Blink: A Reading & Listening List
Many thanks to everyone who’s sent kind words about the mini-documentary I released last week about Blink and the collaborative approach we took to making it, and how and why. I’ve been really proud to try and prod and poke the “auteur theory” that revolves around a lot of Fringe show-making, and do a little bit to fly the flag for sharing credit and creativity among a group. A few of you mentioned that you’d love a bit more of a peek behind the curtain at how the show came together, and I wasn’t quite sure what to offer just yet. So, because I’ve been quite busy this week and the idea of doing a newsletter that’s essentially just a glorified list appealed quite a bit, I’ve put together a reading-and-listening list of all the books and songs that turned into Blink. I dunno if it’ll be just painfully dull for you guys, but hopefully it might hark back to this newsletter’s original remit of being a sort of public process notebook. I’ve written before about how the things I read and listen to end up transforming into the stuff I create – it’s a simple input/output equation really. When a creative project has come to its end and the barrel is empty, the barrel gets filled up with books and albums, and those turn into the things I can’t stop thinking about, and that fuels whatever the next creative project turns into. Broadly speaking, the stuff I read gives me the big ideas I want to explore, and the stuff I listen to points me the way towards how to make it funny. I’ve found it quite funny looking back at this list and seeing what a strange hodge-podge it is, and wondering at how it turned into what it did, but that’s the process, I guess. Let me know if you’re a fellow fan of any of these things and would like to chat about them in any more detail!
Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu; The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran & How To Practise by the Dalai Lama – Strange to consider it now it’s turned into something so broad and silly, but more of this show than I realise is about Buddhist, Taoist and Sufist philosophy, and the central conceit initially was that I wanted to make a show that was an absurdist exploration of my own attempts to understand those principles over the last two years, in particular the idea of letting go of ego and remembering how to accept my limitations as a human being like everybody else. These books and concepts all went way over my head, until:
The Tao Of Pooh & The Te Of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff; The Book Of Joy by the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu & Douglas Abrams – The two Hoff books recontextualise Taoism via the characters in Winnie The Pooh, which made it all infinitely clearer to me, and The Book Of Joy helped me land on the playful friendship between the Dalai Lama and Tutu as a model for the central character dynamics in the show.
Work: A History Of How We Spend Our Time by James Suzman; Digital Minimalism: On Living Better With Less Technology by Cal Newport & Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management For Mortals by Oliver Burkeman – I ended up interpreting these as a sort of loose trilogy that took the same central story I was trying to tell – the unlearning of societally-taught individualism and the attempt to rediscover one’s humanity – in three specific contexts relating to work, tech and time.
In The Blink Of An Eye by Walter Murch – This book offered the central gimmick of the show in the idea that every time we blink it symbolises that we’ve just had a new thought, so an audience that blinks in unison would be thinking in unison. I loved this idea so much that I decided it would be the central impossible unicorn that the show’s protagonist was chasing.
Designing Miracles: Creating The Illusion Of Impossibility by Darwin Ortiz & Hiding The Elephant: How Magicians Created The Impossible by Jim Steinmeyer – These two, especially the Ortiz book, gave me everything I needed to know about the psychology of magic, and its parallels to comedy, which became the lens through which the show’s ideas and character were interpreted. Ortiz’s ideas about the psychology of audiences became so crucial to the show that a fictionalised version of Ortiz made it into the show as the main villain.
Ways Of Seeing by John Berger – This was important in the way it got me to think about how individuals respond to art and create its meaning by perceiving it.
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino – I can’t really describe the ways in which this was significant. It was really significant though.
Outline & Kudos by Rachel Cusk – There is an image in Outline about the erasing of the self that was really important, and a line in Kudos about storytelling that is quoted in the show because it was perfect.
Solve For Happy: Engineer Your Path To Joy by Mo Gawdat & The Denial Of Death by Ernest Becker – Gawdat’s book is like a mathematical do-over of the principles in The Book Of Joy; and The Denial Of Death, in talking about humanity as a species that can uniquely both comprehend its own mortality and fart, was one of two things that gave birth to a lot of the childishness and silliness of the show’s sense of humour. The other thing was the latest Jackass movie.
Naked by David Sedaris & A Year With Swollen Appendices by Brian Eno – Sedaris always helps inspire my approach to crafting funny stories, and I’ve included Naked alongside Eno’s diary because they both have interesting things to say about the people we imagine ourselves to be, and dress up as. Eno’s diary also had some amazing ideas about the purpose of art, and about the nature of taking photos, which found their way into the show.
The Cost Of Living by Deborah Levy & No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood – Just two more brilliant books about remembering how to be a human.
Ignorance by Milan Kundera – “The brevity of his life makes the sky a dark lid against which he will forever crack his head, to fall back to earth, where everything alive eats and can be eaten.”
