Sunday, August 31, 2003

Another masterpiece of words and thoughts and ideas from Comrade Carlin at http://cookham.blogspot.com, all the more brilliant for me for being, at least at this stage, almost indicipherable, ALMOST unknowable. I can't pretend to compare to this (and MC's Ian MacDonald tribute is far better than mine ... or, perhaps, far more *involved* than mine), but Marcello's reference to The Ladykillers reminds me of Charles Barr's comment in his book on Ealing Studios that the gang was possibly an analogy for Clement Attlee's post-war Labour government, and I can sort of understand that; the film was made in 1955 when the social scene and prevailing attitudes had (temporarily, as it turned out) reverted to those of the 1930s, and the gang just being narrowly thwarted, just failing to break down this daydream, and the Old Order reasserting itself in the shape of Churchill's comeback, the Coronation and all its deference (parallel universe: what differences in the public mood would there have been if George VI had died giving way to a new monarch under Attlee rather than Churchill Mark 2?) ... the parallel is there, if like me you tend to suspect that kind of thing. What was not yet clear in 1955 was that a greater bomb thrown at that cosy community would come from the first knockings of radical capitalism; the New Prosperity at the turn of the 50s and 60s, and its early tentative signs of the individualisation of society which so frightened Ian MacDonald. After all it was Macmillan who'd sign the death warrant for a thousand Titfield Thunderbolts and ensure that there'd be many more houses with numbers instead of names; the only real point of interest left in Ealing's played-out steam train chestnut is that it's basically a replay of the age-old battle for the soul of the Right, one of many relatively unimportant traditionalist-technocrat battles in between the two pivotal ones (the Industrial Revolution and the Thatcher years), and when the studios closed in August 1959 you could even say the bus company was about to secure the landslide which ensured its primacy over the Vicar and his cry of "down to the river, everybody!".

I think it was Anthony Aldgate (I do hope it was him and not Jeffrey "Daily Mail Page 8: why Dad's Army was our finest half-hour" Richards; I remember they co-wrote the book in which this essay appeared) who suggested that The Ladykillers was a tantalising last hurrah; its ending suggested that there *wouldn't* be Suez and there wouldn't be John Osborne etc etc, and if the gang had triumphed it would have been a far more accurate reflection of what was to replace Ealing. But then, like Marcello says, they could never have admitted that, never conceded their own coming obsolescence; like so much of the old British establishment around 1955, they were hiding their nerves (and indeed Katie Johnson herself would be dead with two years; think also, perhaps, of the lost 50s nostalgist Leslie Halliwell damning The Ladykillers with VERY faint praise in his Film Guide). And the idea of the Old Order keeping its nerves from public view in the 50s is precisely what I was thinking just before I read Marcello's piece. May we never stop reading minds, either of us.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Just as I suspected, the Times' obituary of Ian MacDonald claims that "Over the past two years, he had fallen into a deep depression over the state of the world and he died by his own hand".

So quite possibly ANOTHER tragic event that George W. Bush has at least some responsibility for ...
And if Ian MacDonald was the man who put into my mind the idea that the late 1960s' hippies and radical New Left were actually part of a deeper continuum, and that they won a few battles but ultimately lost the war to vast numbers of depoliticised people who never knew for one moment just how revolutionary they really were (and, of course, a small number of politicians who wouldn't have considered themselves for one moment to be revolutionary) then it's the right time to direct some of you towards my work directly influenced by him, lifting that one meme from "Fabled Foursome, Disappearing Decade" and spinning it out into an essay of its own. It may be the closest I've got to Ian MacDonald, in terms of sheer historical scope and mastery of the narrative. The history you won't hear from those who only look on the surface: The Hangman's Ancient Sunlight.

http://www.livingstonemusic.net/hangman.htm (the multicoloured version) or http://www.transdiffusion.org/emc/third/hangman (the plain text).
Ian MacDonald - writer of "Revolution in the Head", the greatest simultaneous work of musicology and sociology I have ever read - has died. According to Paul Lester, a wonderfully friendly and approachable man the one time I met him at King's Reach Tower back in '96, it was suicide. Despite his claims that "Something in the soul of Western culture began to die in the late Sixties", I'm still not sure whether I can sense a profoundly nihilist mind in Ian's work - not even in his deeply *involved* 1999 Mojo piece on Nick Drake (they were contemporaries at Cambridge). Perhaps it was the current general global unpleasantness that pushed him over the edge, maybe it was his sense of loss in the modern world, which you feel now he sometimes understated when praising the dynamism of the Sixties ... or perhaps it was something private, something we'll never know. The lack of media coverage has confirmed to me how internalised "our" creative world can be, and how soon "we" can forget that. Not that I want to step fully outside it, of course.

Ian MacDonald was a flawed writer and a flawed man; we know contemporary music in general was his weakness and his blindspot, and while I could sympathise with his sadness at the worst excesses of post-modernism, I stopped short of sharing his disdain for the emotional and personal power of the music itself. Even "Revolution in the Head" could infuriate me; his failure to fully relate to the very *unsettledness* of the White Album, the one thing that once made it my favourite record of all time, might just be some kind of vague psychological explanation for his taking his own life. Brought up in an age of consensus the like of which I know I'm never going to see, he could still remember the days of togetherness - his greatest break with Received Wisdom, and hence his finest moment, was his claim that "All You Need Is Love" was not the start of a new era in Western society but the end of the one that came before, the final moment when Everyone Joined In. I *wanted* to apply that togetherness to my own life, but somehow (half Asperger's Syndrome, half generational, I suspect) it was always beyond me.

But "Revolution in the Head" made me feel as though I was there, listening to the Beatles' records as they came out, exploring the moment and its possibilities, living the life. It enabled me to join the dots between several different cultural and artistic memes which were, in 1996, lazing in my mind unfulfilled because some had been placed there by film, others by literature, others by mere Top 40 music, and it needed a Big Narrative to bring them together. It contains powerful, driven, emotional descriptions of masterpieces like "I Am The Walrus", "Ticket To Ride", "Revolution 9", "Norwegian Wood", "Come Together", "Strawberry Fields Forever" ... and, more perhaps than those like Simon Reynolds and Taylor Parkes who *did* understand the present-day music I was fascinated by, Ian MacDonald *formed* me. My early ambition was simply to be the Ian MacDonald who understood contemporary music and regarded it as at least the equal of 1960s music; if I've got even halfway there, I'd be pleased. And, in the opening sequence to "Revolution in the Head", "Fabled Foursome: Disappearing Decade", he wrote the following words which pretty much underpin my entire current socio-cultural thinking:

"It was hard for (Christopher) Booker, or Malcolm Muggeridge, or Mary Whitehouse to understand that much of what appeared to be profane in Sixties youth culture was quite the opposite ... by a devilish paradox, those who thought they were at the cutting edge of social development in the Sixties - the hippies, the New Left - soon found themselves adrift in the wake of the *real* social avant-garde of the period: ordinary people. The individualism of the Me Decade, as Tom Wolfe dubbed the Seventies, was a creation of the Sixties' mass mainstream, not of the peripheral groups which challenged it. Former hippies and radicals who abandoned the utopian 'we' for rueful self-interest in the Seventies, far from leading public taste, were merely tagging along behind it. As for the punks, their blurt of betrayal in 1976-8 was apprehended by the comfortable, sensible majority of Western society with no more than mystified amusement.

The irony of modern right-wing antipathy to the Sixties is that this much-misunderstood decade was, in all but the most superficial senses, the creation of the very people who voted for Thatcher and Reagan in the Eighties. It is, to put it mildly, curious to hear Thatcherites condemn a decade in which ordinary folk for the first time aspired to individual self-determination and a life of material security within an economy of high development and low inflation. The social fragmentation of the Nineties which rightly alarms conservatives was created neither by the hippies (who wanted us to "be together") nor by the New Left radicals (all of whom were socialists of some description). So far as anything in the Sixties can be blamed for the demise of the compound entity of society it was the natural desire of the 'masses' to lead easier, pleasanter lives, own their own homes, follow their own fancies and, as far as possible, move out of the communal collective completely.

