I wonder what caused Covid-19 to start? The BBC website states that the most likely origin was an animal market in Wuhan. Bats are likely to have infected live chickens and the virus passed onto humans. Presumably, these markets have existed for a long time so what actually happened to cause the virus to spread? I wonder if there was one decision made by one person – possibly someone with a rather agnostic attitude towards food hygiene – and now the whole world is in chaos with three quarters of a million deaths and the world economy in ruins.
How often have I made a decision that has had a life changing consequence? The obvious one was when I phoned Roo from my flat in Harlow in 1991. After “dancing” with her at a concert at a primary school by “The Grateful Dad” in June, she had told me rather diffidently to call her any time; so a few weeks later I did. Next thing I know I’ve been living with her for nearly thirty years. So I suppose that decision to call her was life changing. What else? The time when I posted my letter of application to Brays Grove School which led to me leaving Chancellor’s and having five years of hell in a difficult school was life changing. The only redeeming part of that was working with John again. There was an email I sent to colleagues at BHASVIC which resulted in someone less than half my age instructing me to apologise to seventeen people – not exactly life changing but I’m still cross about it four years later. My decision to wear a tie to Netteswell on my first day with “Cricket’s a big hit” led to nearly twenty years of playing cricket at Tye Green although that might have happened anyway. It’s interesting to consider what small decisions have led to my life changing. In my more arrogant moments, I like to hope that decisions I have taken when teaching have had a life changing impact for some students
Maybe there is an alternative universe where the inhabitants of Earth are happily continuing with life as it used to be. There are lots of terms used which basically describe the same theory: multiverse, parallel universe, alternate universe etc. This concept is quite popular in science fiction; every iteration of Star Trek has included a story arc where there is a parallel universe, inhabited by the same people but with different characteristics. This gives the writers the opportunity to let the actors step out of their normal behaviour. The current series of Star Trek is set in a parallel universe which was formed when Spock travels back in time to set in chain a series of events that will prevent the destruction of his home world. In the “Prime” timeline, the one in which everything before 2009 was set, Vulcan gets destroyed but in the “Kelvin” timeline, Vulcan is saved. This is the abiding principle of the “many-worlds interpretation” (MWI) in which every decision taken forms two different universes resulting in the existence of infinitely many universes.
Whilst the above stuff about “Star Trek” is faintly ridiculous, MWI is a serious concept. Here is Wikipedia on this subject: “In many-worlds, the subjective appearance of wavefunction collapse is explained by the mechanism of quantum decoherence. Decoherence approaches to interpreting quantum theory have been widely explored and developed since the 1970s, and have become quite popular. MWI is now considered a mainstream interpretation along with the other decoherence interpretations, collapse theories (including the Copenhagen interpretation), and hidden variable theories such as Bohmian mechanics.” No, I don’t understand it either. I did once buy “Quantum Mechanics for Dummies” and failed to grasp anything. Maybe this is something I should devote the rest of my life to – understanding quantum mechanics.
Searching for more information, I’ve come across an engaging interview with a physicist called Sean Carroll and I’ve impulsively bought his book called “Something Deeply Hidden” because it looks like there might be a chance that this book is written in a language I might understand.
Here’s part of the interview with Sean Carroll. “Let’s start with what we teach our students. You can have an electron — an elementary particle — and it can be spinning. When you measure the spin you only get two possible answers. Either it’s spinning clockwise or spinning counterclockwise. So what quantum mechanics says is that when you’re not looking at it that electron is in a superposition of both. It’s not that it is spinning clockwise or counterclockwise and we just don’t know, it’s really a little bit of both. But then when you look at it — in the textbook formulation — it collapses to be either one or the other. So this smart graduate student, Hugh Everett in the 1950s, said well that’s not fair because I’m not treating the observer themselves as a quantum mechanical system. If electrons can be in superposition then people can be in superposition as well. So let’s ask the question what happens to a quantum observer when they look at the electron. And the short answer is they become entangled with that electron and there gets to be one world, one universe, one copy of physical reality, where there’s an electron spinning clockwise and that’s what the observer saw, and another copy where there’s an electron spinning counterclockwise and that’s what the observer saw.”
