Saturday, September 27, 2003

It's weirdly important to me that So Solid Crew's "Broken Silence" opens with a very *pretty* flute sample utterly unlike anything on any of their previous records; it marks a kind of reconciliation, a bridge-building moment, as if they're trying to de-urbanise aspects of their sound. Question is: will the other side accept the olive branch or will they see it as yet further pollution of their territory? (the "21 Seconds" / "They Don't Know" sound was to garage what the Dre/Eminem axis is to hip-hop, threatening the old guard simply by sounding aggressive, rather than the Diplomats/Cam'ron/Juelz Santana approach of lifting sampled squalls of calm and quiet and then sonically raping them). Whatever, it's interesting that So Solid Crew even feel they *can* lift a flute sample; they're not locked as deep in their own aggressive urban-sonic world as some of the reactionaries think, and "the fabric of British society" isn't really falling apart.
Mary Cadogan writes books about jolly-hockey-sticks girls' boarding school stories; Susan Cadogan was a reggae singer who had one great commercial moment when her ace Lee Perry-produced version of Millie Jackson's "Hurts So Good", having crossed over from the (then-)New East End Skank via the 1974 Notting Hill Carnival, peaked at #4 in the UK charts in May 1975. Oddly, this was the same week as the old-school cockney knees-up that was the West Ham-Fulham FA Cup final; this single, along with the birth of David Beckham the same week, pointed the way to the two futures that would replace old cockneydom, respectively symbolised in Black British English and Estuary English, the inner and the outer when the old core is gone (West Ham weren't too welcoming to black East End youth at the time; despite singing the Equals' "Viva Bobby Joe" for the same Bobby Moore who was by this time playing for Fulham, despite Clyde Best, they still had an endemic National Front magazine / T-shirt / banana-selling culture around Upton Park, and young black players from the area like Vince Hilaire tended to go elsewhere - in his case Crystal Palace).

But compared to the two great new speech patterns to come, Susan had a clarity of diction almost comparable to that of the 1930s schoolgirls chronicled by her parallel-universe mixed-race sister - Kingston-raised and a librarian at the University of the West Indies (exactly the job you'd lazily imagine hearing her voice), she looked oddly like a young Moira Stuart, although her voice was obviously a thousand times less precise than *that*. Near the end of "Hurts So Good" she clearly sings "I'll make myself hold out 'cos if it kills me I don't care" with a strong emphasis on the "t" in "out" even though she only has a split second to fit it in; throughout the song there is barely a dropped "t" sound (irony of ironies; her failed attempt at a proto-UB40 full-on pop crossover later in '75 was helmed by Pete Waterman, poet of the Estuary Boom 10-15 years later). In name and diction Susan Cadogan was wonderfully close to and yet utterly distant from Mary of that ilk, the writer of "You're A Brick, Angela!"; even 28 years ago, the post-colonial black influence had wormed its way that far in, its names and its speech patterns sufficiently close to the gatekeepers of Old English Children's Literature. Take note, racial separatist Usenet morons.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

How have I got this far without hearing the first Roxy Music album until this week? Too much pleasure to mention here, of course, but doesn't "Sea Breezes" have the greatest oboe sound ever, better even than Kate St John's work on Saint Etienne's "Tiger Bay"? I can see why everyone was so *amazed* by Roxy's debut in 1972, whether they liked it or not; it was the first real post-modernist album, the first to lift from across the cultural hemisphere (the guitar-oboe duelling on "Sea Breezes" is a sonic boiling down of a fundamental divide; War vs Peace, even?) and the first to make absolutely no apologies. The remarkable thing is that I, an arch anti-post-modernist when PoMo is rendered in its extreme 2003 form, can love one of its prototypical manifestations so much. Maybe it isn't so strange, though; if PoMo had never become so blatantly and boastingly artless (three concepts mercilessly absent from all early Roxy Music) I'd never have turned against it at all.

And the echo of Ferry's voice at the fade of "Sea Breezes", the concept of being "in love" stretched out on a rack in perpetuum ... and then the jump into "Bitters End" (Paul Anka's "Diana" at a fucked-up cocktail party) ...