The truth is that, once the obsolete Christian compact of the Fifties had broken down, there was nothing - apart from, in the last resort, money - holding Western civilisation together ... It is, in short, no accident that Mrs Thatcher should have founded her outlook on the conviction that society does not exist - and no surprise that her favourite Sixties tune is 'Telstar' by The Tornados, a record symbolising the rise of technology-driven post-war prosperity and mass social emancipation. She and her radicalised, post-consensus Conservative voters are the true heirs of the Sixties. *They* changed the world, not the hippies (and certainly not the New Left). What mass society unconsciously began in the Sixties, Thatcher and Reagan raised to the level of ideology in the Eighties; the complete materialistic individualisation - and total fragmentation - of Western society.

Hoist with its own petard, the New Right now seeks to pin the blame for the unhappier aspects of the Sixties' social revolution on groups whose influence on the course of events oover the past quarter of a century has been at best peripheral, at worst non-existent ... When contemporary right-wing pundits attack the Sixties, they identify a momentous overall development but ascribe it to the very forces who most strongly reacted against it. The counterculture was less an agent of chaos than a marginal commentary, a passing attempt to propose alternatives to a waning civilisation ... At their heart, the (Sixties) countercultural revolt against acquisitive selfishness - and, in particular, the hippies' unfashionable perception that we can change the world only by changing ourselves - looks in retrospect like a last gasp of the Western soul. Now radically disunited, we live dominated by and addicted to gadgets, our raison d'etre and sense of community unfixably broken."

I wouldn't be writing now if I hadn't read those words. I probably wouldn't be thinking half as much, either. Many others could have done what Ian MacDonald has apparently now done to himself, myself included. It is losses like this which remind me, on some level, why Marcello and I are still here. We *have* to be here.
Comrade Carlin informs me that Elton John was, about a decade ago, involved in a Conservative Party ecology splinter-group called Conserve, along with other Right-leaning thinkers such as John Mills, Sarah Brightman and Russell Grant. This further muddies the waters; ecologist conservatives tend to be of the axis I set up last week as Elton's antithesis, men (and occasional women) deeply wary of The Cult of Diana, Sky TV, football, flamboyant gay men, duetting with Eminem and all the other cornerstones of Elton John's US-led, New Whig cultural position (cf Stuart Millson's plans, reported by another member of the CDA forum, for a new party of "Real Conservatives, ecologists, environmentalists" - the Mosleyite Agrarians would find much to sympathise with there). Indeed Russell Grant seems to be most famous these days for his passionate support for the old county boundaries swept away in 1965 and 1974, changes which may have been instigated under Macmillan / Home / Heath rather than Thatcher, but which are still very much the sort of thing that anti-pop antiquarians still idle their days away lamenting.

But in many ways Elton John's apparent involvement with the Ecological Right (who, practically by definition, can only ever be of the Old Right in the same way that Jewish Tories, for deep-rooted historical reasons relating to the old landed classes' suspicion of "rootless Jewish capitalists" and their covert support in many cases for the Nazis, can only ever be of the New Right) merely confirms his character; the ultimate post-modernist, the classic exponent of the supposedly free-and-easy anti-ideological position which is actually so aggressive and harsh in its denial of "irrefutable meaning" in anything that it becomes fervently ideological in itself. William Hague's statement in January 1999 that "believing in everything is the same as believing in nothing", ostensibly directed at Blair personally, was really a pot-shot at the whole New Establishment and their ethos of being something to everyone, always trying to ingratiate themselves with a different group of friends every day, sticking two fingers up at the idea of having a firm position, making permanent friends with your allies, fighting a common enemy.

Hague's electoral humiliation in 2001 was in reality a great triumph for post-modernism, and for Elton John and all his kind, and maybe my deep ambivalence about what Elton stands for comes from the fact that I have never fully embraced post-modernism, always felt it creates to an extent but undermines more, stimulates to an extent but erodes more, and above all else it makes people stop thinking, makes them lazy, makes them unable to see that there is often something in the ethos of a song, or a political tract, or a friendship, which is irreoncilable to another song / political tract / friendship. It eats away at the public consciousness of political dissidents and visionaries, and creates a situation where too many of us stab our friends in the back without even knowing it, simply through the existence of other friendships. This is something Elton John's key position in the New Establishment has, unfortunately, legitimised, and it may be one of the reasons why I find him fundamentally unlikeable.

David Stubbs (the best of a very bad lot of writers) is dead right in Saturday's Grauniad Guide, incidentally; "Are You Ready For Love" really should be Thom Bell featuring Elton John. That's what makes it any good, and the same thing applies to "Philadelphia Freedom"; Elton was using Thom Bell in the same way that he would later use the Queen, as a convenient vehicle for his chosen image of the time, a mere backdrop for the impression he intended to put over before he did something else next year. That alone should explain why I suspect that Sir Richard Body and any other Conservative ecologist he briefly encountered ten years ago would now see Elton John as a traitor to their cause. The New Right would probably see nothing wrong with using the Queen and Thom Bell as though they were on the same level as each other, though; they were, after all, the ones who sang along with Elton's old mate Billy Joel when he equated the Queen's accession with the fact that, at the same time, Brooklyn apparently had a winning team.

Simon Hoggart is a cunt.

On Saturday afternoon Radio 2 played exactly the same 1979 chart as they featured on the day Laura died. One particular song was left out then, as I remember, but was played this time around. The man who sang the song died from cancer in 2000. But that isn't the full story. The song is called "Reasons To Be Cheerful". On 25th August 2001 there could be none. Dale Winton and Phil Swern might just have read at least one mind.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

The early plans for the London orbital motorway seem to be haunting me; tonight it was the "Whicker Island" Python from '72 and there was the North Walden Icelandic Saga Society, promoting their town "conveniently situated near the proposed M25". If last night reminded me of the harshness, tonight was the side of Python which reflects a vanished world; the very appearance of North Walden reminding me of just how different suburbia looked before McDonalds came, and the accents of Cleese as BBC Head of Drama and the bloke from the North Walden Chamber of Commerce have both disappeared in their purest form, dissolved into Estuary, effectively merged with each other among my generation. Still great, though.

R Kelly's "The Storm Is Over Now" from 2001 - almost down there with "I Believe I Can Fly" as the nadir of his MOR excursions, the sort of thing you'd have hoped went out when Mariah hooked up with ODB in '95. Beenie Man's "War Is Over", heavily based on the Kelly song and crucially *also* built around the Diwali Riddim - heavenly, euphoric, joyous, transcendent, perfect, a dream of pop music as it should be, almost outstripping even "No Letting Go". Perfect. Only a few months ago I wouldn't have believed it was possible.
"Kamikaze, Nazi, Nazi, cop me, pop me ..." (Juelz Santana, "Santana's Town")

What will be remembered as the most important political statement of 2003 in the long term? The aged Milton Friedman's admission that his economic policies have had socially disturbing and distorting aftereffects will stand out (unfortunately, it will probably push still more floating right-wing traditionalists from the now completely Friedmanised Tory party into the Conservative Democratic Alliance or, far worse, the BNP). But I think the definitive statement might well be the British MP Oona King, who is both black and Jewish, comparing the tactics of the Israeli government in the West Bank to the Nazis in WW2. Suddenly the paradigm exploded, suddenly I felt safer and more secure about my claim back in Elidor that a socialist admiring Jay-Z was akin to a Jew admiring Hitler. It's not as if people are trying to rehabilitate Hitler and the Nazis' actual character and actions from 1933-45, just that inevitably (rightly or wrongly), as time passes, references to that regime and comparisons to other regimes which have followed it will be more frequent and more casual, and the works of those most obviously demonised by the original Nazis may well be described as quasi-Nazi - in their *tactics* and exhortations if not what they actually do - in a way that was always previously regarded as distasteful and well suspect.

