing notes and sticking them on himself. He was much admired by John Lennon/Paul McCartney, John Peel (for whom he performed numerous sessions) and later with Andy Kershaw. 

Vivian Stanshall an art student at the Central Art 
School in London joined with like minded fellow students to form the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band in 1967. They wrote and performed musical parodies of popular music with influences back to the 1920’s. Their stage shows were bizarre as were their costumes and performance styles. Again the Beatles were drawn to their eccentricity as a means of allowing them to expand their own output. Indeed Bonzo Neil Innes was to later have a tv show with Ivor Cutler (all eccentrics together!). Mainstream comedy of the late 1960’s was blown apart by the emergence of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. They performed almost surreal sketch style shows with the embellishment of wacky illustrations and animations produced by one of the Pythons, Terry Gilliam. It was like nothing that had ever been seen. It did owe much to the madcap humour of the Goons from the 1950’s and 60’s. Of course Spike Milligan could also be described as an eccentric who sadly stepped over into mental illness at times. His childrens poetry pushed the boundaries so profoundly that his influence on childrens literature is immense. The Pythons would lampoon the establishment whilst producing some very bizarre and left field comedy sketches. The team members were arguably not eccentrics but did create eccentric comedy. Viv Stanshall came from very modest background but created this wacky upper class persona so convincingly, that even those close to him would be unaware of the humble reality. Eccentrics will often carry on without the conventions of the day affecting them. They do not always crave attention. The work is more important to them than popularity. The late 60’s and 70’s allowed artists/writers/musicians great freedom of expression. Bands such as Gong emerged with unusual drug influenced jazzy rock that often bordered on the weird. Performers such as Pink Floyd produced challenging extended tracks that grew out of their roots in Psychedelia of the late 1960’s. Many of these performers were allowed to experiment and push boundaries. Many were influenced though by the true eccentrics who sought nothing more than being allowed to show the world as they saw it. 
Popular culture is the richer for the input of our eccentrics. They often show the way for the more constrained to break out and express themselves. We should celebrate Ivor Cutler, Spike Milligan, Salvador Dali, Viv Stanshall for being flag bearers in popular culture. We should not allow the manufactured facade of eccentricity created by the likes of Jimmy Saville, taint these geniuses just because they were eccentric. 
Long Live Eccentricity!
 

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