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Tuesday, December 23, 2003

What was I thinking of back there? Worlds of Possibility is nothing to do with Mr Stelfox; it's actually the work of a sharp, clever Australian called Jon (sorry don't know the surname).

Friday, December 19, 2003

to David and any other Americans who may be interested: "Upper-class when that meant something" = before our class structure became more like yours, ie about money and celebrity rather than inherited wealth and attendant privileges. Antonia Forest's England was a place truly foreign to Americans; conversely I think David could pretty much recognise the country I live in, beneath the distancing imagery.

he does give this blog the name of Dave Stelfox's blog, though, but I don't mind that at all ... oddly, the book after which this blog is *actually* named was published in both British and American English versions.
A few (tentative?) answers for David at sleepnotwork.blogspot.com:

Antonia Forest was a British children's author (a Google search will reveal all). The Marlows were the landed, upper-class (when that meant something) British family who were the subject of very nearly all her books. "Run Away Home", published in February 1982, was her last book, the inconclusive final instalment of the Marlow family saga. Martin Kershaw's "The Falcon" was a piece of music used between programmes in the ITV Schools strand on British television during the Spring Term of 1982; ABBA's "Like An Angel Passing Through My Room" is the final track on their album "The Visitors" (released late '81), and "jeans" is the last word of "Run Away Home", the last word Antonia Forest ever wrote.

Terrifying stuff on riot police tactics in Florida on that blog, incidentally. Having fucked up the entire political process in the first place, that state seems more and more determined to ram the point home (they seem to be pretty much the worst when it comes to shutting down anything to do with hip-hop, as well).

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

RADIO 4 VIGNETTE

Interviewer (to MC Solaar, of all people, who had just been expounding the French high-cultural influence on his rap style): "It seems very strange to English people to have hip-hop and 16th Century poetry in the same mind, the same culture ..."

Me, in dismayed-at-assumption-of-cultural-compartmentalism voice: "Not to me it doesn't!"

Wonder if Westwood was listening?

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Couple of vignettes for tonight's new number one; around 6pm I actually happened to chance upon that Birmingham apprentice quoted in - I think - Pete Fowler's pop-cult-as-Class-War 1972 polemic "Skins Rule", praising the early Stones / Yardbirds / Animals / Spencer Davis Group prole-or-wannabe-prole aesthetic and condemning the embourgeoisement of popcult in the summer of '67 with "fucking Sgt Pepper - I mean, you can hardly dance to the Pink Floyd, can you?" Black Sabbath were formed effectively to give subcultural voice to such people, the ones left behind by the essentially middle-class bohemian hippie movement as, for the first time, class became a factor in pop music. Ozzy says as much himself in his "Behind the Music" VH1 documentary; the Sabs, by his definition, were as totally indebted to the Industrial Revolution as any band has ever been, describing and enhancing the experience of a heavy-industrial city at its grimiest in DIRECT OPPOSITION to the "back to the garden" worldview which, for someone whose horizons began and ended in a city totally created by the Industrial Revolution, would have seemed foreign, alien, not only meaningless to your own experiences but also potentially faintly disturbing, trying to suggest that your own life and environment were vaguely illegitimate, not properly British, not "really" part of their own nation. In their equation of hippie values with old-fashioned, anti-industrial conservatism, and their conscious removal of any hints of the "nicer" side of Britain, Black Sabbath were among the forefathers of both punk and - more obliquely - grime.

Then I'm on the phone to one of my closest friends, who's watching "The 100 Greatest TV Moments From Hell" (and, gratifyingly, dissing Stuart Maconie and praising Paul Morley whenever they appear). The Open Door public access programme on the Albion Free State, one of the best records we have of this quasi-conservative, neo-feudal, pre-industrial wing of hippiedom (this particular clip is best known as the "man dressed as a tree" moment) is featured. I comment "That's the thing; Black Sabbath started specifically to be the anti-*that*." My friend agrees.