("stand up - PAY ATTENTION!!!!" screams Westwood like a man on fire ... how strange a resonance such words may well have for him, perhaps taking him back to 1970, when he doesn't want to believe his age was already in double figures, his Combined Cadet Force on parade not a million miles from the Thetford location where wartime Sea Scouts and ARP were racing each other across country for the curious netherworld of "Dad's Army". And I wonder if he ever felt he would ever hear such an utterance again in his life, let alone that he would ever *declaim it himself*. There's something afoot here.)

"2 Gunz Up" by The Lox even inspired Westwood to holler "SALUTE!" - like, does he actually get flashbacks to when his Scout leaders shouted the same word? Does he wonder how much hip-hop must have changed that it can inspire anyone to say that? Or has he cleansed himself of his original self so thoroughly that it has literally NO MEANING for him, just like Puffy's "I'll Be Missing You" has lost so much meaning that it can even be played - by a BBC station! - as a tribute song to a 101-year-old woman who spoke of "blackamoors" with no apparent irony? But the Scout reference is apposite, because when I was in the movement we used to introduce ourselves on campsites with the call and response "Everywhere we go / people want to know / who we are / where do we come from", or something along those lines (our variant was "we come from Dartford", which may not be the proudest boast in the world, but it's everything when you're 11 and desperately searching for *some* kind of collective identity). Amid apocalyptic sound of marching boots - we're talking a million men here, all kitted out, no room for even one slightly skipped or imperfect beat, The Lox hurtle in thus: "Everywhere we go / people want to know / who we are / so we tell them / this is D-Block / mighty mighty D-Block". The only sound which equates to a "traditional" instrument reminds me of, all things, the harpsichord, except that it isn't an embellishment like the incidental harpsichord riff on NKOTB's "Hangin' Tough" which caught my nine-year-old ear, but the basis of the whole song. Militarism and medievalism; this is is where street rap has led. The hook from "2 Gunz Up" is probably sonically closer to the harmonium in a Lowestoft church in 1963 than it is to any sound you might hear on "James Brown Live At The Apollo".

Nothing could have prepared us for this - earlier Lox tracks like "Wild Out" were similarly malevolent, but there was still a looseness to the beats, still a comparatively free-flowing quality. And Jadakiss' 2001 solo work was almost classic soul - "We Gonna Make It" harked tantalisingly back to the days of Philadelphia freedom (the concept, not the song). The nastiness of the lyrics couldn't undercut the fact that this was inherently part of a black American musical lineage. Not now.

You could say that hip-hop's always been about Europeanisation of the black American sonic pallette, ever since Grandmaster Flash first rocked a Kraftwerk beat yadaangusyadabateyyada, but it's one thing to acknowledge that there was rhythmic and sonic innovation in Germany and another to sound as though you want to start the black Nuremberg rally. I start wondering whether black Americans could have brought themselves to make music so rhythmically tight as to be practically proto-fascist in any previous era - were the Second World War and the resonances of what the Nazis tried to do to their music still too close, too strong in the memory, or is there an even deeper reason for the shift? Has the climate of the Bush era even influenced black Americans (I won't call them African-Americans because I see street rap as, ultimately, one big fascinating sneer at Afrocentricity) to follow the trend of mindless military shit-stirring even though it was the disenfranchisement of black Florida voters which probably inflicted Bush on us in the first place? Maybe there's a concerted desire to become the opposite of everything every ever-so-slightly patronising white liberal ever has cast them as, to break down Nachurel Riddim, to actually deconstruct and defunkify hip-hop like Bowie did to Philly soul? Certainly I see hip-hop traditionalists as fighting a losing battle to keep their sonic pallette African-American (they are much more likely to have Afrocentric ties), and they've been humiliated in the key radio battle grounds; "You Know My Steez", "Militia" and "Royalty" off the last Gang Starr album were holding it down with Westwood in 1998, but TW's about as likely to play anything off "The Ownerz" as he is to play something from, I dunno, "Dance With My Father" by Luther Vandross. Right now, Guru & Premo seem that far gone.

Just as the Israelis are theoretically those who should know best not to inflict quasi-Nazi tactics on anyone else, so Southerners in hip-hop are the ones who *should* be most likely to resist quasi-fascist sounds and styles, and indeed there's a lot of weight on the crunk; David Banner, Lil' Jon and Bone Crusher burning the Confederate flag up in Brooklyn, Banner's ferocious Bush diss (whereas 50 Cent doesn't care and DOESN'T SEE WHY HE SHOULD CARE, just as people in south-east England who didn't actively support Thatcher still didn't see why they should be passionately opposed to her). Like Comrade Reynolds says, "Get Low" (number 6 on the Hot 100 now!) by Lil' Jon & the East Side Boyz is pretty much the ultimate dirty south title, it's what the crunk is all about, and the song has the funk, indeed it's positively brimming with it. But it doesn't tell the whole story; LJ&Boyz' "I Don't Give A Fuck" even it in its edited form is pure fascist-hop, the opening sneers of "ooohhkkkaaaaaiiiyyy" (real Whackford Squeers territory, even before the line "respect this authority figure" comes in), the two-minute repetition of the chorus before any perfunctory verse comes in, the preciseness of its beat.

And in its full, Westwood-amplified, endlessly-rewound-for-maximum-explosive-impact form, Bone Crusher's awesome "Never Scared" (the "BRAND NEW NATIONAL ANTHEM" sez Westwood; as ever, I wonder whether he thinks of those hymn books which, even in the bloody Methodist Church so fuck knows what the Anglicans were like, actually included the original "God Save The Queen") is basically what would happen if Damien Rickman (our resident bully in the Cub Scouts) and Leni Riefenstahl had collaborated, in that parallel universe where they both came from the dirty-dirty (listen to "all you hate motherfackahs, undahachievahs" and tell me it wouldn't fit perfectly into Adolf's Austrian accent). In its glorious shuffling rudeness ("bad table manners" as though that was shocking; very Olde English!) David Banner's "Like A Pimp" reminds me more of Monica Edwards' skittish pony Banner than anything else. None of these songs remind me much of any previous hip-hop.

Cam'ron's Harlem-raised protege Juelz Santana is most intriguing of all because he doesn't even try to deny his sympathies (I wonder how many similar facades will fall before too long). Santana (and what a historically provocative name *that* is) actually boasts about identifying with those who would censor and destroy his own music; the much-vaunted "courage when he was driving the plane / reminds me of when I was dealing the 'cane" line, alluding to the perpetrators of September 11th, is actually a piece of headline-seeking self-importance which doesn't really shock at all; what does make me almost fall out of my chair in shock, especially in context of everything Bush has stirred up, is the casual, presumably approving shout of "Taliban!" at the intro of the Diplomats' "I'm Ready", and again towards the end (I almost described the song as a "posse cut", but to call this a posse cut would be like calling "Anarchy In The UK" skiffle). The word is not presented as some universal evil, just as something casual to say, JUST ANOTHER WORD, JUST ANOTHER ANALOGY. The song itself sounds fascistic in its sheer bludgeoning of the point; Mark E. Smith would have approved of this when he sang "Repetition in our music / And we're never going to lose it" (inspired by Neu!, of course, as were the Sex Pistols' fundamentally defunkified rhythms - indeed you could say this 2003 wave of fascist-hop is doing to hip-hop what the Pistols did to rock music, fundamentally removing it from its inherently black rhythmic roots) a quarter of a century ago. Same sped-up vocal sample for the best part of 5 minutes, no flux or sonic evolution at all, no trace of the flexibility of black pop past and much of the present.

