A New Hope

As early trailers for Star Wars Episode VII ‘The Force Awakens’ are released, fever rises amongst fans worldwide.

It is the “originals” that most of us consider to be the greater films, Episode IV, V and VI, released in 70s and early 80s, for many of us, films of our childhood.

Will the new films meet our expectations?


So significant were these films that they have marked a generation. The first release, Episode IV was entitled “A New Hope” and ever since then the galaxy long, long ago and far, far away has been a second home for many.

And a source of hope.

Why so significant? Why do these films, along with the recent success of Harry Potter books and films, and the enduring greatness of Tolkein’s books and films, rank so highly in the charts for commercial success?

Why have they imprinted themselves so profoundly on the popular psyche?

star wars

Surely entertainment value alone cannot account for such significance!?

Joseph Campbell building on the work of Carl Jung, examined myth and narrative in the context of psychological theory. The ‘hero journey’ he defined, common to epic narratives, aligned with the human subconscious or dream journey, taking the voyeur through trials, to wholeness and health.

Unlike his contemporary, Bertrand Russell, Campbell praised the work of narrative to inspire hope.

star wars IV

Bertrand Russell, however, renowned  20th century philosopher and staunch atheist wrote in his paper, A Free Man’s Worship :

That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

Only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair …………

In Russell’s philosophical view, facing the reality of our insignificance is the healthiest and most real human endeavour, one more developed than any submission to gods of natural forces or ideals. To him any other belief was self-deluding fancy.

star wars VI

Yet in the midst of such modern and post-modern thought, fantasy and science fiction narratives [arguably modern myths and legends]  continually call us to believe.

Deeply philosophical and spiritual in nature, these stories have us asking such questions of our existence as:

  1. Why is there something, rather than nothing?
  2. How can I know the world?
  3. Do humans have intrinsic worth?
  4. What is the significance of human suffering?
  5. Do we have anything to hope in beyond this life?

Narrative calls the viewer/ observer into a journey with the protagonist or hero, a journey which bestows upon the hero great worth and responsibility.

This worth, whether via royal or supernatural endowment, enables the hero to triumph over difficult and dark trials, with a promise of hope of restoration beyond.

star wars V

Joseph Campbell concurs with Carl Jung and others, that such a journey which restores the protagonist to “hope” is in fact the healthiest course for the human psyche.

But is this simply a case of “the benefits of religions for the atheist” as Alain de Botton would say?

Is it simply that, while “hope” is good for the soul so to speak, one cannot simply surrender a scientific or rationalist framework and so simply admire “hope” from afar?

Anaïs Nin recorded in her diary in 1943:

Stories are the only enchantment possible, for when we begin to see our suffering as a story, we are saved.

Believing we are, like the characters we love, simply part of a grand narrative – is ultimately redemptive.

But, one simply cannot BELIEVE in cosmic hope against all evidence or simply because it is of temporary benefit to emotional health!

Can we?

To Russell, hope beyond death is a false hope and so truth and freedom, he concludes, can be found in stark acceptance of this finite existence:

Brief and powerless is Man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for Man, condemned to-day to lose his dearest, to-morrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of Fate, to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance, to preserve a mind free from the wanton tyranny that rules his outward life; proudly defiant of the irresistible forces that tolerate, for a moment, his knowledge and his condemnation, to sustain alone, a weary but unyielding Atlas, the world that his own ideals have fashioned despite the trampling march of unconscious power.

Unless one finds an ounce of empirical evidence for the breaking in of dream into history, and of narrative into real life!

Scholars consider the Christian narrative to make such audacious claims through the historical birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

An earlier post attempted to excavate some of the historical evidences for the validity of this claim by first century eyewitnesses. For the sake of brevity, we will not here seek to repeat.

Nevertheless, in the Christian narrative, as C. S. Lewis writes, “myth meets history”. No longer a theoretical hope, nice-to-believe but incongruent with lived experience, “myth broke through into time and space” endowing humanity with intrinsic worth and showing ultimate reality, God to suffer with us. This process, turned back death and sorrow and restored life.

This truly is A New Hope! 

The Doozers

Any child of the 80’s should remember the Henson creation, “Fraggle Rock”. Muppet-like characters, the Fraggles inhabited caverns and tunnels underground. They occasionally surfaced to interact with the strange humans [Gorgs], but mostly they lived happy lives, oblivious of the wider world, carefree in “Fraggle Rock”.

