UNBURDENED AND RELAXED...
- Smog – Knock Knock |
- Released: 1999 Drag City |
- Produced: Jim O'Rourke |
- Genre: Feline folk |
NO DANCING, NO DANCING, NO DANCING…
This week, you find me in the midst of a real conundrum.
Running low on time and even lower on inspiration, I realise that it's going to be pretty difficult to come up with approximately 1500 words of irrelevant literary references, half-baked theories, and the occasional, begrudging oh-go-on-then-if-I-really-must comment about the actual music. Nigh on impossible, really.
Why, oh why didn't I make these a series of short, simple, music reviews? I've not so much made a rod for my own back as made the rod out of my own spinal column.
Frantically, I thumb through my record collection for a fifth time, hoping that inspiration will strike. Muttering under my breath, vainly hoping that maybe if I listen really hard this time, I'll be able to come up with something about Joy Division that hasn't already been said.
I pace, I curse, I drink too much coffee. It's undignified.
Yet the other inhabitants in my workspace don't seem particularly bothered by my plight.
In fact, they're both asleep.
Ingrates. What do they know about creativity?
Wait. That's it! What do they know about creativity?
So, that's this week's question: can cats be creative?
Before I get into this any further, let's address the elephant in the room: this has nothing to do with the Smog record Knock Knock. Absolutely nothing. There's a cat on the cover of the record. That's it. Luckily, I already wrote about Bill Callahan's music (and novel) a few weeks ago, and actually talked about the record in question a fair bit last week, so hopefully that goes some way as an apology. (Also I make the rules and I said it's fine.)
The second glaring caveat which I am hastily covering over with a slapdash disclaimer sticker is as follows: I am not a feline psychologist. All results here are based on a deeply unscientific, entirely unrigourous study of two unwilling trial participants, who, for the purposes of this study, shall be referred to as 'subject E' and 'subject M'. In the interests of balance, I'll try to be objective and scientific, before letting you know just what I reckon.
Disclaimers out of the way, let's begin with the arguments against.
Simply put, they don't create very much.
In fact, apart from noise and a mess, subject E and subject M rarely make anything at all.
In terms of what we humans consider creative pursuits – writing, music, painting, cooking, arts and crafts – their skills leave a lot to be desired. If I'm honest, I don't even think they're trying very hard. Both subjects spent the majority of the study sleeping in various positions.
The only times I have ever witnessed any cat doing something that we would loosely describe as 'making music' (I draw your attention to exhibit A) there always seems to be more than a small element of chance involved. Subjects E and M do not even get as far as this in cultural matters.
In the course of the study, it was noted that they particularly dislike dance. The easiest way to elicit an uneasy glare from either of our subjects is to flail performatively before them with all the rhythm and grace you can muster. Their pupils immediately dilate as they enter a mode of high alert, as if a half-remembered macarena routine is actually cat sign language used to signal an impending attack.
I posit that it is the unpredictability of the movement that they so dislike. And what is creativity if not a series of unpredictable, unprecedented movements?
They dislike dancing, ergo they hold all creativity in disdain.
I rest my case.
The thing is, though: they do dream.
Obviously, they sleep a lot. And it's not uncommon to see their legs twitching while they're lost in some reverie or other. Occasionally, after a long snooze, Evie will suddenly come bursting into my office, mewing incessantly. From the frantic tempo and pitch of her pleas, I know that she's struck with a malady that only strokes and attention can cure. I can't prove it, but I reckon this happens when she's had a bad dream.
Who knows why any living creature dreams, but it's fair to say that the ability to imagine is fundamental to the process of dreaming. When the cats enter into a deep sleep, their minds file away their waking thoughts and experiences, triggering imagined narratives to play out in their unconscious minds.
Even in their (very few) waking hours, you can plainly see their ability to imagine things. One of the factors that marks cats as intelligent animals is their innate sense of object permanence: the understanding that an object continues to exist even when it is out of sight. So I know that Evie knows that my foot moving under a duvet cover is not a mouse to be pounced on. The fact that she does it anyway, therefore, suggests she gets some enjoyment out of imagining she is a ruthless hunter. It's a game of make believe (by the way, the unanimously agreed upon best time to play this game is around four in the morning.)
So the cats have an imagination. And imagination is the first step towards creativity.
They are also endlessly curious. We have coffee every morning, and despite the smell of it making them shrink away and swivel their noses up, they always – without fail – want to take a look and a sniff inside the cup. What if this time it's full of cat biscuits? Only one way to find out.
And of course, a box is never just a box. A box is a concept. A box represents POSSIBILITIES.
So they've got imagination, and they've got curiosity. Two enormous building blocks on the way to creativity.
But do they actually use those traits to create anything?
Well, Mishka has a habit of bringing us a selection of her favourite toys after we've gone to bed. She pulls them out from wherever they've been stashed away, dutifully carries them up the stairs, and carefully lays them at the foot of the bed.
As well as being utterly ADORABLE, there's an element of creativity here, too. If she brings more than one, I'll often find them placed in a line. Rainbow and banana nestled up together like salad spoons. It's not much, but there's purpose behind this. Intent. She's laid them out like that for a reason.
Admittedly, this is setting a pretty low bar. But she's working without opposable thumbs or the use of tools. Her imagination and curiosity (plus, I think, her knowledge that it makes me happy) leads her to manipulate the resources she has into something that could generously be called a work of art.
So are cats creative? Sort of, yeah.
In any case, next time you find yourself seriously lacking the required creativity (like I was at the start of this post) why not try manipulating the resources right in front of you into something rudimental but which if you squint, could maybe be considered art.
(Like I've done with this post).
Music that's cool, for cats.
- Les Aristochats – Maurice Chevalier
- The Love Cats – The Cure
- Wild Cats of Kilkenny – The Pogues
- Turnstile – Lionlimb
- Cat People (Putting Out Fire) – David Bowie
- When He Calls Me Kitten – Kelley Deal 6000
- Me an My Friend the Cat – Loudon Wainwright III
- What The World Needs Now – Cat Power
- Phenomenal Cat – The Kinks
- We Tigers – Animal Collective
- Kakashi – Yasuaki Shimizu
- All Cats Are Grey – The Cure
- Creown (Alchemist remix) – Run The Jewels
- Kittens – Underworld
- Velvet Kitty Cat – Prince
- Alley Cats – Hot Chip
- Puss 'n' Boots – Adam Ant
- Tigers – Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
- Stray Cat Strut – Stray Cats
- Stray Dog – Mungo Jerry
- Jules Lost His Jewels – Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
- Purr – Sonic Youth
- Cat On The Wall – PJ Harvey
- Look What The Cat Dragged In – Poison
- Be Careful Where You Park Your Car – Cat's Eyes
- Pads, Paws and Claws – Elvis Costello