"Dipset Anthem" you should know, and ultimately its beat is too funky to be pure fascist-hop (though it has a good go), but the real revolutionary thrust is in "Santana's Town", off Juelz's soon-come solo debut. When Westwood first played this he took it off halfway through - he was ostensibly incredulous that he'd just played the line "it's your birthday / drink it girl, it's coming, I know you're thir-stay!", but we all knew that wasn't the real reason. We all knew that, even with all he's seen, he couldn't quite believe that a hip-hop track could stray so far from the genre's entire rhythmic and musical base, all the parties he's rocked, all the funk he's immersed himself in, all now challenged by this mess of sound which includes, in no particular order, the phrase "yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah" intoned in a manner which owes approximately ten billion times more to the Swaffham and Bury St Edmunds Boys' Brigade 1958 than the Beatles, wildly percolating orchestral samples like Classic FM in an abattoir, the opening repeat-to-order of "Dip-Set-Dip-Set-Dip-Set-Dip-Set" which takes us straight back to "Dib-Dib-Dib-Dob-Dob-Dob" and everything the Scout movement of my childhood was screaming to get away from, the Nazi allusion at the head of this piecde, the fearsome, utterly unloveable grind of the "then it's to the bar" segment and "jump - move - freeze" orders, the hilarious line "old school like Bambaataa" (yeah, and Blair is old school like Keir Hardie), an obvious utter unworldliness and naivety *at the same time* as the self-conscious toughness, very strong hints at high camp, and a prevailing disconnection from practically all other black pop (Westwood's natural RP almost comes straight out again at times when he's playing this far more than it ever does when he plays Monica or Fabolous; the *tightness* of "Santana's Town", combined with its almost effeminate, piss-your-pants-inducing fetishistic quasi-classical-ness, gets to him and reminds him of who he originally was).

Does Juelz Santana actually believe the logical implications of his approving allusions to Hitler and Bin Laden - that the youth of Germany and Afghanistan should be banned from listening to all hip-hop and be thrown in gas chambers or have their hands chopped off if they don't obey the orders? Of course he doesn't; he's an unworldly Harlem kid who probably couldn't find either country on a map and is simply throwing the names around to attract attention. The interesting thing is that nobody seems to mind his use of these names, nor is there significant objection to the complete rhythmic and sonic disconnection of so much current hip-hop from the funk, from blackness, from the lineage, from everything you'll see in this month's Mojo. Indeed, the hip-hop world right now has far more time for black Nuremberg rally music than it has for the self-proclaimed (and, even in 1998, widely-regarded-as-such-even-in-the-street-rap-media) epitome and virtual definition of the genre, Gang Starr. And NOBODY FINDS IT THREATENING. Nor, come to that, is Oona King's comparison of the Israelis in the West Bank to the Nazis in Auschwitz seen as particularly shocking. That's what's changed. That's what shows something's happening.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Comrade Jerry Nipper over on the I Love Music forum claims that "the Beautiful South vs Simply Red as a post-socialist, pre-Blair battle for the suburban car stereo of Mondeo Man is a topic worthy of Robin Carmody". Odd that he should say that because I've been thinking lately that the video for Hucknall's "Holding Back The Years" (VH1 Classic, you *know*) is genuinely politically important - in its parade of 1950s English provincial imagery (pastel seaside town, leisurely steam train ride) it might be the moment Manchester gave in, made peace with the England it had been fighting for hegemony ever since the Industrial Revolution first fired into action, conceded defeat in the heritage wars as our 19th Century industrial legacy was decimated. In its rejection of the technophile future of Manchester and England, it might even be the flipside of "Panic" rather than the anti-"Panic" that it was presumably perceived to be in 1986.

I'm thoroughly unmoved by the Beautiful South generally. The defining moment of Hucknall's thoroughly 1980s-arrogant self was, of course, the time in 1998 when, having been invited to some "Cool Britannia" Blair party (or had he actually got an MBE? Dunno. Don't care, anyway.) he expressed seemingly genuine outrage that the Queen didn't know who he was. Worked himself up from nothing, conservative and conventional on the surface, actually an almost accidental radical who sees himself as the New Establishment and has precious little time for those who were there before him ... hmmm, Hucknall was and is a man of the New Right, spiritually if not party politically. The question is: has Paul Heaton ever been Hucknall's exact spiritual opposite, a puritan socialist? I somewhat doubt it; for all his self-conscious dryness, Heaton's thoroughly infested with the hedonism of the New North. They're very different people, but Heaton doesn't conform to the one extreme. With his remarks to the Queen, Hucknall almost became a caricature of the other. But then I suspect he likes it that way.
And it's only in the context of something like "The Year Book of 1967" that Monty Python can fully regain its sheer nastiness and bile; watching "Royal Episode 13", originally shown at the very tail end of 1970, you realise just how *far* this went, the book providing a necessary context to strip away at the tedious cliches, the less funny lines endlessly repeated by unfunny people (the Goons suffer the same image problem, of course; Python's non-endorsement by widely disliked and unpopular royals is probably the best thing that's ever happened to it). This was Python at its most grotesque, the militaristic hospital, lifeboat cannibalism, the supernaturally ugly men calling each other "Agnes" and "Edith" in a girls' boarding school dormitory ... in this moment it suddenly revealed itself in my mind, meant as much as I always thought it should have done. This sort of *extremity* - and, for 1970, it certainly was - encapsulates why there wasn't going to be such a bright and bushy-tailed "Year Book of 1974", even. The *enthusiasms*, in all their earnest simplicity and ultimate light-headedness had gone. TW3 may have kickstarted the process using straight satire, but Python's use of sheer grotesquerie arguably did more to advance it to its final, inevitable conclusion. A great moment.
Was reading "The Year Book of 1967" same time as the Waugh book; this is purest Boy In A Man's World stuff, the essence of what I was aiming to capture in http://www.livingstonemusic.net/1966.htm, symbolic of a self-confidence that didn't have long to live, fascinatingly hinting at a technocratic future which has now become a tedious grind (I mean, "plans have been drawn up for a motorway around London", "objections are being raised to the proposed new town around Bletchley and Stony Stratford" - Milton Keynes, obviously). It *is* the Wilson landslide and World Cup '66, basically, before the complications, before the fall.

Anyway the agricultural section is very interesting; it's the usual 1960s "get bigger or get out" stuff, talking up increased productivity from less farmland and fewer farms, and reporting the first government committee on factory farming (and referring to "those who are very concerned about animal welfare" as though they were a cranky minority), a new era of farming with more concern for technocracy than for nature. Just after reading this I was casually wondering how and why the paradigms shifted soon after this - what had been the territory of a few old romantic Tories was soon adopted by a whole new wing of the radical left, as the Wilson-landslide pop-culture consensus collapsed - and was listening to a recording of BBC1 continuity from its third night of colour broadcasting on 17th November 1969. All of a sudden the Pentangle's "Light Flight" came on, in a trailer for the series it introduced ("Take Three Girls"). You can't put a price on moments like that; they enlighten and square all possible circles.
And to follow on from the below, here's one of my most controversial essays - well, it got Gregory Lauder-Frost, Stuart Millson and Donald Ross sounding like hysterical self-parodies, always a fair sign that they have actually read a good analysis from a political commentator who hasn't gone mad. Which is a shame, really, because they genuinely shouldn't have let themselves turn into such a parody. Maybe the modern world has made it inevitable, though.



You can tell that a political movement is genuinely polarised from top to bottom when even its fringe is hopelessly divided. This is the case with the extreme conservative right in Britain in 2003.

While the mainstream right is also inexorably divided between "modernisers" and "hardliners", and some of the divides in the mainstream right (suburban vs rural, self-made men vs old money, legalisation of drugs vs prohibition) are echoed on the hard-right, the mainstream right is pretty much unequivocally pro-American - New Portillo and Old IDS both believe unashamedly in Pax Americana, the idea of the US as a global peacemaker. The great divide within the hard-right is between the most pro-American and the most anti-American fringes of British opinion, both combined within the same movement.

There are parallels with the divide between the proto-Blairite (ie simultaneously European and Atlanticist) "Third Way" of the SDP and the hardline old-school socialist isolationism which was tearing the left apart 20 years ago, but I don't think the left was ever divided this comprehensively. I certainly don't think such extreme pro- and anti-American views were ever coralled into the hard-left at the same time.