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

But when you do want to get on with your life you wonder: do protectionists of the right hate the new wave of defunkified, militaristic hip-hop *more* than they'd hate any other hip-hop precisely because IT DOESN'T LEAVE THEIR OWN MUSIC ALONE? I'm starting to think that people in Britain, at least, may have starting getting bored with hip-hop that confines itself to the black American sonic lineage because it doesn't interfere with anyone else's territory, it keeps itself to itself, doesn't tear open any new arseholes of the old culture, now more than ever easy to rip.

Did Westwood deliberately time Cam'ron's "Get 'Em Girls" to start just as the finale of Last Night of the Proms was roaring into action just down the dial? At any rate it worked; the slow-building orchestral sample, grimy atmosphere turned up to 11, heartless threats ("get your face slapped" indeed) is a well-worn format by now, but at that moment, it couldn't have been bettered. It sounds, in a way no Dre production ever could, as though Cam's *raping* the orchestra, invading a few neo-Mosleyites' CD collections from a distance, almost sexually assaulting Stuart Millson by proxy (just as "Monster Music" sounds like the baroque choir of some Cambridge college forced to sing in an abbatoir, or being dragged through some endless swamp; sonically *humiliating* the other side).

50 Cent and G-Unit's latest, "Teach You How To Stunt", also worms its way firmly into the mind on the first listen; it's literally constructed entirely out of harpsichord riffs, no other sound seems to influence it at all, and somehow it makes the clique's sullen, plain-spoken threats all the more effective; YOU JUST KNOW THE PEOPLE WHOSE SOUNDS THEY'RE RHYMING OVER WOULD HATE THEM. Now I'm not saying that every musician who ever played with George Clinton or James Brown would approve of the G-Unit image, but it's one thing to be an R&B traditionalist and quite another to feel a protective urge for the sound of the harpsichord - the latter is something I imagine is confined to Dartington medievalists and retired music professors, the only people in Britain who've remained immune from the black pop continuum throughout, even as it's developed a hegemony on our greenest suburbs. Keep rockin' the medieval, guys; in a strange sort of way, although you almost certainly didn't vote for it, you expose the irrationality and sheer *vileness* emerging daily from the Bush administration on so many fronts. Which leads me to my biggest pop-culture-and-politics question of the moment: will this wave of fascist-hop die out if there's a Democrat in the White House come January 2005 and the US national mood and foreign policy presumably changes, if not perhaps as much as we Brit leftist types would like it to? Which way does the chicken-and-egg situation linking Bush and fascist-hop go? Would fascist-hop exist if we'd got President Gore? Is it a natural evolution of hip-hop as the defunkified motorik beat and streamlined thrill of the Sex Pistols was at a similar stage in rock music, or is it purely a response to / development of a particular political moment which most of us hope will not last much longer?

Come to think of it, hip-hop's most unapologetically down-home out-in-the-fields moment, Arrested Development's "People Everyday", was number two in the UK charts - behind Boyz II Men, of all people - the week Bush Sr lost the '92 election (yeah, I know he remained president until January, let's not get pedantic about this). If the Southern hip-hop boom was initially an attempt to somehow bridge the vast psychological and cultural gaps within America exposed by the 2000 election (that see-what-the-boys-in-the-back-room-will-have version of "Ride Wit Me" which kickstarts the video for Nelly's relaxed, hang-on-to-the-boom-time-while-we-can spring '01 smash) then it's turned nasty and deeply polarised in a manner fitting entirely with the depths the Bush administration has sunk into; Bubba Sparxxx' "Ugly" video (to the "People Everyday" clip what "Cold Comfort Farm" or the grimmer descriptions in Graham Harvey's "The Killing of the Countryside" are to "Malcolm Saville's Country Book", essentially) and now the pimps of the dirty-dirty, as tawdry as the Bush administration and crucially not even pretending to build bridges between the two Americas (big up David Banner; when you needed to get political, you did it right). I don't see Bubba's new album (more on this here soon ...) coming up with another "Ugly", but I hope he has a song in the UK charts in the week when Bush (hopefully) loses the 2004 election. I'd like it to be Banner, of course, but I know the Top 40's limits.