The Fraggles ate a curious candy substance made by the Doozers, pictured below.

fraggle doozers 2

The relationship between Fraggles and Doozers was symbiotic – the Doozers would build their constructions out of the edible candy-like substance (manufactured from radishes), greatly enjoyed by Fraggles, and the Fraggles spent much of their time eating tasty Doozer buildings.

This pleased the Doozers, because not only was their work being enjoyed by someone, but if the Fraggles stopped eating them, the Doozers would eventually run out of building space.

 fraggle rock

Imagine if all of us considered our work with the joy of the Doozers ? Instead of wishing to construct great towers to leave a legacy or name for themselves, the Doozers celebrated when the Fraggles decimated the buildings and ate the candy. This only created another opportunity for the Doozers to work and create new constructions which in turn would be eaten.

Maybe we can learn to create like a Doozer.

The Angel’s Name was Glittering Gabriel: Marina and the Diamonds

It’s been a while, but with pleasure we introduce the next guest piece by Bear Skin regular Damien Shalley. Here is his prologue:

Damien Shalley is NOT an undercover counter-intelligence agent using the deep-cover name Michael Wotruba. And please stop calling him Mike at the supermarket, it’s not funny, Damien Shalley has never been convicted of any crime.  Charged, yes, but never convicted.  Damien Shalley has never visited Washington, Wasilla or Walla Walla, although he has seen the movie “Wild Women of Wango Wango”.Damien Shalley’s goldfish Dave laid three hundred eggs this weekend, leading to the obvious comment – “Nice work buddy.”


The Angel’s Name was Glittering Gabriel:

“Marina and the Diamonds”

by Damien Shalley


Little Greek girls don’t grow up to be pop stars in the UK.  Except for Marina Lambrini Diamandis, a solo artist who uses the stage name “Marina and the Diamonds”.  Welsh by birth but of Greek heritage, Diamandis is a talent who could not be contained.  Sheer force of will (and her amazing voice) allowed her to break down all barriers and secure a major recording deal.  She can also write a catchy, hook-laden pop tune – nearly a lost art form today, or so it seems.  In her rollicking romp of a track “Shampain”, she speaks of a glittering angel who propelled her towards this vocation.  One must not ignore the angels.

Currently undertaking the “Neon Nature” world tour in support of her new album “Froot”, Marina will (hopefully) hit Australian shores later this year.  Her engrossing and utterly uplifting stage show is a true experience – beautifully crafted pop melodies delivered by an authentic (and energetic) artist.  She has often said that the word “Diamonds” in “Marina and the Diamonds” references her fans, not her backing band (which incidentally is awesome).  Be in the audience when she gets here and be one of those beautiful jewels.  Shine on you crazy Diamond(is)!

MARINA-new album-02

From a musical perspective, if indie, electro-pop and new wave had a baby, the child’s’s gleeful, cooing and effervescent love gurgles would probably sound a lot like Marina Diamandis’ music. It would be delightfully engaging and beautiful, just not easy to define.  Diamandis has been diagnosed with a condition called “synaesthesia” a syndrome common to artists throughout the centuries in which the affected person “hears” colours and visually “sees” sounds.  She also has alternate perceptions of concepts such days of the week, associating them with particular musical notes.  Synaesthesia has no bearing on intellect.  This interesting anecdote not only helps to identify the wellspring of her talent, it is also scientific proof that artists are truly “different”.


Music was in a state of flux in the late 2000’s.  The ubiquity of rap had become monotonous and a few brazen pop challengers set out to steal the keys to the kingdom.  Standing out like members of the PLO at a Bar Mitzvah, they attracted derision and open hostility in a music milieu geared almost exclusively toward “urban”.  If you had a sparkly electro-pop recording with a sound vaguely reminiscent of the 80’s, you might as well have thrown it off a bridge.  Then thrown yourself off too, and don’t bother leaving a note.  Just ask Peaches.  (Ever heard of her? Didn’t think so!)

There were of course, rare exceptions – musical “outliers” with the ability to produce compelling and irresistible new sounds that couldn’t be ignored.  Sweden’s Robyn, an electro pop princess with a deliberately spare, purely digital sound and provocative lyrics, rocked the boat considerably with her subversively sexy self-titled debut.  Icona Pop and the sublimely anachronistic La Roux pitched to pop purists, the latter mimicking almost perfectly (and very deliberately) the sound of 1983.  An earlier and very sophisticated attempt to revive classic electro-dance music came from the assured and audacious Goldfrapp (Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory) in 2005.  Their incredible “Supernature” album, the absolute “gold” standard for quality new electronic dance music, made US “electric hearts” skip a beat and the music biz take notice.  (For your Bear Skin correspondent, the enthralling bliss of hearing Goldfrapp’s “Ride a White Horse” for the first time on a car radio almost resulted in me going off a bridge.  Keep your eyes on the road Bear Skinners!)  So with the way somewhat paved for her, or at least with music executives willing to consider electronic pop again, Marina Diamandis made her play.