As with so much else, it has been the war in Iraq that has fully exposed the scale of this divide. On the side of Pax Americana come the "libertarian" new right that emerged in the mid-1980s' Federation of Conservative Students, with their support for Pinochet and "nuke all Arabs" rants (this was discussed at length by Nick Lowles and Steve Silver in the December 2000 issue of Searchlight).

Dead set against Pax Americana come a curious gang who, if nothing else, provide an adequate answer to the question posed by Matthew Parris in The Spectator last year: whatever happened to Conservative England's distrust of America? This is the Conservative Democratic Alliance which, as detailed in Searchlight January 2003, was founded as a result of the Tory party breaking its links with the Monday Club in October 2001, itself a spur-of-the-moment decision made by a desperate Iain Duncan Smith trying to save his face after the well-publicised involvement of Nick Griffin's father of IDS' Tory leadership campaign, and the revelation that a former member of the Ku Klux Klan had joined the Tory party.

The CDA seems to be dominated by the hard-right faction which was analysed by Nick Lowles in Searchlight August 1999. The ultra-conservative wing of the Federation of Conservative Students, they did not share the obsession with legalising hard drugs and privatising everything that drove the dominant libertarian axis, and aspired more towards the scared halls of the old right - the Monday Club, founded in 1961 campaigning against the break-up of the British Empire and the diaspora of peoples of the empire arriving in Britain. Having dominated the Young Monday Club, the key group of Gregory Lauder-Frost (a name we'll soon hear again), Jonathan Bowden, Andrew Smith and Stuart Northolt formed the Western Goals Institute, an ultra-traditionalist "white European" organisation which dismissed the International Freedom Foundation (where most of the FCS libertarians had gone) as overtly servile to American-led, liberal, multicultural "globalism".

While this authoritarian, anti-Semitic, obsessively "ethnic European" hard-right axis was overshadowed by the libertarian tendency in the FCS back when Thatcher was in her pomp, it now seems to clearly dominate the Conservative Democratic Alliance, which has a few libertarians on the sidelines attempting to push its politics further towards Washington and Tel Aviv. All this makes for a very uneasy fringe grouping, as broken by the contradictions and uncertainties that Thatcher unleashed in the 1980s as is the Conservative Party itself.

The CDA's web forum at http://www.quicktopic.com/share?s=UuZb is a grimly fascinating read; it is the sort of place where almost every thread seems to have had postings removed because they were considered offensive or libellous, and those where all the postings remain on view have often disintegrated into pseudonymous insults, tedious back-biting and petty racist comments. The Tory MP John Bercow, who like Michael Portillo before him has attempted to transmute from hard-right Monday Club darling to "inclusive" centre-right moderniser, has become a particular hate figure in the same way that Portillo would have been a few years back; hell hath no fury like the hard-right turning against a man they once saw as an ally but now condemn as a turncoat.

Many of the statements left on the site are vile in the extreme. The aforementioned Gregory Lauder-Frost, who has called for the repatriation of second-generation immigrants and claimed that even though they were born here they are "not British", says that he will not allow his children to mix with "negros" and even claims that all pop singers are either "negros" or "whites who look like they are the dregs of the earth".

Another prominent hard-right poster is Stuart Millson, who defected from the Tory party to the BNP in 1986 before becoming a key player in the ultra-authoritarian Revolutionary Conservative Caucus (RCC) which was founded as an even more hardline rival to the Monday Club. Apparently back in the Tory party in recent years, he denounces young people as "savage scum" purely for wearing modern clothes, and like Lauder-Frost attacks modern music, especially hip-hop and rap, in terms which inevitably put the Nazi propaganda posters of grotesquely caricatured jazz musicians back into your mind.

(Millson, incidentally, appears to be attempting to redefine himself as merely a "Middle England" cultural figure, co-editing a magazine called "Kent Writers" which has been reviewed on a Kent County Council website without any reference to Millson's politics, and which has run an article about Malcolm Saville, who just happens to be one of my favourite children's writers. It is all very reminiscent of a storyline in The Archers some years ago where a group which initially presented itself as merely rural-preservationist ended up encouraging racist attacks on an Asian who dared to live in Ambridge. We must try our hardest to expose those on the far-right who dress themselves up as something else.)

The battles between the authoritarian and libertarian wings of the hard-right on the CDA forum - battles which have been brewing up ever since the mid-1980s - can turn so vicious and hateful that one "Alistair" (this Alistair is NOT, as I originally suspected, the Alistair McConnochie expelled from UKIP in February 2002, although I am not the only person to have thought they were one and the same), has accused FCS veteran and arch-libertarian Ed Elliot of perhaps the ultimate taboo - wanting to legalise paedophilia.

And at the heart of it all is Mike Smith, a member of the Monday Club for 30 years, expelled from the Tory party (he won his case to be allowed back in, but still talks of the Tories with utter contempt) and now installed as chairman of the CDA. His comments on the USA give away the flavour of a bygone Conservatism - "the appalling yanks", "moronic war", "burger munchers" and the like - but somehow it all sounds far nastier than it ever has at any time in the past.

Ed Elliot sarcastically commented to Mike Smith at one stage that we should "cut down the maypoles ... I hear that some youngsters have been seen dancing around them, disturbing God-fearing folk". That says it all; the far-right is inexorably divided between those who believe in the global spread of Pax Americana through warmongering tactics, with modern pop culture as a harmless background even if some of it isn't to their taste, and those who are desperate to preserve their idea of "authenticity" from what they see as a marauding American monster. One anti-war contributor goes so far as to say that the plummy-voiced art critic Brian Sewell is "the only person left in Britain who can speak properly"; significantly this man of the old hard-right lives in Herefordshire, whereas I always imagine the FCS libertarian generation live in places like Bracknell or Maidenhead. Another man of the Old Right is called James Tankerville; surely no connection to Saint Etienne's "Tankerville" off Tiger Bay?

Sometimes, intriguingly, the dominant CDA axis even go so far as to claim a greater affinity with supposedly "authentic" peoples elsewhere in the world than with their Western allies. Gregory Lauder-Frost not only suggested that the war on Iraq was not worth fighting (a suspicion that many across the political spectrum would sympathise with), but he cleverly attempted to rehabilitate the actual practices of Saddam Hussein through the back door and, most dubiously of all, claimed that Germany in the 1930s and 40s was a noble society which posed no threat, and that the Second World War should never have been fought (he claims that his parents banned him from listening to the Beatles in his youth, which would explain a lot about how he picked up the views he now holds).

This sort of extreme anti-American, anti-capitalist motivation, leading to a sympathy with some of the world's most evil dictators because they seemingly want to defend "their own people", has a long history on the old conservative ultra-right. Lauder-Frost's comments fit into a direct line which goes back to the Duke of Windsor (briefly Edward VIII), who was described by Diana Mosley as "much more right-wing than my husband", to the Daily Mail's "HURRAH FOR THE BLACKSHIRTS" headlines of the 1930s, and to all the country houses where words of sympathy for Hitler and the Nazis echoed through ancient halls (these upper-middle-class Nazi leanings should not be confused with the mystical agrarianism and "back to the land" theories which inspired people like Henry Williamson and Rolf Gardiner to sympathise with Mosley and the Nazis; that is a subtly but crucially different tendency which would make a good historical background to any analysis of the modern International Third Position).

A key theme is expounded in the writings of the Rev John Lovejoy, an English Nationalist Anglican minister who has recently defected to the English Orthodox Church, which defines Englishness very much in terms of blood and soil, harking back to the church as it was before 1066. Lovejoy makes constant references to the English as "an ancient North European people" and claims that he has "never thought of himself as a 'Westerner'", a term he uses as a derogatory reference to the supposed coalition of English-speaking nations believed in by the FCS axis (the hardest thing for the old hard-right to take is that Israel is included in this "Western coalition" supported by the new hard-right - it is itself a sign of the sheer polarisation that there are Jewish contributors to the same CDA forum which houses such rabid anti-Semites and Nazi sympathisers).