(think ... I actually heard "Country Grammar" on the radio the night of the 2000 election. Little did we know, etc, etc ...)
What I like about library music (I don't like the current stuff, but I wonder whether this is because it has no "place in history" for us, yet) is how utterly unashamed it is, how wonderfully it does not pretend to be anything other than it is. In many ways, the appropriation of a genre by the magpies of Bruton, KPM et al is the benchmark of when that genre has fully wormed its way into the national consciousness; you knew that everyone knew what reggae sounded like, and could be expected to recognise it, when Johnny Patrick's gloriously cheeky "Reggae Tops" turned up on ITV Schools in the spring of 1985.

http://www.schoolstv.com is a fine resource; it's interesting that the BBC played pop songs and upbeat library tracks while ITV had a conscious nobility and elegance to their interval sound; could they both have been trying to subliminally work against the stereotypical perceptions people had of them in that long-vanished two-channel society? I can hardly believe that ITV were still using Ronald Hammer's "This Is England", a 1947-bumper-harvest Pathe anthem, in the 1970s, especially when they were also using the ace brooding funk of the composer-unknown "Day Out".

There's a quietness and prettiness to Alec Gould's and Martin Kershaw's music which I very much like when the mood takes me - the best of all these tracks is probably Kershaw's "The Falcon", a stirring swoop across Egdon Heath which perfectly fits its title (and think here of the Countryside Alliance type shown up as a fraud and the "dirty young environmentalist" coming through as a hero over on the other side; Look and Read's finest moment). Even Johnny Pearson's work is in his "All Creatures Great And Small" vein as opposed to his "3-2-1" mould; "Children of the Forest" could have introduced a Ralph Wightman / Ralph Whitlock radio programme 25 years earlier. Even in the summer of 1985 they were still using Leslie Pearson and J.T. Virgo's quasi-Baroque music, at a time when the smarter media and government watchers knew that it wouldn't be long we would never again hear such music coming out of a television set.

It can't last, of course; eventually it mostly gives way to the very 1985/6 melodic slickness of Brian Bennett (I think it's the ex-Shadow) and J.T. Virgo's "Sailing / Growing / Pausing / Watching" sequence. But right at the end they could still have James Aldenham's "Memories", "May Blossom", "Waiting For Summer", "School Time" ... whenever you feel like not getting on with your life for a while, they're near-perfection. Remember ITV that way.
I'm so pleased for you, Marcello.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Sometimes, mistaken politicising is out of your control. Mere accidents of timing bring it about.

Releasing a song called "Life In A Northern Town" in the spring of 1985 and expecting it not to be seen as a veiled analogy for the erosion of one whole way of life under The Hostile Thatcher Government was absurd in a British context. But the Dream Academy enjoyed their greatest success in America, part of a whole tribe of Brit individualists / aesthetes who had to step out of the national line to find their greatest appreciation in the mid-80s. It was the weirdest, I think; while Talk Talk were phenomenal in artistically attuned, melancholy-shrouded central Europe, and XTC's "Skylarking" US success was fundamentally a college-radio thing, Nick Laird-Clowes, Gilbert Gabriel and Kate St John wormed their way into MTV culture, taking a deeply introverted dreamer's album (Gilbert took the Dream Academy name as a reference to his days at the legendarily introverted-idealistic Dartington college in Devon, at a time when the very fact that he was a black student in Devon was an eyebrow-raiser) to more impressive chart positions than they ever found in Britain. It remains one of pop's great shouldn't-have-worked vignettes.

"Life In A Northern Town" has been used to advertise relocation to the outback on Australian TV; it's inspired Classic Gold DJs to make stupid trouble-at-t'mill "jokes"; it's actually a tribute to Nick Drake, whose "northern town" was in fact the Warwickshire village of Tanworth-in-Arden, an environment that remained pre-industrial for long-enough that it almost went full circle around 1985 when the real northern towns became effectively post-industrial. But it's enough of a tabula rasa ("get back home", "bye .... bye") to evoke all our lost moments and wasted chances (moving to Paris ...?). And it sums up the core of the first Dream Academy album; this is deeply dislocated music, music without a home, informed by and working deep within London, Ladbroke Grove born and bred, and uneasy even in Mitcham, but half its soul unsettlingly yearning for an organic smallholding outside Great Torrington. If Duran Duran and their ilk made it possible for this to be successful in the US, they gave a fine unknowing boost to their spiritual antithesis equalled in the 90s probably only by Oasis' success driving Pulp along.