Finally, I’m going to get to the music because Hugh Everett, the scientist who first came up with MWI is Mark Everett’s father and Mark Everett is the lead singer and songwriter for Eels. In 2007 Mark Everett made a film for the BBC about his father. He said “I grew up having no idea that was my father’s thing, but enjoying lots of “Star Trek” and “Twilight Zone” episodes and countless movies that were all inspired by it.”
Mark Everett’s father died in 1982, eating, drinking and smoking without any consequence to his physical health. His sister committed suicide in 1996 and his mother died of lung cancer in 1998.
Eels have released twelve studio albums. I have seen them live twice. Once, at the Festival Hall with Dave and Gay where they were very quiet, low key and understated. At some point, Mark Everett asked the audience if they were ready to rock. After a resounding reply of “Yes” from most of the audience, he said “you’re at the wrong gig.” I enjoyed the concert but the homogeneous pace was a challenge. I saw them again a few years later at The Brighton Dome with Peter and they were much more entertaining. All of their albums are good but I think it would be fair to say that the musical style has not really developed over the twenty four years they have been releasing music. Apple Music describe Eels as “A musical project that weds a rich variety of off-kilter pop influences with deeply personal lyrics often obsessing over the darker sides of human experience.”
I haven’t listened to any Eels music for a few years now and it’s a treat to listen to “Daisies Of the Galaxy” again. There are five songs that stick out.
“The Sound Of Fear” has a great pop sound with a tuneful melody, a catchy chorus and great instrumental breaks. In the song, Mark Everett is making a decision to finish a relationship against the protestations of his ex. He promises not to make “the sound of fear” – I guess this means he is not going to come running back to her for comfort if things don’t work out for him. Presumably in a parallel universe, he doesn’t leave her and they live happily ever after.
“I Like Birds” is utterly charming and the title says it all really. It’s another great pop song and in it, he thinks of all the things he doesn’t like because he likes birds. He can’t look at astronauts’ wives at a rocket launch, he doesn’t like the cars in a busy city and he hates queuing at a supermarket. Instead of these things, he likes birds. Mark Everett said that his mother “had a lot of bird books and feeders that I brought with me from her house. I set up the feeders in my yard and I read the books. I Like Birds was a way of staying connected to her.” (The video clip below was not from the concert I went to. It rocks!)
“It’s A Motherfucker” is one of the saddest songs ever. I don’t intend to go on about this because my post on Warren Zevon’s album (“Life’ll Kill Ya”) said it all but suffice to say that I bought this album a month after my parents died and I listened to it a lot. The song is slow and mournful and the key line is “It’s a motherfucker being here without you.” However, Mark Everett is quoted as saying that the song is about an ex girlfriend, not a dead family member.
“Tiger In My Tank” is much more upbeat musically but in a similar sad lyrical vein to the rest of the album. “The tiger in my tank is going to go extinct and I’m not feelin so good myself – I think I’m on the brink of disaster“. Apart from anything I love this song because of the adverts for Esso in the Sixties.
Most Eels’ albums end with an upbeat song and this is no exception although “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” is not listed on the cover and is, I guess, a “hidden track”. This decision to make it a hidden track was a compromise between the record company (who wanted the song on the album) and Mark Everett (who didn’t). In a parallel universe, it wouldn’t be on the album and the album would have finished in a downbeat mood having listened to the final words of “Selective Memory” which are “I wish could remember but my selective memory won’t let me.” Hmmm. Sounds like yesterday’s blog. Anyway, “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” is great and ends with Mark Everett urging everyone to pay no attention to him and have a great time. “And I don’t know how you’re taking all the shit you see. You don’t believe anyone, but most of all, don’t believe me – only you. Goddamn right, it’s a beautiful day.” In 2001, England beat Germany 4-1 in a football match and as the credits played out on the BBC at the end of the match, some production assistant with excellent musical taste (Ben – was that you?) decided to play this song. It’s happy, jolly and upbeat – musically the rest of the album is the same but lyrically it isn’t.
In a parallel universe, Mark Everett would have become a scientist and we would not have been witness to his excellent canon of work. I’m very happy in this universe thank you.