Musical and ambitious (she had been composing music on a keyboard since her teens), Diamandis moved from Wales to London to actively pursue a music career.  She studied dance and composition briefly at tertiary level before attempting to break into the music business by auditioning for musical productions and actively courting industry representatives.  After numerous rejections and failures, she secured a manager in 2008 and obtained a number of supporting gigs for “name” talent which led her to the attention of Warner Music UK.  After lengthy negotiations, a deal was signed and the ascent of Marina Diamandis commenced, an ascent which succeeded, stuttered and revived – an ascent which is now bearing the sweetest of fruit. (Or “Froot”, if you follow).

MARINA the-family-jewels

Her major label debut  “The Family Jewels” (2010) is a collection of tracks which alternate between new-wave influenced pop with galloping, synthesizer hearts and avante garde indie tunes with unusual (some might say affected) vocal stylings.  Diamandis’ vocal delivery occasionally sounds like a combination of Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeah’s) and Kate Bush on meth – weirdly operatic and off-kilter.  Sometimes she’s just singing bread and butter pop.  “Are You Satisfied?”, “I Am Not a Robot” and the instant classic “Shampain” are enlivening creations that balance pop sensibilities and artistic expression.  Pick your favourite and enjoy a disappointment-free listing experience.

Diamandis found her musical horizons expanding when Atlantic Records began distributing an EP of her material in the United States called “The American Jewels”.  It featured the infectious track “Hollywood”, and was supported with a superbly insouciant video for the song which received national airplay.  Transatlantic name recognition followed, as did sales.  “Art”, please meet “commerce”!

Marina 04

Who Killed Electra Heart?

In 2012, Diamandis released “Electra Heart”.  A joyously unbridled electro-pop outing with a concept-album twist, this release saw her “indie” edges eliminated in favour of polished pop sheen.  Diamandis infused the proceedings with a strange narrative – the album is somehow supposed to represent her views on various “states of womanhood” – but this was lost on most listeners, who could only hear pop songs.  Successful concept albums have a strong theme and often present linking material between tracks to keep listeners engaged.  “Electra Heart” has some truly great commercial pop (“Primadonna”, “Bubblegum Bitch”, “Sex Yeah”), but it doesn’t resonate in any way as a “concept” album or as anything other than the most obvious statement about the life we all share.  Touring in support of the album, Diamandis adopted the “Electra Heart” persona; a silver-blonde Jackie O-esque caricature as the vessel for some of these confronting opinions.  Her bizarre assertion in the otherwise pop-tastic “Sex Yeah” that the key to women’s freedom is some kind of strange religious deference to their true sexual identities left many people scratching their heads.  Interestingly, this album was her first official No. 1 in the U.K., but represented the lowest-selling number-one record of the 21st century in that territory.

MARINA-channels Jackie-O-Electra

MARINA concept

People liked the tunes – the American market continued to open up for her at this time – but not everybody opened up to Ms. Electra.  This persona was unceremoniously ditched after the tour.  People don’t like too much social commentary with their pop, apparently.  The U.K.’s Guardian newspaper quizzed Diamandis about this issue, asking whether the Electra Heart persona was a good idea and whether she he saw herself as an artist or a pop star.

MARINA Special

Are you a pop star? (Guardian)
(MD) “I don’t think so. There’s a bit of a split with me; some people would see me like that and some wouldn’t. It depends when they followed me from, the first album or the second. The second album got me a lot more pop fans. I don’t feel like a pop artist, but I do love pop stars. The media spotlight changes the definition between a pop star and a pop artist, I think.” (Cragg, Michael, “Marina and the Diamonds: I Killed Electra Heart with Sleeping Pills”, The Guardian, 30 January, 2015).  Life 101: One can never know entirely how ones’ art will be interpreted. Marina moved on.