"The Edge of Forever" represents the acceptable face of mid-1980s bombast; this should have been bigger than "Kayleigh", bigger than "Don't You (Forget About Me)" by a country kilometre. But the title perhaps explains why it wasn't; you're poised, unsure, you could jump either way out. A future of total spiritual and personal satisfaction is all the more tantalising because you know full well that you might not get it. This is not a song about the past, like Fish's whinings (or, in a totally different and infinitely more pleasant vein, Colin Moulding's personal nostalgia); this is a balance of hope and nerves for the future.

You've no guarantee that you'll see forever, or even a fraction of forever, at all. What happens if forever doesn't come?

"Johnny (New Light)" ... a mirage of something only a quarter of you knew. A sense of resignation to your uselessness, your redundancy ... "it would take an endless chain of circumstance to get up and start again". And most of us don't have that. But there's always the sense that you'll be revaluated; others, in the future, will understand why we did this and what we were doing, even if we can't comprehend the sense of loss today. The amazing thing is that it isn't some kind of "mechanisation has taken away our work" whine, it could be about anything. It could be about heavy industry as much as farming, and it probably is - all playing the same game, you see? - but really it's about the personality of melancholy. Forever cancelled, only dreams of yesterday to thrive on.

And then "In Places On The Run" ... a parallel forever. Nights spent amid the crisp late October gardens of the album cover, forgotten trysts where you made vows for life, always escaping your enemies, the landscape running as high as your emotions ... but this forever is, just that, illusory, "nothing at all" where the Other's hand should be.

("I had a dream of love ever living / But I know that love can't live in a dream ..." - better than Led Zep 3, Mr Morley? Hell yeah. But this is the conclusion of that Tight Fit of an idea.)

The horn of reality interrupts the river's flow at the fade, and London returns in "This World", greyest Pet Shop Boys London in the final months before the Big Bang inadvertently gave Tennant and Lowe their moment. Nobody's at home here, either; they may have been 25 years earlier, but Hartwell and Deedes are hanging on desperately, the guns are firing in Brixton and Tott'NAM (as some are just starting to ostentatiously call it), and the vignettes capture what you wish the city you love underneath it all wasn't. The will to continue as part of the core social narrative is exhausted, and the new underclass emerges.

"Bound To Be" doesn't really count, and "Moving On" certainly doesn't - let's just say it's appalling utterly uncharacteristic mid-80s MOR schlock and Hucknall's "Holding Back The Years" is a million times better? "The Love Parade", a joyous tribute to the endurance of love and pop music, is the only track produced by Alan Tarney rather than David Gilmour and Nick Laird-Clowes, and it makes me regret that the Dream Academy didn't make more use of Tarney's light, unobtrusively brilliant pop production (remember, this is the man who could even make Cliff Richard sound contemporary and, on "Carrie", pretty hard-edged - admittedly that was 1979/80, but some achievement nonetheless) - the Gilmour sound is just too *big* in places, too mid-80s. It has its functions, though, and they are important.

And it never sounded better than on "The Party", which is what Luke Haines would write if he had a confident and positive streak; harshened baroque pop, driven, determined, going through hell to restore your faith in forever ... then the album fast-forwards in the background, almost reasserting self-confidence in what we've just heard, and then it all ends with "One Dream", the simplest song within its bounds and a reassertion of the theme which has now just about quashed the persistent melancholia; a desire to jump over the edge and create one's own Forever, "even against all odds" (a sly Phil Collins dig, maybe?) ... and there, perhaps, lies the answer to where all the lives in "This World" could be going if the wider loss of nerve was not now so great. Ultimately, despite its profound bouts of melancholy, the first Dream Academy album exists in defiance of the great mid-80s loss of nerve, not in subjugation to it.