My two silly boys
“Albuquerque;” “Shattered Ground” & “Balcony Man” by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – “We won’t get to Amsterdam, or that lake in Africa. We won’t get to anywhere anytime this year.” “There’s a madness in her and a madness in me, and together they form a kind of sanity, oh baby don’t leave me.” “This morning is amazing and so are you.”
“Slow Show” & “Bloodbuzz Ohio” by The National – I was so convinced that “Slow Show” was going to be in the show for such a long time, soundtracking what I thought was a key climactic sequence. The sequence, and song, never made it into even one preview, but I worked out what I was trying to do with those thoughts and worked them out differently.
“Back In Black;” “For Those About To Rock (We Salute You);” & “Shoot To Thrill” by AC/DC – If I look back on this show and think of one thing, it will be AC/DC. AC/DC are the soul of this show. They are almost unique in music in their ability to sum up who we imagine ourselves to be while also revealing who we really are. They are simultaneously high-status and egomaniacal and also utterly stupid and goofy. I love them.
“Wishing Well” by Free; “Blackout” by David Bowie; “Goin’ Out West” by Tom Waits – These are the songs the show thinks are its theme tunes.
“In Dulci Jubilo” by Mike Oldfield; “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” by Astrud Gilberto; “Fooba Wooba John” by Burl Ives; “New World In The Morning” & “Dirty Old Town” by Roger Whittaker & “Cleaning Windows” by Van Morrison – These songs are the show’s theme tunes.
“You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon; “GMF” by John Grant; “Self” by Steven Wilson; “I’m Amazing” by Peter Gabriel – “You’re so vain, I bet you think this song is about you, don’t you?” “I am the greatest motherfucker that you’re ever gonna meet, from the top of my head down to the tips of the toes on my feet. So go ahead and love me while it’s still a crime, and don’t forget you could be laughing 65% more of the time.” “Self sees a billion stars, and still can only self-regard. We are self, the self that loves itself now. We are self, I only see myself now.” “Look at me, look at me, look what I can do, because I’m amazing.”
“Diet Gum” by John Grant – Been wanting to make a show inspired by this song since 2019. So happy to have finally figured out how. “I manipulate, that is what I do, I manipulate, that’s what I’m doing to you.”
“Raider Prelude” by Steven Wilson – Professor Ortiz’s theme
“The Only Living Boy In New York” by Simon & Garfunkel – “Here I am…”
“War Anthem” by Max Richter & “Oxygene (Part IV)” by Jean Michel Jarre – Sad Theme/Magic Theme.
“Coconut” by Harry Nilsson; “Sex Bomb” by Tom Jones; “Guido e Luisa” by Nino Rota; “Roxanne” by The Police – Dream Themes, from lucid dream into nightmare
“Saudade” & “Shifted” by Craig Armstrong – Dalai Lama’s Theme/Desmond Tutu’s Theme
“Little Big Girl” by Anais Mitchell; “Bonny Light Horseman” & “Deep In Love” by Bonny Light Horseman; “Waiting For You” by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Remembering how to be human.
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – If you can’t make it to the Edinburgh Fringe this year, NextUp are streaming a bunch of really great shows live from the festival! Tune in, there’s a bunch of legends doing it.
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – This incredible bro content.
Book Of The Week – One And Other by Antony Gormley. This is a book of essays and photos documenting Gormley’s Fourth Plinth Project from 2009, in which over 1000 randomly-selected people occupied the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square over 100 days to do whatever they wanted – performance art, memorials, stunts, speeches, whatever. I’d heard about it but it’s been fascinating delving into the project in depth, it looks like it was an incredible thing.
Album Of The Week – From The New World by Alan Parsons. This is a brand new album by Alan Parsons, and honestly, it’s not great, but I love the Alan Parsons Project and it’s nice to hear the old guy still bashing stuff out. There’s a nice tribute to his old Project cohort Eric Woolfson in it that sneaks in references to all the old Project songs, so that’s sweet. There’s also a song where he invents words for the Largo movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, which is something I did in a show in 2017, so that made me laugh a lot. His words are “Going home, going home, I’m just going home,” mine were “Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel.”
Film Of The Week – Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time. This is astonishing. Bob Weide spent 25 years filming, interviewing, and gradually befriending Kurt Vonnegut, one of my all-time heroes. He’s only just got round to finishing off his documentary, and has eventually done it by combining the core documentary itself with a frame documentary about his attempts to finish the documentary while befriending its subject, in the same way Vonnegut reframed his final novel, Timequake. It’s a beautiful film, and closes with this incredible Vonnegut quote:
“Be patient. Your future will soon come to you and lie down at your feet like a dog who knows and loves you no matter what you are.”
That’s all for this week! As ever, I’d love to hear what you thought, and if you enjoy the newsletter enough to recommend it to a friend or encourage others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it! Take care of yourselves until next time, and all the best,
PS I can’t reveal too much about it yet, but Miranda made her directorial debut this week with her first short film and I was so proud of her for it and I think it’s going to be brilliant. Here’s a tiny sneak peek: