From Lipton Village to Carnegie Hall

Question:  What was it like growing up in Ireland?

Gavin Friday: Well I grew up basically I was born nearly 50 years ago, so I was a child of the '60s basically, which sort of is a real blank. I really started growing up I think in the '70s. I'm a glam-rock kid. But Dublin, Ireland in them days, was a very dark place, as in it was a very poor, almost third world. We are going through economically the whole world is going through a recession at the moment. While maybe the '60s, '70s, and the '80s in Ireland was a real recession. It wasn't a pleasant place. It was massive unemployment, we had huge political problems with the north and it was dull and gray. So I formed a band and tried to escape it all.

So it's a great country; a really beautiful, great country, but it's had its troubles. The last 15 years we had one of the biggest economic booms. Overnight, we became almost the wealthiest country in Europe. And last year [2008], the bubble burst. But I think a few bubbles have burst in a few countries. So we are all going through the same things. But let's say Ireland, in the '70s and the '80s was tough, but if you grow up with a tough background it makes you strong.

How has Irish Catholicism influenced you and your work?

Gavin Friday: One of the biggest problems I found with Irish politics and the economic thing was after World War II, most of the European countries started to develop economically and socially, but whatever way the Catholic church they took a grip and they almost governed the country. I mean, we were almost like a dictatorship. There is good and bad, but we experienced an awful lot of bad, especially from the institutions that taught children the Christian brothers, etc.

All those stories are all coming out now; not just in Ireland, in Canada, and all over the world. So it was pretty intense. The Catholic church were almost -- they were like our Edgar J. Hoover, if you know what I mean. They ruled the roost.

But it had a huge profound influence on me in that as you get older you realize that you can't blame everything; that there is good and bad, and things get misdirected. So I would call myself a black Catholic. I still have this attraction to it because all religions I'm not a fan of. I'm a fan of belief in spirituality. So I would be into Christ rather than the Catholics

Question: What were your main influences as a child?

Gavin Friday: I was a very shy child. I didn't like football. I didn't like the usual stuff that was shoved at. Sports were always down you and the Gaelic language, which I've actually disliked as a kid but as I grow up I quite like it.

My real name isn't Gavin. I was given Gavin Friday by my friends. I'm christened Fionan Hanvey, which is Gaelic and there is no actual English translation. I hated it as a kid, but as I grew up, I sort of went, "Now I like it."

My main influences were -- I loved art. I sounds a little pretentious to say I was into art but I liked drawing. I liked music; music was my outlet from day one.

I was giving you an image of Ireland being this dull, gray, massive unemployment, not much going on and the future was the dull queue or -- and, for me, the window of hope was music and books. So I fell in love with T-Rex and David Bowie very young. They said, "Hey. You don't have to live in this north side of Dublin that's all gray and depressed. You can be a spider and go to Mars." So music and books too. I read avidly as a kid. And that's the beautiful thing about books and music and even movies, is that you can actually escape. You can go into other worlds.

Question:  What was Lipton Village?

Gavin Friday:  Lipton Village was an imaginary place really. It was a group of young guys that grew up around the same area. I grew up on a street called Cedar Wood Road and, by coincidence, my best friends that are around the age 10 became a guy called Bono and another guy called Guggi. And we just -- it was music again. That pulled us together.

I lived at the bottom end of the street and they lived at the top end and I was quite shy as a little kid, but they found me quite interesting because I had the right albums underneath my arm. Those days where you carry the latest Bowie album or Roxie Music album as you go to school. I mean you can't play an album at school but you were being cool just showing, "Look what I got." And I'm not into Meatloaf; I'm into Bowie. So I attracted their attention and I had long hair and earrings, when it was quite a risque thing to do in Dublin.

We didn't have the liberation that America and Britain in the '60s but I did always looked to England and America, mainly because of the music that came from there. But we became friends through music and we had real names, Fionan Hanvey and Derek Rowan -- what a dreadful name. And Paul Hewson. We gave each other nicknames, just the way most kids do, but the nicknames had more to do with how we physically looked or our essence and I had quite square features as a young kid.

Almost like there was this surge, this ad on the TV as surge pipe, called Wavin and it used to go, "Wavin Piping." And this big square pipe would come. I can be full on at moments, so I was called Wavin for awhile, but I'm a bit softer -- I'm a little softer than a surge pipe so they changed that to Gavin. I didn't chose it, it was Bono and Guggi who gave it to me. And then Friday was added because I have a talent of getting on with most people. So it's a bit of a man Friday thing.

We gave each other these nicknames and then we didn't -- we had similar interests. It sounds really pretentious at 12, 13 year old kids, were like into art and poetry, but we were. We weren't into football, we were into making music or being into music and painting and stuff like that.

And we called this sort of little gang Lipton Village and we made up imaginary games and this is one day we'll form bands and one day we'll make movies and one day we'll do this and one day we'll do that. But I think a lot of kids do this in their own way, except 25, 30 years later legend happens because some of us have become quite well known.

So the myth becomes magical. So I tend to sort of see it very practical for me. When I go out for a drink, Bono can buy the pints because he has more money than me. We're the same guys.

QuestionWhat comes first when you perform: personality or musicianship?

Gavin Friday: That's a tough one there. As a performer on stage, I tend to throw myself into the character, whatever I've written about, so it depends on how I'm writing or what I'm writing about. A lot of singers don't really know who they are. They have this massive insecurity and this massive ego and they are sort of pulled between both. Why do you want a lot of people to look at you all the time and listen to you? There is something going on there, there is a need to express and attention. It's not just ego, it's some sort of complex thing and sometimes you create characters to say something you want to say and then you just throw yourself into that.

In the last couple of years, I've been acting a lot more. I've done one or two movies; I've done a lot of work with the Roy Shakespearian Company and that's been intense; baby I can tell you that.

I love the way an Irish man -- they can hardly speak proper English -- is doing Shakespeare. So I find that extraordinary as I get older.

But I always see music, live shows, performances as moments and to really get there you've just got to actually get into the essence, flesh and the blood.

QuestionHow did you benefit concert at Carnegie Hall come to be?

Gavin Friday:  It had nothing really to do with me. I think it's going back years. I think it was on some TV situation ****. A lot of people think, "Oh, what's he at now? He's doing this. So what are you going to do next?"

And I say, "I don't know."

"What do you want to do?"

I say, "I don't know. I just want to get better."

Who do you want to ****.

"I don't know."

And **** says, "Well where would you play?"

I says, "Look. I'd love to play somewhere classic, somewhere legendary. A place where music was when music was; at Carnegie Hall." I just said it like that. So it became this sort of -- between my friends and different people -- oh Gav's going to play Carnegie Hall or Gav's going to play Carnegie Hall. Blah, blah, blah. Oh maybe he'll do Shakespeare in Carnegie Hall and it just became this thing over the years. Like a joke almost. And then my friends, as I was talking about, were all turning 50, slowly or quickly. And Guggi turned 50 in May. A gang of us went to a really nice hotel and had a beautiful weekend and we had a few drinks.

My good friend Bono says, "Hey. You know what you're doing for your 50th?"

I said, "Do you know what? I don't really care. Whatever. I want somewhere with my friends and loved ones and whatever.

And he says, "I know what you're doing for your 50th."

I says, "Really?"

He says, "Yeah. You're going to be working. You're going to be making a show and you're going to be working for Red."

When I have a few drinks on me, I can talk but I shut up for the night. So I was a little taken aback and it was sort of out of my control. I went, "What's this about?" But the guy who is putting the show together, Howell ****, I've worked with since 1988 and he's a little bit of a genius, well that's an understatement. He is a genius, in my mind. I've done many of his collaborations and shows and he says, "Let's just see who wants to play with you and let's throw the dice up in the air and see what comes down. I mean you've seen the cast. It's pretty extraordinary."

