22 January 2008

Indistinguishable from Magic

It seems pretty obvious that Grey's Law, which I was talking about yesterday, owes more than a little to Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law of Prediction, which states that 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.'

Clarke is one of those writers of whose work I've read far too little -- just 2001: A Space Odyssey, I think -- but of whom I've been aware for basically as long as I've been aware of authors. I think this may have owed less to his books than to his TV series about Fortean phenomena, so hilariously spoofed in this marvellously funny scene from The Goodies, which opens with the introductory spiel: 'The Mysterious World of Arthur C. Clarke -- strange monsters, unexplained things in the sky, bizarre happenings, out-of-focus photographs...' If I remember rightly, the episode involves Clarke himself being declared not to exist, and the three lads setting out, determined to find him and prove his existence. They don't manage that, but Tim has the misfortune of becoming a real-life Bigfoot in the course of their expedition.

Clarke also has the memorable distinction of being namechecked in an extremely funny and really rather sweet song from The Divine Comedy. 'Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World', for so the song is named, begins as follows:
Do you remember that old T.V. show
Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World?
Well if ITV make a new series
They ought to come take a look at my girl

I don't understand her
She doesn't make any sense to me
I don't understand her
It's like she's speaking in Swahili.
Don't worry, the song moves on from just saying how little sense this poor girl makes, as the singer accepts that he'll never understand her and embraces her contradictions. It's really a fine song, and surely one the best I was introduced to while on last year's Hellenic road trip.

Offhand I think it probably bettered only by Nick Cave's 'Into My Arms', which surely has one of the most beguiling opening couplets ever written, two magnificent lines that stormed right into my heart.

I'm not sure how well the lyrics work in isolation, though. Songs are designed to be sung, after all, and so much of their meaning comes from timing, phrasing, and intonation. That's kind of why I always feel a little uneasy when people talk of Bob Dylan or Shane MacGowan as poets -- there's a sense in which it's true, of course, but I'm not sure that poets and songwriters are really the same thing.

The point being: if you can find a way of listening to these, you really ought to. Really.

1 comment:

Cuitlamiztli Carter said...

Synchronicity: when I was typing on another post of your's about Clarke's Laws, unaware of this post, I was listening to "Into My Arms" by Nick Cave.