What of the group's other work? Much of their final album "A Different Kind Of Weather" (1991) is very weak - the Lennon cover "Love" and its various remixes are a really pathetic piece of early 90s ambulance chasing which bring on unfortunate mental pictures of Candy Flip. "Lucy September" is pretty mundane Goodier-era indie-pop while "Twelve-Eight Angel" is basically superior late-period Tears For Fears. Their second album "Remembrance Days" was stronger; "Power To Believe" is Tim Westwood (again ... and again ...) if he'd failed in his new life; born to privilege, disillusioned by its certainties, dropped out into anarchy, disillusioned equally by that, ultimately placeless with no allegiance whatsoever ... a sparse, clear parable for 1987. And "Hampstead Girl" is a gem; devotional to a fault, a North London archetype and her nerves defined, and ultimately nothing is resolved, for she remains in her quiet falseness and you remain in your own world, almost untouchables. Realisation of your true personal affinities, for both sides, is always a kind of beyondness ... the edge of forever cannot be breached.

"Indian Summer", the group's best shot at a second hit single although its full Cinemascope comes through best on the extended version, is an elegant autumn scenario with an ace "Winner Takes It All" piano intro; as so often the desire is to escape, become lost in a private universe ("intensified by the lack of competition ... any previous existence seemed a world away") because the new mainstream is beyond your comprehension. And there was still room for one last moment of joy; the 1988 Japanese-only single "In The Heart", a simple piece of utterly un-1988 nature-worship and elemental romance, untercuts its potential conservative leanings by balancing its references to "the heartland" and "the open fields" with a conscious nod back to "the city streets" that Nick Laird-Clowes would never really leave behind, and it transmogrified into "Lowlands" on "A Different Kind Of Weather", a quiet unnoticed farewell with a shaft of crisp March sunshine, analogising how relationships crumble just as theirs went the same way.

The Dream Academy split up in the early 90s, and for many are as much 80s-one-hit-wonders as, I dunno, Men Without Hats or something like that. After fulfilling his latent yearnings and spending years as an itinerant traveller (mostly in the Himalayas), Nick Laird-Clowes contributed lyrics to Pink Floyd's overcooked swansong "The Division Bell", returned to his unmovable core of Ladbroke Grove and was last sighted as Trashmonk in the undistinguished final era of Creation Records and subsequently on Alan McGee's vanity venture Poptones, Gilbert Gabriel veers from forgettable New Age to minor-stir-creating dance records, Kate St John is ubiquitious (and pretty good) as an oboeist. They all seem like thoroughly nice artistic bohemians; not really pop musicians, you might say. And you'd be right; the Dream Academy were pretty nervous of pop music most of the time. But they could do it better than they'd have let on, and they caught more 80s nerves and defiances than they're given credit for.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Is there anything to be made of the fact that Juelz Santana's album is called "From Me To U"? I know that Beatles song only got to #41 in the US, their only British #1 not to be a major American hit, but is he trying to say that he's defunkified and harshened / tightened up the black American psyche just as the Beatles added the funk, getting loose, abandoning the stiff uffer lip etc etc to the white British psyche? Juelz' "Monster Music" ("this is marching music!"), at least, suggests as much. In terms of defying the sonic stereotypes of one's race / class / nationality, this is the black American "When The Levee Breaks" in the same way that, whatever "the Beatles would have sounded like today" (mid-90s Oasis ad slogan of legendary stupidity) it certainly wouldn't have been Noel and Liam.

Mind you, we popists have slept on Mos Def lately. Big time. "What Beef Is" has to be heard; spot-on verbal dissection of the only political Plain Truths left, and his best moment since the reanimation of "Anyone Who Had A Heart" on "Know That" four years ago.
And the loss of nerve in old-school Brit children's lit in the early 60s reminds me of Peter Bogdanovich's film theories; he found the deepest fascination in the last few films of Howard Hawks, Raoul Walsh et al (made at pretty much exactly the same time) because they symbolised a gathering loss of nerve, a profound uncertainty over who they thought they were talking to and how they wanted to talk to them, a profound personal ambivalence between a love affair with old Hollywood and a feeling that it had to go to bring about the social progressions their generation celebrated. Indeed there's some kind of parallel between Bogdanovich and that whole 60s generation of film theorists who overthrew the middle-brow "quality entertainment" Stanley Kramer consensus in favour of unashamed intellectual fascination with Howard Hawks films and suchlike once-massive box-office fodder, and the whole phenomenon of "popism" (this includes the intellectual justifications here and elsewhere of Juelz Santana and street rap generally). The difference is; the Bogdanovich generation didn't intellectually appreciate old Hollywood until its traditions were already rapidly ceasing to exist. The popists are unequivocally hyping NOW in intellectual terms, like if the Bogdanovich lot had come along in the 1940s.
Apologies for the nearly two weeks of silence.