From Joe Grey to Rufus Wainwright to Martha Wainwright to Courtney Love to Marie **** to Eric Mingus and Lydia Lunch to U2, as you've never seen U2, as it's Bono, it's Adam, it's Larry, it's Edge. To some ex-Virgin Prunes, Guggi and Dick to actresses, the incredible Elizabeth Ashley, Chloe Webb and more and surprise guests. Laurie Anderson and after I leave this interview, I go to rehearse with Anthony **** for a few songs.

So what I am most excited about is a lot of music today is so over-rehearse, so worked out, so un-spontaneous; these events, we've got three days rehearsal and there's been a lot of preproduction and thought and e-mails and letters and conversations, but you're getting a group of musicians, almost like a workshop, that love music, that are like pushing it out there and spontaneously doing something. That's a rare thing in these days.

I don't know what's going to happen and I love that because in these days and age everything is so ordered and anal and music is about spirit and spontaneity. And that's what we're going to do on Sunday night.

QuestionWhat do you want to achieve in your next 50 years?

Gavin Friday:  Do you think I'm going to live until 100? I'll have to; maybe Bono can arrange that. That would be interesting. Hey Bono, thank you for my 50th, can you make me live another 50 years? It's just such a pleasure to be -- and an honor.

And you know what's so great is that we're making money for AIDS in Africa. There's a lot of love and spontaneity, we're doing something creative. That's what I love about Red. It's not just a charity, "Give us money, give us money." It's being innovative. Like here's a show that you won't see anywhere else and you can come and whatever you pay for your ticket it's going somewhere. You can go and buy a pair of Armani shades, like Bono, but the money goes to Africa. It's quite cool. But I'm actually quite modest.

All I want is a nice car. All I want is a drink at midnight on Sunday night and I'll be a very happy man.

Recorded on:  October 1, 2009.

Irish musician Gavin Friday has come a long way since inventing an imaginary world, Lipton Village, as a child with a few artistic friends. He tells Big Think how he got to where he is today.

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Freud is renowned, but his ideas are ill-substantiated

The Oedipal complex, repressed memories, penis envy? Sigmund Freud's ideas are far-reaching, but few have withstood the onslaught of empirical evidence.

Mind & Brain
  • Sigmund Freud stands alongside Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein as one of history's best-known scientists.
  • Despite his claim of creating a new science, Freud's psychoanalysis is unfalsifiable and based on scant empirical evidence.
  • Studies continue to show that Freud's ideas are unfounded, and Freud has come under scrutiny for fabricating his most famous case studies.

Few thinkers are as celebrated as Sigmund Freud, a figure as well-known as Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. Neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, Freud's ideas didn't simply shift the paradigms in academia and psychotherapy. They indelibly disseminated into our cultural consciousness. Ideas like transference, repression, the unconscious iceberg, and the superego are ubiquitous in today's popular discourse.

Despite this renown, Freud's ideas have proven to be ill-substantiated. Worse, it is now believed that Freud himself may have fabricated many of his results, opportunistically disregarding evidence with the conscious aim of promoting preferred beliefs.

"[Freud] really didn't test his ideas," Harold Takooshian, professor of psychology at Fordham University, told ATI. "He was just very persuasive. He said things no one said before, and said them in such a way that people actually moved from their homes to Vienna and study with him."

Unlike Darwin and Einstein, Freud's brand of psychology presents the impression of a scientific endeavor but ultimately lack two of vital scientific components: falsification and empirical evidence.


Freud's therapeutic approach may be unfounded, but at least it was more humane than other therapies of the day. In 1903, this patient is being treated in "auto-conduction cage" as a part of his electrotherapy. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The discipline of psychotherapy is arguably Freud's greatest contribution to psychology. In the post-World War II era, psychoanalysis spread through Western academia, influencing not only psychotherapy but even fields such as literary criticism in profound ways.