MARINA marina_the_diamonds_girl_dress_scene_9373_1920x1080



In 2015, the third Marina and the Diamonds album was released.  Called “Froot”, it managed to combine the two halves of the whole that make up the musical psyche of Marina Diamandis.  It certainly contains pop (and some overtly disco-inspired grooves), but it all feels very artful and honest.  The album could almost be described as true detente between indie art and pop commerce.  It’s less a compromise and more a heartfelt whole.  You get the cool and the catchy alongside the heartfelt and reflective.  This near-perfect summation from the Guardian newspaper says it all.  “Bouncing about the stage to “Bubblegum Bitch”, Diamandis shows no remorse for the generic pop of her last LP, “Electra Heart”, which stripped away her quirky affectations in favour of bland, blonde ambition. With “Froot”, however, Diamandis has found an organic and fertile middle ground. “Blue” brilliantly marries her synth past with a more disco-influenced present, combining both with an irresistible chorus. “Can’t Pin Me Down” shows her snappy, sassy songwriting at full stretch”. (Clarke, Betty, The Guardian, Friday 13 March, 2015).

Diamandis is currently on the ascendancy in the U.K and in America, touring widely after having cracked the U.S. Billboard Top Ten with her new offering.  Newly married, happy and confident, we’ll be seeing and hearing a lot more from Ms. Marina soon.

People often say that pop music doesn’t matter, that it is minor and insignificant.  In reality, it is of as much consequence as Picasso – human expression that affects millions.  And that makes it incredibly important.

Thank the Angel.

MARINA onesie

Marina and the Diamonds Discography

Mermaid vs. Sailor EP, 2007 (Independent)

The Family Jewels, 2010 (679 Artists/Warner Music Group)

The American Jewels EP, 2010 (Atlantic/Chop Shop)

Electra Heart, 2012 (Warner Music Group)

Froot, 2015 (Warner Music Group)

The Artist’s Gift

Various metaphors are used for artistic inspiration and expression.

An apocryphal quote attributed to Michaelangelo,  sculptor of the statue ‘David,’ is retold like this. When asked how he came up with his masterpiece, Michaelangelo simply replied:

You just chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David.


The artist’s perception is that there is something in the stone that he, the craftsman must simply discover. This renaissance thought had much in common with classical ideas of inspiration.

Ancient poets and playwrights described the source of their inspiration as a divine ‘muse’ or a goddess responsible for arts and knowledge. This muse could be capricious, visiting the artist somewhat whimsically and contributing to great floods of inspiration or terrible creative blocks.


Elizabeth Wilson, author of “Eat, Pray, Love”  in her great TED talk discusses the merits of modern artists rediscovering the ancient notion of a muse.

Other artists refer to their work as “children”, conceived in the brain and growing until they cannot but be birthed with great labour pains. Another writer once described his ideas like little puppies, following at his heels and tripping him up until taken out for a run.

muse 2

Whichever way one considers inspiration, expression remains the same. Artistic expression is “work”. Whether the sculptor discovering the “David” within the marble, or the poet transcribing lyrics delivered by a muse, or an artist gestating ideas and bringing them forth with great labour pains, as birthing a child, the common theme is clear.

muse 3

Inspiration is often a gift received, while creative expressions is a gift given.

Hammer Stew

There is an old fable in which a tramp visits a township during a famine. He carries with him a pot and meagre belongings. The hungry villagers hide in their houses and refuse to face the stranger, another potential mouth to feed.

The stranger instead offers to cook a stew for the village. He calls it “hammer stew” and fills the pot with water and places it over a fire to simmer. Soon after he takes his hammer, cleans it and places it in the boiling water. 

One by one the villagers leave their houses to inspect the hammer stew. The tramp nonchalantly mentions the stew is delicious but lacks some parsnip. Next, a timid villager offers up a parsnip. 

Later, the tramp tastes the stew and declares it to be tasty but better with mushroom. Soon, another villager offers up a handful of mushrooms.

axe soup

One by one the villagers are lured out by the smell of brewing food and offer up ingredients: leeks, parsley, potoato, some beef stock, some chicken bones, some onions etc. Before long the tramp had a pot full of delicious stew and begins to feed the hungry villagers. 

The story effectively shows the power of a visionary leader. Leadership is simply casting the vision of a potential outcome, taking the risk of starting and offering up the first resources. By taking this initative, the leader paves the way for others to offer their skills, talents and time without bearing the risk of an enterprise themselves. Their contributions take a project much farther and further than the leader could alone.

stone soup  2

Leadership is filling the pot and lighting the fire and enticing a hungry village to offer up their rations and to create something greater than the sum of its parts. 

Even in famine something delicious is possible!