But now that Ozzy Osbourne is reinvented as an institution, part of the furniture, performing at the jubilee concert even though he started making music specifically to oppose the one form of late 60s / early 70s music that was acceptable to some of the royals, ruralist hippiedom (it isn't just the crossover between that worldview and Prince Charles' Agrarian Right position; I'm sure Princess Margaret hung out with the Incredible String Band for a while, and then there's the story that she liked Dave Swarbrick's music so much that she got sent a copy of everything he recorded), is *anyone* or *anything* beyond reinvention? Are there still any limits at all to post-modernism? Because I'm finding it very hard to think of any right now - the way Ozzy Osbourne's life has gone makes me ever less and less likely to say "that can't happen here" ... however firm people's identity has been, it seemingly no longer stops them from reinventing themselves and instantly currying favour with "the other side". Never yet - and the key word there is "yet" - did a number one prove that better than "Changes".

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Westwood never sounds better than when listened to while researching info on the American writer Martin Wiener's 1981 book "English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit: 1850-1980". TW's triumph is a key part of the dominant theme of the last 20 years in Britain; the refutal of the pattern which Wiener attacked and set out as the main reason for Britain's economic decline, namely the way the new generation of traders and self-made men who emerged in the Industrial Revolution, and embodied Donald Home's view of Northern Englishness ("pragmatic, empirical, calculating, Puritan, bourgeois, enterprising, adventurous, scientific, serious and struggle-oriented") started aping the established leisurely, nostalgic, hierarchical elite some time around the middle of the 19th Century, with the rot setting in when they started sending their children en masse to public schools which barely taught science and technology and were all about making gentlemen rather than businessmen, so the next generation came to think it was beneath them to take over their fathers' previously radical and world-changing businesses, so the industrial British culture of invention and ambition declined and we lost our lead forever to the US and Germany, the situation made worse by the way the academic, non-industrial, non-scientific public schools became the model for the grammar schools which the lower middle classes attended. Significantly Wiener was nowhere near as obviously Leftist as Eric Hobsbawm or Corelli Barnett, both of whom share roughly that view, so his influence was more as a model for the New Right; the book must surely have been read by many of those most influential in the Thatcher government, so close is its idea of the ideal "Victorian values" - the industrial-capitalist worldview, as opposed to the paternalistic
"noblesse oblige" outlook - to the concept she was shortly to adopt.

The idea that pre-modern, pre-capitalist values were the ultimate goal in Britain - the default model once you'd passed a certain age and made a certain amount of money - was around for so long, and made such a dent in the psyche, that it can reasonably be said to be the basis of all the hating on Westwood; he and the shift he embodies unsettle most of the onetouchfootball forum and the likes of Dom Passantino and Nick Southall on ILM, people who like Everything In Its Proper Place, who feel most comfortable with a world where the sons of the clergy can be relied upon to live up to the hierarchical values that the industrial bourgeoisie eventually mostly cow-towed to, and who suffer a certain future shock from the world we're in today. It would be so much easier and happier for them, you feel, if pre-modern values had remained the default; then their Class War idea of pop music - veering in some cases towards sub-Marxism - could remain unquestioned, their simple proletarian games could be played unchallenged.

But the truth of the matter is that what Wiener lamented hadn't really taken place in the 19th Century when it looked very much like it was about to happen - the reshaping of society around the values of enterprise culture and the crushing of paternalism - is now practically total in its triumph (if anything our industrialists' influence was greatest outside Britain; they remade the Western world in their own image, but they couldn't quite remake their own country and its hierarchy as such). If the 80s, 90s and 00s have been a concerted project to ensure that the process Wiener attacked could never happen again, then the best way to totally rule out the possibility of a re-gentrification of the bulk of the middle class is to subtly, cleverly ensure that the landed upper classes simply behave, talk, dress, speak like the rest of the middle class, so that any members of the "ordinary" middle class looking to gentrify look up to their "betters" and simply see a mirror image of themselves, making any such attempts meaningless before they even start.