Lovejoy's dichotomy exposes where the Gregory Lauder-Frosts of the hard-right are coming from. For them, "western" is not necessarily a term of praise, and Britain is not a "western" country so much as a "pure", "ancient" nation. As one of the pro-American contributors to the forum mentioned when Baghdad fell, they are isolated along with the socialist left and the extreme fascist right - in reality, they are unequivocally in the latter category.

But for all the horrors and incoherent rantings that you will see, I would still recommend that people read the forum, or at least the threads relating to the Iraq war. They will give you the abiding impression of a fringe that is itself utterly divided, the strongest possible sign of an entire broken movement. The Conservative Democratic Alliance forum is an extreme mirror of the polarisations - nationalist and globalist, authoritarian and libertarian - which could split the Conservative Party itself within the next 10 years. If and when that happens, authoritarians and libertarians of both mainstream and extreme right could develop natural allegiances with each other. As it stands, the new-right warmongerers and the old-right Nazi sympathisers within the hard-right will probably not be able to feign friendship, or any genuine political togetherness, for much longer. The CDA forum is very interesting for any student of the British far-right because it is, quite simply, a document of the far-right falling apart. Whatever happens in Iraq now, the war will not be the last issue to brutally expose these divisions.
Robin Carmody 11th April 2003
Almost accidentally this evening I found myself reading "Closing The Circle: The Best of 'Way of the World'", a compilation of Auberon Waugh's Daily Telegraph columns, while watching VH1's "We Love the 80s", a compilation of videos that marked the final death knell for Bron's beloved conservative England of the shires *and* its heavy-industrial equivalent / opposite (decide for yourselves which it was), Spandau Ballet's call that "you're indestructible!", Nik Kershaw's wild Don Quixote fantasies, and other second-division stuff (with the exception of Grace Jones' mighty "Slave To The Rhythm"). It was apposite. I can't defend the actual content of Waugh's statements (as with Gregory Lauder-Frost and his mates in the Conservative Democratic Alliance, I can relate to the opposition to aggressive, unthinking, madly short-termist 80s New Right theories, but not to the neo-feudal anti-democratic views he holds up as the ideal alternative), and I guess I read Bron's columns for the same reason a journalist once praised his predecessor Michael "Peter Simple" Wharton despite himself; Waugh, like Wharton, didn't write what you wanted to hear, but he wrote like an angel, and Bron did at least demonise some of my personal enemies, such as his description of intensive factory farming as the "gummerisation" of the countryside (after John Selwyn Gummer, hysterically profit-driven and anti-environmentalist Tory environment secretary, among other things). No further comment is necessary to embellish these snatches of Waugh's doomed, false, almost apocalyptically readable vision:

"Travelling east out of London on Wednesday I could not help noticing how many of the poorest, ugliest and dirtiest homes had been further disfigured by the presence of a satellite dish aerial, often stuck immediately above the front door like some sort of armorial achievement. It was explained to me that people needed these ugly objects in order to watch sport on television. They were not proudly announcing that their household was uneducated and uncultured, although they plainly invited others to reach this humiliating conclusion ... People should be able to devise a television set which does not receive BBC sport. By the same token ... people would be able to exclude all BBC programmes about pop music, politics, the Royal Family, modern art, the North of England, all American thrillers and love stories, and so on according to taste." (20th January 1996)

"the sink of depravity called Yeovil" (17th June 1996 - inaccurate on two counts because he claims this was Paddy Ashdown's home, whereas Ashdown actually lives in a pretty little village called Norton-sub-Hamdon, and I know because my cousin who used to live there was one of his neighbours)

"Perhaps he has forgotten that the purpose of a library is to supply books. If its purpose were simply to attract more people into it, it could just as easily lay out saucers of money for people to lick. This would be healthier than computer games, which produce all the symptoms and most known forms of cancer." (circa February 1993)

"When I come to power, all teenagers will have to be in bed by 9 o'clock. If they want to jump around and hold their silly dances together they will have to get up early in the morning and do them out of doors." (6th March 1995)

"When I come to power, I think I will ban e-mail." (22nd April 1995)

"The text promises, among other things, that the Foreign Office will show 'a new professionalism; an end to the country house tradition of policy making'. The country house tradition of policy making went out nearly 40 years ago, much to the nation's loss. Committees nearly always make the wrong decision. Many excellent ones have been made, and continue to be made, in country houses. Among them, in a country house in Somerset this weekend, I have decided to cancel my order for the Observer." (7th May 1997)

"Finally, a good regional accent would make the series ('A Dance To The Music Of Time') more acceptable in the homes of ordinary people all over the country who react to the sound of an upper-class or public-school voice with hatred and rage." (13th October 1997)

"One does not have to approve of the French tests, as I do ..." (referring to the universally-hated French nuclear tests in the South Pacific, 23rd September 1995)

"Letters continue to pour in by every post from Telegraph readers all over the country agreeing that they had never heard of Freddie Mercury, the alleged singer, before his widely reported death from the American disease a few weeks ago. Some of them are beginning to query whether he in fact existed. The theory seems to be that he may have been a practical joke played on us all by the Daily Telegraph's learned but skittish Obituaries Manager, Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd - possibly in protest against the constant pressure on all newspapers to print material which might be of interest to the present empty-headed generation of teenagers. This pressure is misguided, as I never tire of pointing out, because few members of this smelly generation can read ... if you see a British teenager sitting vacantly on a wall with its mouth hanging open and ask if it knows about Freddie Mercury, the chances are that it will nod its head and say, 'Yeah'." (14th December 1991)

"The more one learns of what has happened to Oxford University since it started appointing militantly proletarian professors of English, the more one wonders if there might not be a good case for closing it down and turning the colleges into retirement homes for gentlefolk. The latest practice among the new-style undergraduates, or 'students' as they laughingly prefer, is called 'gungeing', and involves emptying dustbins over one another ... It would be much more sensible to declare the whole of central Oxford a national gungeing area, where we could all take our dustbins and empty them over any 'student' or proletarian professor of English we found. In this way we would eventually succeed in driving out the 'students' and their wretched mentors, leaving all those beautiful quads to be cleaned up and repopulated by gentle, rich, pleasant-mannered oldies like ourselves." (29th February 1992)

"Liz Forgan (director of BBC radio), the Benenden-educated lower-class activist ..." (28th January 1995)

"There is no need for any conspiracy to explain Lee Harvey Oswald's behaviour. The most significant fact about him, which is only seldom mentioned in books on the subject, and never given due weight, is that he lived exclusively on a diet of hamburgers and soft drinks ... I would not be surprised to learn that Mark Chapman, the deranged CIA operative, had, in fact, missed. His victim, John Lennon, also a hamburger and fizzy drink man, expired on the spot, out of fright and inner corrosion." (26th January 1994)

"There was a time when nearly everyone in this country wanted to be a duke or a duchess ... It was one of the things which held our great country together ... Forty years ago, half the women of England would have swooned with pleasure at the thought of becoming a duchess, even without the rest of it. All that has been lost. The sadness is that nothing has taken its place." (22nd February 1999)

"The ... agenda for a 'classless' society when examined, means supporting the power urges of the New Brits, the nastiest class in Britain - the same incompetent, ignorant and conceited gang which, by wheedling its way into positions of power for the last 15 years, has brought nearly every aspect of British life to its knees: government, administration, health service, nationalised industries, banking and insurance ... A sensible way for the Prime Minister to demonstrate that he is not Murdoch's puppet would be to wear a top hat and morning coat on weekdays as long as he remains in office. This would inspire admiration and affection in equal measure." (31st March 1993)

"For my own part, I look to the European Community partly as a defence of the bourgeois civilisation (in which we all grew up) against further encroachment of a proletarian mass market-led culture from across the Atlantic ... Our place is inside a Greater Europe, possibly under Mr Yeltsin's leadership, but preferably under none, its main purpose to keep out American television, American ideas of political correctness, and American kiddies." (3rd March 1993)

It was perhaps for everyone's good that Auberon Waugh died on 16th January 2001. He could no longer understand the world he had to live in, and nor could it understand him. But apart from being a genuinely effective comic writer if you could get past the antiquarianism, his distorted view of Europe as a haven against everything anyone ever disliked about the US (when in reality it's culturally been too far gone for decades - Waugh's vision could not be true again even if France dominated the EU like it dominated the original six-nation Common Market) also had more in common with one particular axis of the left than it had with the New Right who ran the Thatcher and Major governments - a curious crossover which seems to be remarkably common in men of the Old Right. Waugh's death further strengthened the grip of the Bush / Sharon lobby on the Telegraph, and therefore the completely unexpected backlash against it from the CDA axis (Mike Smith even prefers the Guardian's reporting on Iraq to the Telavivgraph's take on it!) - when Michael Wharton dies it will be, perhaps more than even the Queen Mother's demise, the lid shut down on the coffin of a particular cultural and political era.

