Back in those far-off days when MTV played music videos, rather than seemingly endless tacky reality TV, the “Virtual Insanity” video was one of my favourites.
This song is over 20 years old now, but even in the early days of the internet…and even before the dot-com bubble got fully under way… “Virtual Insanity” set out to warn us of the danger in becoming too immersed in our digital lives and not connected enough to the real world.
“Virtual Insanity” was released a decade or so before Facebook and Twitter got fully into their stride, a decade before the first iPhone was released and about the same time two students at Stanford University were setting up some weird new search engine based on their doctoral research to take on the might of Yahoo and Alta Vista. (That search engine became known as Google…those two students did pretty well out of it…)
Whatever JK… Jamiroquai’s lead singer and co-writer of “Virtual Insanity” … thought of people being too immersed in the digital world of the late 1990s, I suspect he’d be considerably more concerned now. Although I realise I’m one of the lucky ones…just occasionally my children glance up briefly from their iPads to grunt their answers to my questions about how their day at school has been.
Futures made of virtual insanity now
Always seem to be governed by this love we have
For useless, twisting our new technology
Oh, now there is no sound, for we all live underground
That’s your script for a post-apocalyptic disaster movie, right there…
It’s a little bit ironic that JK (real name Jay Kay) was so against new technology, because when that new technology came in the form of a powerful new sports car, he was all for it (as Jamiroquai’s video for “Cosmic Girl” proves here… https://youtu.be/D-NvQ6VJYtE )
The most shocking thing for me about the “Cosmic Girl” video wasn’t seeing JK nipping around in expensive sports cars…his love of those was reasonably well-known…but seeing JK without a hat on. The “Cosmic Girl” video was the first time I’d seen his head above the eyebrows. You’ll be glad to know JK remains fully-hatted in the “Virtual Insanity” video below though…
Jamiroquai weren’t just concerned about the digital world. In their view the world of the mid-1990s was completely insane.
A bit like JK’s concern for digital technology in the 1990s versus how much more immersed we all are in it today, I think his take on the world’s inherent insanity might also need re-calibrating by several orders of magnitude for the late 2010s.
Who among us wouldn’t settle for some 1990s-strength insanity when faced with daily bouts of extreme insanity from some of the world’s most important political leaders 20 years later?
Back in the mid-1990s, the biggest driver of your insanity was the seemingly interminable delay every time your dial-up connection tried to download a tiny text file from something we’d only recently started calling “the internet”.
Nowadays you can go straight from a state of serene calm to “steam coming out the ears” rage just by catching the headlines on the 10 o’clock news…
Maybe it’s because we didn’t listen closely enough 20 years ago…
And nothing’s going to change the way we live
‘Cos we can always take but never give
And now that things are changing for the worse
See it’s a crazy world we’re living in
And I just can’t see that half of us immersed in sin
Is all we have to give
Winston Churchill said that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Mark Twain said that, while history doesn’t often repeat itself, it does rhyme.
Maybe back in 1996 Jamiroquai was giving us a warning for the future which, whilst it may not have happened exactly as they thought it would, has certainly rhymed with their warnings against living a virtual life instead of a real one. Perhaps we should have paid “Virtual Insanity” more attention.
I mentioned earlier the truly amazing video for “Virtual Insanity”. When you consider this was actually made as a low-tech video without green screens and camera trickery, it’s even more brilliant than you might think it is.
I remember seeing an interview with JK where he explained that off-screen there were basically a group of hefty blokes moving stuff around on rollers to create the room’s ever-changing shape. It’s a really clever video, though, made by people who really knew what they were doing when it came to realising an idea in the days you couldn’t just “paint it in later” on a green screen.
But there’s one other element that makes “Virtual Insanity” such a great song. That’s the staccato jazzy chords on the keyboard that carry the theme of the song right through.
A long time ago I played the piano…not brilliantly, but well enough to know that playing a chord like that is much harder than you might think. There’s a real skill in “attacking” the keys to make the sound nice and crisp, but then lifting your fingers off again quickly to end the note as abruptly as it began.
I can’t find a definitive reference online to who played the keyboard on this track, but whoever it was showed some real musical skill… another aspect of the 1990s that was arguably better than today.
However if you want to go back to the 1990s…
Back to when records were made with real instruments, rather than laptops…
Back to when we had to struggle with dial-up internet but at least we didn’t have our iPhones pinging every few minutes with another vacuous social media update…
Back to when insanity amongst the global ruling classes looked like merely a bit of harmless eccentricity compared to today’s nonsense…
Then there’s no better company for your journey back in time than Jamiroquai, with their excellent song, “Virtual Insanity”…
The video is below, but if you prefer to listen to the track on Spotify, you can find it here… https://open.spotify.com/track/47W6YR93MPCGLEUReLMyDm