Oddly enough, in the wake of my Friday night's moment of madness I became genuinely convinced that one of my great heroes and villains, the writer Antonia Forest, had died; perhaps it was the local paper that night (the chief constable of Dorset: "we have seen a change in the nature of the county and what it means to people"; indeed we have and that is AF's cultural end), perhaps it was the football match on Saturday 6th which Sky (the antithesis of all she stands for) were showing live from Bournemouth where she lives. Maybe it was the onset of autumn, the cold winds blowing in, the sound of a door being slammed shut. Whatever, it was unfounded. For now.

The last word of Antonia Forest's last book, published 21 years ago, is "jeans".

As ever there's been a steady intake of old children's literature ephemera. I'm particularly struck by Carol Ann Pearce's "We're In The Sixth!" (1960), which like so much at the time was a museum piece even at the time of its publication (Arthur Marshall had great fun pointing that out in the New Statesman back then); for a start our plucky orphan girl heroine's closest relative (some General with property in Ireland) is arranging for her to "go to Oxford". Her academic success or otherwise within the school is never even discussed, let alone considered important; a wave of the St Kelvern's Bury School for Girls tie will presumably be enough. Except that 1960 was the year of the great reforms to Oxford University's entrance procedure, which empowered the post-war "grammar school generation" by removing the more-or-less automatic right to entry on the swish of an old school tie (and this particular girl is a classic Helen Nice-But-Dim, no more, no less).

And then there's the "progressive" boarding school Mitchell Gorse, several of whose girls have to come to St Kelvern's after it burns to the ground (what Carol Ann Pearce wished such institutions would suffer, no doubt). The one girl from the progressive school heavily featured in the book is held up to ridicule and portrayed as a conniving, cheating villain throughout, but the very acknowledgement of such things is a sign of the coming great panic. A sentence promoting the bold modern educationalist who heads the destroyed progressive school which begins "Now, these new comprehensive schools ..." and is then cut off in exasperation, the girl from the progressive school loudly proclaiming that the Autumn Fair in the archetypal Devon country market town with its "fresh-faced country girls" and where a girl can "hardly walk through the streets in uniform carrying an object as damning as a coconut" is "out of date" ... for better or worse, that is the dynamic of 1960, right thurrrrr. The old guard could already see that a new liberal-internationalist breed - less interested in quaint localisations, more concerned with individual choices, and breaking down old class and gender-based assumptions such as those which permeated St Kelvern's Bury School for Girls - were getting ready to crush them out there.

The nerves were jingling. Rest in peace Roy Jenkins, seeing as I didn't have the web platform to say that when he died in January; YOU MADE THIS HAPPEN even when your influence on the Labour Party was relatively marginal ("The Labour Case" was no more the dominant creed of the temporarily exhausted 1959/60 Labour Party than Keith Joseph's monetarist writings were of Heath's consensualist Tory party circa 1974). But if you hadn't come through and embodied the progressive takeover of government an unbelievably brief four years later, St Kelvern's Bury School for Girls might have been the one to survive. As it stood, the burning of Mitchell Gorse meant nothing; its spirit was the one to win, and what we have lost in local quaintnesses we've gained immeasurably in freedoms for those of us who, like Marcello says, need an environment to suit us and can't just fit into some assumed societal norm. I think the end of "We're In The Sixth!" says it all about the gathering nerves of 43 years ago; *another* (it is assumed) progressive school, the Vachel Bracken College, has blown up after experiments in the labs went wrong and loads of their girls will be coming to St Kelvern's Bury next term ... a silly cliched joke ending it may appear to be, but Carol Ann Pearce can't hide the uncertainty. However hard these cheerleaders for High England might try, they can't keep the invaders out. There is no escape. Their private universe is beginning to be torn apart from under them.

Who says this is less important than the Chatterley trial?

Friday, September 05, 2003


(or: how the BBC assassinated its old self. You don't need me to explain who I'm talking about here, do you?)

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

As a final word on both Auberon Waugh and Elton John (perhaps I made a mistake bringing these two men about whom I am deeply ambivalent into World's End so early) let me reprint in full this Daily Telegraph column from 18th November 2000, one of Waugh's last.


Does anyone have an address for the Elton John Fan Club? I would be very happy to pay the subscription and turn up among the adoring crowds, even if I do not qualify for fully fledged membership. This would be because I do not think I have ever heard him sing or play the piano. I am not sure that I had even heard of him before this week, but that is true of most of the people one reads about in the newspapers these days and in Sir Elton, I feel, we have found a new national hero.

It would be nice to think there is a corner of Heaven reserved for the big spenders, who spread their wealth and happiness around the world, but everything about him is admirable. Coming from Pinner, in Middlesex, where he was known as Reginald Kenneth Dwight, he has entirely invented the character and role of Sir Elton Hercules John, greatest spender since the first Marquess Curzon. It needed a touch of genius to see that the country was yearning for someone with "Hercules" as his middle name.

On Wednesday, he appeared in court 17 at the Royal Courts of Justice to demand damages from some accounts. Their counsel put it to him that he had spent £30 million at an average of £1.5 million a month in the period under study: "Do you have any reason to think that inaccurate?"

"Probably not", he said.

"It says here that you spent £293,000 on flowers alone. Is that possible?"

"Yes, I like flowers", said Elton. "I have no one to leave my money to. I am a single man. I like spending money." Our society is full of bores and prigs who will say he should have given the money to charity, probably involving children in Liverpool. For my own part, I think there is something truly wonderful about a man who can spend £293,000 on flowers. It shows that money can still bring joy. Let the kids of Liverpool grow their own poppies and pansies for a change.

Sir Elton also chose to spend £3,500 of his new money on a wig to celebrate his 50th birthday. This seems a good response to this melancholy event, although I notice he does not choose to wear it in court among all the lawyers who spend similar sums on their headgear to impress us with their importance. Never mind, Sir Elton is bigger than them. He can do no wrong, as far as I am concerned.


Perhaps Bron's sudden adulation of a man who is such a hero of the new SuperClass he so despised showed his ultimate naivety ... or, perhaps more likely, it showed that he knew he had precious little time left to fight his battles ("I don't think I've got long. I can feel I'm on the way out." he told Deborah Ross of the Independent in November 2000) and he didn't have the spirit in him anymore. In its own way, this piece of white-flaggery (Waugh may not have known it, but Elton John is as antithetical to his world as Roy Jenkins is to the values of Peter Hitchens, and Hitchens' piece after Jenkins died was by far the least complimentary to the newly-dead since Polly Toynbee's hatchet job on Waugh himself) might be Auberon Waugh's epitaph, or at least a sign that he knew his death was imminent. Waugh's energy and desire to fight his battles had dissipated so much that he could no longer even dislike the greatest icon of his hated SuperClass - and, if Auberon Waugh had a good word to say for *any* man of the SuperClass, that was a clear sign of the absolute literal truth, that there was not an ounce of life left in Auberon Waugh. Even if Bron hadn't built this bridge his death would still have accelerated Elton John's triumph, but this piece of I-know-I'm-going-to-die-soon bridge-building made Elton's victory all the more total.

And now, for something else ...
Further possible political allusions in Ealing comedy: "Kind Hearts And Coronets" = let's go back to the wild eccentricities and privileged japes of the old aristocracy, let's provide a counter balance to, and possibly start a reaction against, the Attlee government ("living under a Socialist government was like living under occupation" - Auberon Waugh's father). And the below "Titfield Thunderbolt" very obviously = now that we've got the Tories back, let's make sure they're *our* Tories, not those nasty upstart capitalist suburban Tories (the idea that these Tories who cared for commercial gain and nothing else might be Jewish would not have been mentioned overtly, the war only just having happened and all that, but it may well have been a private, barely-hidden prejudice).

Do I buy into the David Thomson / Anthony Aldgate idea that Powell & Pressburger's films were anti-Socialist and anti-Attlee? Now *that's* something which deserves deeper consideration, and will get it. Soon.

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