Every New Right libertarian in the world should have cheered when Waugh was reduced to mere ash in the grounds of Combe Florey. The fact that his nemesis Polly Toynbee dislikes New Right libertarians as much as he did confirms my view of an unacknowledged crossover; Polly's view of Europe is as unrealistic as Bron's. They were both middle-aged and completely out of touch with pop music at the time of the Milli Vanilli scandal and Black Box's lifting of Loleatta Holloway, after all.
Minor correction to the below - Sunday 15th October 1967 was Radio 1's *sixteenth* day of existence, not the seventeenth (it's very worrying indeed that I care about this).

On the rare occasions that I still read newspapers, I am always mildly amused (but, really, more saddened) by how many things they perpetrate which would never have been acceptable in the days before post-modernism, before Meaning It came to be regarded as an almost Victorian concept, when the word "humbug" was still a common feature of the language. Great example today from my local paper; as ever they cry crocodile tears over the homogenisation of our nearest Historic Market Town - tearooms in a building dating back more than 600 years are to close shortly after Greg Dyke (!) sold the building, the oldest locally-owned business in the town, dating back to 1886, is to close and the building will become a hairdressing salon straight outta Stevenage. Clearly they're saddened by this. They expect their readers to feel the same way. I can sympathise with them ...

... except that yesterday the following appeared right at the top of their front page, a McDonalds promotion no less: "BIG MAC: BUY ONE, GET ONE FREE".

Thus does post-modernism worm its way even further in ...

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

So a 24-year-old Elton John song which never went Top 40 first time around is poised to hit number 1? I was never going to be surprised. It's not as if he's fallen by the wayside like most of his fellow members of the Live Aid / Tim Rice / Mike Read rockocracy - while his old mates are reduced to warbling Leo Sayer covers or show tunes, he's still there, hooking up with the Blue boys, getting impersonated by Justin Timberlake (admittedly before the latter got cred, but still ...), getting his last album rave reviews from the same Q and Mojo hacks who spent so long dissing him as a played-out camp joke royal arselicker hack lionkingsacarificecliffrichardduetwhichdidn'tgotop40bloodydianatatveralynnofthenineties ... how has he come through despite everything?

It's nothing to do with his music. For what it's worth, his best singles were in the mid-70s - "Philadelphia Freedom" is the flipside of "Young Americans", a rare and oddly reassuring flashback to the innocent embrace and celebration of black American pop which characterised the 60s, blissfully refusing to acknowledge the neuroses of its decade ("Young Americans" = the natural enemy of the White North European Purist seen from the perspective of an aspirational White North European Purist). "Island Girl" is pretty good, for much the same reason. But it's as if these songs, massively dominant as they were Stateside (they were even on "Soul Train" and R&B radio back to back with the superior pre-disco Earth, Wind and Fire), weren't quite fulfilling Elton's destiny; to become the emblem of a new SuperClass, the first entirely new social class in Britain since the emergence of the industrial-capitalist middle class, and just as disconcerting to the old conservatives. As a child of the south-east of England Elton fits into the SuperClass's geographical base, but his cohort Bernie Taupin coming from Lincolnshire confirmed that nobody would be immune - in the week of the 1975 EEC referendum, which inspired a particularly insane bout of paranoia from the Lincolnshire Tory feudalist and farming traditionalist Sir Richard Body, "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy" entered the US album chart at number one, the first album ever to do this. Four months after Mrs Thatcher became party leader, another trend of modern Britain with no direct relation to music may well have begun here; namely conservatives obsessed with the "erosion" of "Britishness" or "Englishness" looking the wrong way.

But despite all this the slick US sound of Elton's 1975 work (significantly, neither of his albums that year went to number one in the UK although both managed the then-unprecedented feat of topping the US chart in their first week of release) was losing its grip in the much smaller, more restricted Tony Blackburn / Mike Mansfield / Morecambe and Wise market over here (it was a very de-Americanised time, really; for 12 consecutive weeks from "Philadelphia Freedom" to "Listen To What The Man Said", taking in the EEC referendum and all that surrounded it, the US number one single of the moment never even made the British Top 30, and the full-scale Euro invasion of the British charts - Abba, Summer/Moroder, Farian/Boney M, one-offs from Pussycat to Space - was just around the corner). He needed to turn it round, and he did; his Kiki Dee duet "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" dominated the heathaze summer of 1976 and made no pretence to be anything other than Philly soul rearranged by Ronnie Hazlehurst, only one step on from those session musicians' versions of Beatles hits that polluted the very early days of Radio 1, defined by its studio-bound promo film with Kiki looking like something out of "The Good Life" (oh, the irony!) and woodchip panel walls. This was Elton's passport back to Britain, to the royals, to the Windsor Castle glorified piss-ups, to years of MOR crud, to the CBE, to cod-opera, and eventually to a knighthood as a Stick of Office delivered up for the biggest-selling single of all time which, thoroughly appropriately, sold for reasons utterly unconnected to music. There may well be copies of "Candle In The Wind 1997" which were mistakenly pressed to include "Smack My Bitch Up" instead. Nobody will ever know; the majority of copies of the single bought in bulk in September 1997 remain permanently unplayed, music completely written out of the story, the Top 40 reduced for a few mad weeks to a Tasteful Ornaments chart.

But not all right-wingers bought into the Cult of Diana; Mike Smith, who now leads the resolutely trad-Tory Conservative Democratic Alliance (CDA), hated the mood so much that he deliberately left Britain altogether on Saturday 6th September 1997. Mike Smith believes that economic growth is not the be-all and end-all of life, objects to the commentator at Trooping the Colour referring to the guardsmen's "shoes" (what are they supposed to be called, then?) and thinks Americans are vulgar burger-munchers. The Cult of Diana on the other hand was basically a movement of the growth-worshipping, US-adoring, tradition-hating New Right, who saw her battles with the Windsors as an analogy for Thatcher's battles with the backwoodsmen, and their Blairite fellow travellers (at their absolute political height in late summer 1997, lest we forget). And there's Elton John's true significance; whenever something emerges which splits the old Right from the new (the old-school-BBC-eroding ethos of Sky TV, whose sports channels "Are You Ready For Love?" is advertising profusely right now, is almost as great a generational / cultural dividing line as Diana vs Charles was, and of course there is the very acceptance, or otherwise, of OTT gayness in public) he's always somewhere in there, always part of the battleground, even obliquely (cf Jay-Z protege Freeway, who comes from Philadelphia, calling his album ... well, see if you can guess).