The aim of psychoanalysis is to treat mental disorders housed in the patient's psyche. Proponents believe that such conflicts arise between conscious thoughts and unconscious drives and manifest as dreams, blunders, anxiety, depression, or neurosis. To help, therapists attempt to unearth unconscious desires that have been blocked by the mind's defense mechanisms. By raising repressed emotions and memories to the conscious fore, the therapist can liberate and help the patient heal.

That's the idea at least, but the psychoanalytic technique stands on shaky empirical ground. Data leans heavily on a therapist's arbitrary interpretations, offering no safe guards against presuppositions and implicit biases. And the free association method offers not buttress to the idea of unconscious motivation.

Don't get us wrong. Patients have improved and even claimed to be cured thanks to psychoanalytic therapy. However, the lack of methodological rigor means the division between effective treatment and placebo effect is ill-defined.

Repressed memories

Sigmund Freud, circa 1921. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Nor has Freud's concept of repressed memories held up. Many papers and articles have been written to dispel the confusion surrounding repressed (aka dissociated) memories. Their arguments center on two facts of the mind neurologists have become better acquainted with since Freud's day.

First, our memories are malleable, not perfect recordings of events stored on a biological hard drive. People forget things. Childhood memories fade or are revised to suit a preferred narrative. We recall blurry gists rather than clean, sharp images. Physical changes to the brain can result in loss of memory. These realities of our mental slipperiness can easily be misinterpreted under Freud's model as repression of trauma.

Second, people who face trauma and abuse often remember it. The release of stress hormones imprints the experience, strengthening neural connections and rendering it difficult to forget. It's one of the reasons victims continue to suffer long after. As the American Psychological Association points out, there is "little or no empirical support" for dissociated memory theory, and potential occurrences are a rarity, not the norm.

More worryingly, there is evidence that people are vulnerable to constructing false memories (aka pseudomemories). A 1996 study found it could use suggestion to make one-fifth of participants believe in a fictitious childhood memory in which they were lost in a mall. And a 2007 study found that a therapy-based recollection of childhood abuse "was less likely to be corroborated by other evidence than when the memories came without help."

This has led many to wonder if the expectations of psychoanalytic therapy may inadvertently become a self-fulfilling prophecy with some patients.

"The use of various dubious techniques by therapists and counselors aimed at recovering allegedly repressed memories of [trauma] can often produce detailed and horrific false memories," writes Chris French, a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. "In fact, there is a consensus among scientists studying memory that traumatic events are more likely to be remembered than forgotten, often leading to post-traumatic stress disorder."

The Oedipal complex

The Blind Oedipus Commending His Children to the Gods by Benigne Gagneraux. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

During the phallic stage, children develop fierce erotic feelings for their opposite-sex parent. This desire, in turn, leads them to hate their same-sex parent. Boys wish to replace their father and possess their mother; girls become jealous of their mothers and desire their fathers. Since they can do neither, they repress those feelings for fear of reprisal. If unresolved, the complex can result in neurosis later in life.

That's the Oedipal complex in a nutshell. You'd think such a counterintuitive theory would require strong evidence to back it up, but that isn't the case.

Studies claiming to prove the Oedipal complex look to positive sexual imprinting — that is, the phenomenon in which people choose partners with physical characteristics matching their same-sex parent. For example, a man's wife and mother have the same eye color, or woman's husband and father sport a similar nose.

But such studies don't often show strong correlation. One study reporting "a correction of 92.8 percent between the relative jaw width of a man's mother and that of [his] mates" had to be retracted for factual errors and incorrect analysis. Studies showing causation seem absent from the literature, and as we'll see, the veracity of Freud's own case studies supporting the complex is openly questioned today.

Better supported, yet still hypothetical, is the Westermarck effect. Also called reverse sexual imprinting, the effect predicts that people develop a sexual aversion to those they grow up in close proximity with, as a mean to avoid inbreeding. The effect isn't just shown in parents and siblings; even step-siblings will grow sexual averse to each other if they grow up from early childhood.

