Monday, 23 August 2010

Tough Folk

Women have come a long way in fighting an unfair system. They have spent the last hundred years revolutionising the gender roles expected of them by society, an inspiring feat that makes us smile at Don Draper's weekly antics. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we are happy to see the end of an era of strict, unyielding gender roles, we're happy that we live in a world where it's no longer rare to see a woman standing up in court or in a labcoat at a hospital.

Nevertheless it's common knowledge that every man secretly wants to be a cowboy.

Deep down we all want hairy chests and cool scars. We want to open bottles with out teeth and fix cars and build fires. We all want to be Bear Grylls. Knowing how to use Photoshop or set up a firewall is probably far more practical in this day and age, but we don't care. Every man at some point in his life will wonder if he looks good in leather boots.

Most men will be able to suppress these feelings on a day-to-day basis. If you ever see a grown man assembling IKEA furniture with anything more advanced than an Allen key or eating baked beans straight out of the tin he's probably just temporarily alleviating his call of the wild. If you want to make him happy, just leave him be and later in the evening remark upon what broad shoulders he has.

Sometimes, however, the call of the wild proves too strong for even the most rugged of modern yuppies. A couple of weeks ago, some sort of cosmic alignment left my father and me itching for something manly to do. Soon it became unbearable and he would go on feverish manhunts for broken lightbulbs to replace or I would suddenly have to run out to the garden and do pushups for half an hour. Finally, we knew there was no other choice. There was only one thing left that we could do. We would have to go camping.

I've probably spent less than one percent of a percentage of my life inside a tent. Growing up in Singapore meant that casual trips to tiny islands dotted around the Indian Ocean were not uncommon, so sleepless nights in stuffy polyester prisons are not quite alien to me. However, I've never done it enough for it to become a hobby. Let's just say my relationship with camping has never extended beyond a few one night stands, and I wasn't planning on letting things get any more serious.

Nevertheless, Papa Burns and I know both knew that the time had come for me to make that important rite of passage into manli-hood, and a few days later we were driving East along the 78 toward the Cuyamaca Mountains in a Jeep full of tent equipment, man-sized sleeping bags and cans of chilli. The testosterone was palpable.

It was an incredible trip. We hiked and watched hawks and climbed rocks and played guitar under a star-soaked sky. I'm pretty sure I can grow a moustache now. We drove home exhausted and dirty but our masculinity gauges were firmly pointed to Full. This picture pretty much sums up the whole trip.

This was a few minutes after I punched a cougar in the face.

One of the most important things about road trips of course is the music you choose to act as your soundtrack, and so it's finally time to sneak in some folk-related tidbit to this otherwise folk-devoid post. As I created the iTunes playlist for what would turn out to be three separate discs of road-tripping tunes, Papa Burns leaned over my shoulder and suggested songs for the journey. When he asked me to add something by Arcade Fire, a band he'd heard a lot about but not a lot of, my clicking and dragging became especially enthusiastic.

So, in honour of Arcade Fire's new album The Suburbs (which I haven't had a chance to get hold of yet but hear is amazing) and of the hugely masculine trip undertaken by myself and Papa Burns last week, I have chosen Arcade Fire's My Body is a Cage as this week's thumping tune.

Just a quick warning. The song builds up to a fantastic organ crescendo near the end, and if you're in your macho mood, make sure that before you listen you take the time to put down that knife you're picking buffalo out of your teeth with. Even cowboys have accidents.

My Body Is A Cage


  1. Excellent post overall, but I love the phrase "star-soaked sky." I was camping a few weeks ago and felt the same way; the stars clung to the sky like sand on damp feet.

  2. Great song.

    (And, my, what broad shoulders you have.)