In our time we've seen the most radical changes to the whole idea of social class since the 19th Century, and at the age of 56 Elton John stands now as a 56-year-old industrialist would have done in, I dunno, 1856 - safe in the knowledge of what he has achieved (just as the industrialists often thought erroneously that they'd made a bigger mark in short-term trade terms than long-term social ones, then Elton may well live under the happy illusion - for him - that his primary influence has been musical). It's hardly speculation anymore that the new political polarisations which have replaced the Left and Right of the mid-20th Century owe more to the Tories and Whigs of the 19th Century free trade wars than anything else - it's increasingly acknowledged fact. And in his rootlessness, his disdain for the "meaning" of cultural artefacts in favour of seeing them as pure surface and artifice where any circle can be squared because nothing really means anything (how else could a man duet with Eminem then go back to ingratiating himself with the Queen again?), he embodies the New Whigs, post-socialist, but still utterly anti-Tory.

(Elton John may well be the only artist to have been played on Radio 1 in five decades - "Are You Ready For Love?" has unexpectedly returned him to the playlist in the '00s and although he didn't have a hit until 1971, his 1969 single "Lady Samantha" was, I believe, very much what they used to call a "turntable hit". Oddly enough the Incredible String Band, who have the longest timespan of Radio 1 *sessions* - their first came on John Peel's third show for the network on its seventeenth day of existence, Sunday 15th October 1967, and their last was on the Peel show when they reformed in 2000 - have a similar political significance despite being far more musically substantial and influential than Elton John, except in their case it's almost the exact opposite of Elton; while he burns bridges linking modern society to old Tories and old Socialists alike, and defines a completely new SuperClass, the ISB were and still are the greatest bridgebuilders between hippiedom and old conservatism, sometimes even fascist sympathies. You won't believe the things I've seen ...)

Elton wasn't the only embodiment of the SuperClass back when Thatcherism was actually happening - Phil Collins explicitly dramatised the story in that he *literally* usurped a gang of public schoolboys from behind and turned them into mere backing musicians for his SuperClass self, and hearing "One More Night" on the radio while reading the July 1977 Radio Times interview with Arthur Marshall still feels revolutionary today even if, like me, you hate the Collins song and hold Marshall in some kind of esteem. But Elton John was superfamous when Phil was an obscure prog rock drummer and Sting was a bloody teacher, and he's outlasted them by a good decade. Elton may even have been to Blair in 1997 what Fleetwood Mac were to Clinton in 1993; the definitive sound of the baby boomers taking power, even if he never had an official campaign song to match "Don't Stop".

Love it or hate it, you're looking at a revolutionary figure. It doesn't matter if you hate everything he's ever recorded (certainly I think he's a minor *musical* figure at best; only "Philadelphia Freedom" would come anywhere near my notional Top 30-odd of the year it came out, and even that probably wouldn't get that far in a stronger year than 1975). Elton John basically has nothing more to do with music than the industrialists of the 19th Century had - but, like them, his importance in the creation of an entirely new social class is utterly pivotal. His actual music will remain largely uninfluential, but on other levels you're more influenced by him than you ever want to know. Think of The Seventies (in the truest sense), think of the Cult of Diana, think of Murdoch's millions, think of the broken Tories but think perhaps even more of the shattered New Labour promises, and decide for yourself whether this is good or bad. You may be thoroughly, maybe frustratingly ambivalent. This, I suspect, is The Point.
Comrade Reynolds over on http://blissout.blogspot.com - surely any fule kno that the nadir of New Pop was "We Close Our Eyes" by Go West? Its political parroting of the government line of the day, tedious production, and complete *routineness*, boredom, grind (but not in the sonically interesting sense of the term) ... still, there's something repulsively compelling about "Don't Look Down - The Sequel", if only because it makes me think of Conrad Black sneering at Lord Hartwell, looking at the yuppies and thinking "in a few years all this will be mine!", leading ultimately to the grotesque absurdity of the Daily Telegraph sponsoring Best Garage Act at the MOBOs while still shutting Shropshire up by referring to a drugs "bust", in *inverted commas*, affecting So Solid Crew. I still wonder why Comrade Pinefox, normally such an articulate defender of pre-1980s values of gentle liberal (if slightly paternalistic) humanitarianism, defends Go West - they were as harsh an attack on his values as 50 Cent or the Cheeky Girls.

Still, there are sonic similarities between Duran's "Wild Boys" and Nelly & P.Diddy's "Shake Ya Tailfeather"; both are boring dirgelike going-through-the-motions by artists who'd previously been self-confident, dramatic, exciting. About "Tailfeather" I have only one thing to say; if R&B stations Stateside are sensibly leaving it alone for the mess it is (it's at number 4 on the Hot 100 but only number 11 on the R&B / hip-hop chart) then why are 1Xtra giving the bloody thing the time of day?
*delay over, nerves blocked, work started*

I am nearly 23 years old, mildly egotistical, a God (according to Marcello Carlin - http://cookham.blogspot.com - look, just go there and read it, OK) and a Maoist (according to Bob "Wotan" Sims, a sixtysomething BNP supporter from Essex). I don't think I need to explain to you which one of the two I trust more. I've already done a lot of stuff on the net - http://www.elidor.freeserve.co.uk is my main web home but there is much else, some of which we'll hopefully cover on this journey.

Who led me here? Oh, that's easy. Only Alan Garner (hence "Elidor"), The Neptunes, Monica Edwards (wait and see), The Beatles, Henry Williamson, his son, Tim Westwood, his father, Daniel Bedingfield, Oxide and Neutrino, Pulp, Tindersticks, Rumer Godden, Auberon Waugh (for whom I make no apologies; the paucity of the Private Eye joke pages only confirms my view that he was the finest conservative satirist ever, and there's nowt wrong with that unless you take it one step over the edge), XTC, Wu-Tang Clan, Public Enemy, Richard Carpenter (not him), The Diplomats (not those), The Supremes, Patrick Wright, Nicolaus Pevsner, John Betjeman, The Lox, Malcolm Saville, Nas, Desmond Carrington, Felice Taylor, Chris Goldfinger ... it'd be easier to say who *didn't* lead me here, namely Polly Toynbee, Busted, William Rees-Mogg, David Aaronovitch and Robbie Williams.

As for the blog name: "I came from nowhere and I'm going straight back there" wrote Howard Devoto 25 years ago, and I always fear that will happen to me if I'm not careful ... think of it as where I'll have to retreat to restart if things come to a head. Originally it was a piece of ultimate wish-fulfilment for Me As Child, the place where Monica Dickens' group of wonderfully self-reliant children built their own lives on classic humanitarian principles, in a book which perfectly caught the balance between the playing-out of the post-war One Nation Tory children's literature cycle (for which see at least two names in my list of those who formed this whole thing) and the passing of a flame to a new generation who didn't want to accept how much they had in common; the hippies (none of the Diana Mosley obits lately have mentioned her choice of Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" on Desert Island Discs in 1989, one of the most fascinating moments of her life - like, how far from rock music's black rhythmic and harmonic roots would they have had to take it before it was acceptable to the ageing Paris madame of "Hitler was great fun" infamy, and what does this say about a whole musical and pop-cultural era?)

But round here - almost *literally* World's End from a physical perspective, a lump of rock carving itself into the English Channel - the House at World's End is something once comforting but turned sinister with time; I always suspect the land around this House ceased to be a working farm around 1970, the year Monica Dickens' book was published, and since then it's become a fascinating morass of decay, rotting pieces of farm machinery, foxes running wild safe from the red coats (they're all in the Tory country ten miles away), doubtless more biodiversity than there is on an awful lot of working farms these days, and the House itself unoccupied for years, turning into an uninhabitable shell, broken glass everywhere, windows broken, floorboards falling out ... World's End in the negative sense of the term, as much a world of decay and failure and erosion and anger (anger is all I can feel seeing such an evocative old farmhouse become a slum) as the original World's End of that amazing turn-of-decade ("The Liquidator" fading in and out of "Liege and Lief", the first Sikh policeman on the last Pathe newsreel - IT HAPPENED) was a place of promise, renewal, collective happiness and refutal of stultifying societal norms, claiming something THEY CAN'T TAKE AWAY FROM YOU.

Which is this to be?

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

a test. to begin with.

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