An analysis published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology evaluated the literature on human mate choice. The analysis found little evidence for positive imprinting, citing study design flaws and an unwillingness of researchers to seek alternative explanations. In contrast, it found better support for negative sexual imprinting, though it did note the need for further research.

The Freudian slip

Mark notices Deborah enter the office whistling an upbeat tune. He turns to his coworker to say, "Deborah's pretty cheery this morning," but accidentally blunders, "Deborah's pretty cherry this morning." Simple slip up? Not according to Freud, who would label this a parapraxis. Today, it's colloquially known as a "Freudian slip."

"Almost invariably I discover a disturbing influence from something outside of the intended speech," Freud wrote in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. "The disturbing element is a single unconscious thought, which comes to light through the special blunder."

In the Freudian view, Mark's mistaken word choice resulted from his unconscious desire for Deborah, as evident by the sexually-charged meanings of the word "cherry." But Rob Hartsuiker, a psycholinguist from Ghent University, says that such inferences miss the mark by ignoring how our brains process language.

According to Hartsuiker, our brains organize words by similarity and meaning. First, we must select the word in that network and then process the word's sounds. In this interplay, all sorts of conditions can prevent us from grasping the proper phonemes: inattention, sleepiness, recent activation, and even age. In a study co-authored by Hartsuiker, brain scans showed our minds can recognize and correct for taboo utterances internally.

"This is very typical, and it's also something Freud rather ignored," Hartsuiker told BBC. He added that evidence for true Freudian slips is scant.

Freud's case studies

Sergej Pankejeff, known as the "Wolf Man" in Freud's case study, claimed that Freud's analysis of his condition was "propaganda."

It's worth noting that there is much debate as to the extent that Freud falsified his own case studies. One famous example is the case of the "Wolf Man," real name Sergej Pankejeff. During their sessions, Pankejeff told Freud about a dream in which he was lying in bed and saw white wolves through an open window. Freud interpreted the dream as the manifestation of a repressed trauma. Specifically, he claimed that Pankejeff must have witnessed his parents in coitus.

For Freud this was case closed. He claimed Pankejeff successfully cured and his case as evidence for psychoanalysis's merit. Pankejeff disagreed. He found Freud's interpretation implausible and said that Freud's handling of his story was "propaganda." He remained in therapy on and off for over 60 years.

Many of Freud's other case studies, such "Dora" and "the Rat Man" cases, have come under similar scrutiny.

Sigmund Freud and his legacy

Freud's ideas may not live up to scientific inquiry, but their long shelf-life in film, literature, and criticism has created some fun readings of popular stories. Sometimes a face is just a face, but that face is a murderous phallic symbol. (Photo: Flickr)

Of course, there are many ideas we've left out. Homosexuality originating from arrested sexual development in anal phase? No way. Freudian psychosexual development theory? Unfalsifiable. Women's penis envy? Unfounded and insulting. Men's castration anxiety? Not in the way Freud meant it.

If Freud's legacy is so ill-informed, so unfounded, how did he and his cigars cast such a long shadow over the 20th century? Because there was nothing better to offer at the time.

When Freud came onto the scene, neurology was engaged in a giddy free-for-all. As New Yorker writer Louis Menand points out, the era's treatments included hypnosis, cocaine, hydrotherapy, female castration, and institutionalization. By contemporary standards, it was a horror show (as evident by these "treatments" featuring so prominently in our horror movies).

Psychoanalysis offered a comparably clement and humane alternative. "Freud's theories were like a flashlight in a candle factory," anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann told Menand.

But Freud and his advocates triumph his techniques as a science, and this is wrong. The empirical evidence for his ideas is limited and arbitrary, and his conclusions are unfalsifiable. The theory that explains every possible outcome explains none of them.

With that said, one might consider Freud's ideas to be a proto-science. As astrology heralded astronomy, and alchemy preceded chemistry, so to did Freud's psychoanalysis popularize psychology, paving the way for its more rapid development as a scientific discipline. But like astrology and alchemy, we should recognize Freud's ideas as the historic artifacts they are.

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.