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Things I Have Learned

New Young Pony Club's Ty Bulmer On Greek Mythology
Ben Hewitt , January 26th, 2010 04:50

Sometimes the best presents are the ones you aren’t expecting

My mother was really quite obsessive about my education when I was a kid. For my Christmas present when I was eight I wanted a tea set, and I got the Encyclopaedia Britannica instead. I looked at the encyclopaedia, and looked at my Dad, and said “Where’s my tea set?”. He just looked at me, shook his head and said “We’ll talk about it later”. I think he got me one on Boxing Day, so it all worked out very well.

I went through the encyclopaedia alphabetically, just flicking through, and I got to ’G’ and the Greek Gods and I was like “Ah, this is interesting”. My mother’s Trinidadian, and quite religious, so the idea of other gods apart from ’that one’ was a bit revelatory, even if they weren’t something that people believed in anymore. It really captured my imagination. I loved fairy tales - all that stuff that kids love anyway - but the idea that people actually believed in this and based their lives around these ideas... when you’re eight it was a big deal.

Nearly anything is more exciting than Sunday school

I just thought it sounded fun. It was way more fun than going to Sunday school and drawing pictures of the twelve stages of the cross or something. It was glamorous. People would turn up on huge battlefields in chariots and say “Sod you, he’s my guy,” and all that kind of stuff. It was great.

I think a lot of it was the escapism. I love any form of escapism. I’m obsessed with science fiction, and video games, and fashion, and travelling. Anything that offers you escape from mundanity basically. And having had innumerable really dull jobs on the way to where I am now, I think I’m more obsessed with escaping now than I ever have been.

You can’t beat a bit of raunchiness

What did I find interesting about Greek mythology as I got older? Bottom line: raunch. That’s something that’s always intrigued me. Look at our last album - sex and gender fascinates me in every aspect, so the idea that people were looking up to these figures that were so human and fallable, and did such bizarre stuff in order to get some jiggy time with the objects of their affections, it was great. One of my favourite stories is when Dionysus, the God of madness and wine, is obsessed with this boy. The boy’s just saying “I’m not having any of you, I’m not having any of it,” and then he dies in battle. Dionysus makes a seed out of his own body, he plants it in the guy’s grave, makes a dildo out of it and uses it to fuck himself.

Other people don’t always think that Greek mythology is cool

I think that most people generally aren’t interested in who I am as a person, just as a performer who sings in a band. They have no idea I’m interested in Greek mythology. My friends just think I’m some crazy intellectual person. They’ll look at half the books on my shelf and say ‘What are you reading now?’. There’ll be science books rubbing shoulders with really pulpy horror and books on fashion in the 1950s. Weird things will fascinate me. The other night I was looking at facial feminisation surgery. The idea seems quite salacious - "trannies have to have bits of their faces removed to look more like a beautiful woman" - but it interests me that someone’s been able to pinpoint, "If you do this you work as a woman." I find myself disappearing on all sorts of weird adventures.

Greek Mythology has helped improve my art

I think any forays into anything more classical has inspired me to try and be a better writer, and not just want to rhyme ‘day’ with ‘way’. I’m not a fan of that whole Chris Martin school of writing. The greatest thrill for me, apart from just loving the song, is being able to say “Wow, I’ve got a really cool word in here - and it works, and it scans, and it rhymes properly."

The Greek Gods were much more democratic

In Christianity, Old Testament God rules with a bit of an iron fist. And so does New Testament God, actually. He’s still kind of an iron first. He’s like New Labour - rebranded, but still a bit of a dark lord.

In Greek mythology, I just loved that the Gods appeared and interacted with people all the time. There’s a story of Zeus and Apollo going to some very poor guy in the middle of a province where nobody has any food. The rumour was that he was so generous he’d give you the shirt off his back. They went to test him and he gave them his last morsel of food. When he woke up, his whole house was made out of gold. You don’t get much of that interaction in Christianity. It’s more like 'The Virgin Mary appears in a piece of toast'.

Modern culture doesn’t always get Ancient Greece right

I always want it to be a bit truer to life, and truer to my vision as to what that would have been. I think someone like Helen of Troy is such an interesting figure, she’s kind of like Marie Antoinette. There are all these different readings of who she was, what she represented. Is she a whore? Is she a misunderstood mother who ran away with the wrong guy because she was trapped in a loveless marriage? They didn’t capture any of that in the film Troy. They had Brad Pitt without his shirt on instead. He’s probably a great Achilles though. He does that, “I’m ready to kill people and you lot don’t appreciate me” thing well. Diane Kruger as Helen, though, that was a real waste of a part. They should have given it to someone older. Monica Bellucci would have been great. It would have made a lot more sense because she ran away with this toy boy. Plus, she’s stunning.

Greek mythology isn’t just good for learning - it can help you look better

People are fascinated by the effect that the past has had on our own culture, and the symbolism that permeates the Western world in terms of art and architecture. What I’m doing with my hair at the moment is a slightly Grecian thing. I’d been looking at pictures of statues of Diana and thought “Ooh, I like that. It’s a kind of warrior girl look. I think I’m going to do that with my hair.”

Don’t anger the Gods. They made Prometheus have his liver eaten every day by an eagle

That’s hardcore. That’s what happens when you cross the Gods. They find a really evil way of making you pay. One of the most tragic and heartbreaking stories is when Orpheus is trying to release his lover from the underworld, and he’s told he can’t look back to make sure she’s following him. At the last minute he has that crisis of faith and turns round, and she disappears even though she’s been behind him the whole time. Who doesn’t like a bit of dark stuff? It gives you a little visceral thrill. Everything is so banal now, things that have that gruesome element are ten times more interesting than everyone saying “Oh yes, he’s a great person blah blah blah," and constantly patting each other on the back.

The heroes of Greek mythology were the rock stars of their day

Dionysus is my favourite God. He just seems quite wacky. And he’s like a rock star, isn’t he? He has this whole tribe of mad women following him round like groupies, and he’s getting everyone drunk and they’re all having a really good time. In terms of myth, I like the big epics. I love The Iliad, I love the story of Achilles from beginning to end. I’m a big scaredy cat myself, but I love the idea that he was told he could have a lifetime of longevity as a hero but would only live a short while, or he could live as a little king and have a long life, but he chose to burn brightly. It’s almost like the Jim Morrison story, isn’t it? Burn really brightly, be a nutcase and then be remembered forever. And not as a fat guy either. He did well, actually.

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