apparently, is a classifying animal. All the experts
say so: geneticist Steve Jones, cultural commentator Michael
Foucault, and Arsenal fan Nick Hornby, among others.
Indeed, Jones, in his best-selling Almost Like A Whale,
explains that this isn't a new phenomenon. The Celestial
Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, a tenth century
Chinese encyclopaedia, classified plants and animals as
(a) Those that belong to the emperor; (b) embalmed ones;
(c) those that are trained; (d) suckling pigs; (e) mermaids;
(f) fabulous ones; (g) stray dogs; (h) those that are
included in this classification; (i) those that tremble
as if they were mad; (j) innumerable ones; (k) those drawn
with a very fine camel's hair brush; (l) others; (m) those
that have just broken a flower vase; and (n) those that
resemble flies from a distance.
Jones, with great understatement, says that this scheme
is hard to comprehend today.
He obviously never met my father.
Now, there was a man whose classification scheme for things
in the house defied any logic.
He gave us many things, my dad. He shared many things
with us, but never why he put certain things in certain
places. "Why can't anyone put anything in its proper
place in this house?" we'd hear him ask the dog.
The dog kept mum. My mum, well, she offered it up.
There was never any clutter in the house, nothing out
of place. Of course, it meant that you could never find
anything, unless dad was there. Testily, he'd tell you
that the bottle opener was in that drawer, along with
the fuses, cassette boxes, soap and newspaper clippings.
Even after I had examined the blue prints of the house
I was convinced that there was another set somewhere,
maybe in a bank vault somewhere (though that would have
been an alarmingly linear location for my dad) that gave
details of the proper place for everything in a house.
He really was the original Mr. Neat. And Mr. Tidy.
Like father, like son. My classification weakness is our
CD collection. And yes, I should point out that I've read
Nick Hornby's High Fidelity.
We have a lot of CDs. And albums. Although the albums
are mostly in the attic (and in my sister's house, my
mother's attic, and in an office in Galway), the CDs are
slowly filling the house.
Having spent the mid-80s stating, like a true radical,
that I'd never alphabetise my CDs, by the start of the
'90s I of course did. Alphabetised first, then arranged
chronologically. This worked for a while, but statis is
For a spell then I tried going chronologically first,
then alphabetically. This was followed by a disastrous
attempt at doing chronological, then best albums of a
It's time for another shake up.
Cladistics is the key.
Though it sounds like some sort of self-help programme
(not available in the shops, send $29.99 no obligations)
subscribed to by washed-up B-list Hollywood actors, it
actually is a science.
And at least one that is easy to explain: groups that
share traits not present in others must descend from a
In theory I should be able to group the CDs into a scheme
that can be understood and comprehensible to everyone.
Or to every other sad sap, according to my wife.
Simple enough. And it resolves at least one family row.
My sister's husband can be grouped with humans after all.
He's a Leeds fan. Enough said.
The application might not be so easy when it comes to
music though. Maybe an Excel spreadsheet or two might
be employed to keep tabs on the links.
Some are relatively straightforward: Beach Boys leads
to the High Llamas, then Stereolab, lob in Air, then Wondermints.
But where do Microdisney fit in?
Maybe I'll employ some cross-referencing system based
on late 60s jingly-jangly guitar bands with a soft spot
for musical geniuses in sand-boxes. Telecasters in this
lot, Rickenbackers in that lot. It'll make for interesting
Madonna will be in beside Joe Henry. The Who will be beside
Dan Lanois and the Jayhawks. These will intercept other
lines featuring U2, Peter Gabriel, and old uncle Bob Dylan.
(The links: Joe Henry is married to Madonna's sister.
Madonna's sister manages Dan Lanois. Lanois has worked
on some Joe Henry albums. As have the Jayhawks. Lanois
produced U2, Gabriel and uncle Bob. Joe Henry appeared
in a recent episode of Dharma & Greg playing
guitar in a band with Bob.) Then it can cross over with
Teenage Fanclub (a whole sub-genre right there: Scottish
power pop bands; with a link to their Irish brethren featuring
Stars of Heaven, Something Happens, Revelino, the Revenants
and the Blades), Counting Crows (the San Francisco-based
angsta rap outfit), Chic, British prog rock of the 70s,
German electronicaoh dear.
This may take some time.
And maybe some sort of 3-D mapping programme. Maybe I
could hire Elvis Costello as a consultant; allegedly he
owns a copy of every record ever made anywhere. Give or
take a reissue or two. He's bound to be able to handle
all this interconnectedness.
My dad, and the dog, would have dealt with it no problem.
My wife thinks it's easy. "Crap and the good stuff,"
is her clinical assessment.
Man, not woman, is the classifying animal.