This is where Will Young becomes genuinely politically important; he sets up the means of achievement and self-fulfilment historically associated with the industrialists and their successors (fighting your way through a field of mostly proletarian contestants, starting on a level playing field with no advantages of privilege) as the default model for the upper middle classes, therefore leading us further and further into the inverse of the model Wiener attacked - now it's the privileged landed classes who want to be like everyone else (the industrialists failed in their attempts to make the children of the landed classes aspire to play the industrial-capitalist game, but their successors have succeeded in the equivalent attempts - so many children of the old elite now want to be Will Young or Thom Yorke or Chris Martin depending on their specific tastes and leanings within pop culture, many more than ever wanted to be traders or merchants back then). It's like we're living in a 21st Century image of what Martin Wiener wished late 19th and early 20th Century Britain had evolved into.

Antonia Forest is part of this narrative, of course; it was the cultural influence of the real-life equivalents of the Marlow and Merrick families, and the way their way of life was seen as the "decent thing" for the entire middle class to aspire to (a powerful example of the endurance of the values Wiener attacked can be found in the petit-bourgeois Daily Express of 1962 - still the Macmillan era, of course, and Thatcher's first term as a backbench MP - which agreed with the Pilkington Report's anti-ITV conclusions when even the Daily Telegraph thought the report was snobbish nonsense) which was crushed in the last 20 years of her life. Somehow everything in this story - that's the thing, it's almost as though it is a story with a doomed romantic ending for me, more than a real death of a real elderly lady - seems to have been perfectly timed, fallen into place precisely in an age where things are rarely so symmetrical.

One of the things which convinced me that she had died in September was the simultaneous chart entry of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" remix and the White Stripes' cover of Dusty Springfield's epochal "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself", both of which got me thinking of how Antonia was writing of "the period called Since The War" as the notional setting for her books, as though nothing profound had changed in that time, in 1964/65 - just at the time when it *was* changing, and how she'd stretch that period to the limits until around the time of "Still Life: American Concert 1981". The day after Antonia Forest's funeral, Mick Jagger (probably the Godfather of the New Right, above even Keith Joseph; definitely the man who stripped away the distancing imagery of British Conservatism and made it acceptable to a new generation when the twin aftereffects of the Wilson landslide and the counterculture could have killed it altogether) received his knighthood from Prince Charles (a man with whom he has about as much culturally in common as 50 Cent - Jagger never, ever embraced the Romantic Left which crosses over with Charles' Agrarian Right position - although I wouldn't be saying that if it was Robert Plant, even, receiving such an honour - remember Plant's retreats to the Marches and ISB/Sandy Denny/Bert Jansch fandom?) and said "I don't think the Establishment as we knew it exists anymore". They can't redeem "Anybody Seen My Baby" or anything like that, but the words resonate now that Antonia Forest is gone like never before; whatever else they mean, I know they set out the rest of my life.

Say goodbye to the falconer's lure ... say goodbye to auld lang syne ...

I suppose if I had to cite one record which marks the dying fall of that old "everything-sceptic" public school resistance to pop trends, specifically those of black American origin (basically, Donald Home's "romantic, illogical, muddled, lucky, Anglican, aristocratic and frivolous" wing of English thought), then thanks mainly to a recent ILM thread I'd mention Murray Head's "One Night In Bangkok", lyrics by Lancing College old boy Tim Rice, which strikes me as a subtle political wish by the ultra-conservative writer (last sighted attacking the BBC for hating cricket and "the countryside" and misusing "Just A Minute" to launch an anti-metric rant) to wish rap - in 1984 still very largely seen as a fad - out of existence through having the "Chess" character of "The American" speak in a ridiculously precise RP voice, beningly above it all, gently mocking the idea of rap in such an accent, quietly wishing rap would go away and hoping he could speed up the process through making its moves and styles just seem *absurd* ("this grips me more than would a muddy old river or reclining Buddha" - as deliberately archaic a sentence construction as the "I know not when" which Paul McCartney probably added to Peter and Gordon's "A World Without Love" 20 years earlier because it fitted his idea of how public school people spoke). Gentlemanly, benevolent resistance; already pushed to the barely-pop world of West End musicals, soon to crumble altogether (it makes a revealing listen back-to-back with the crunching surrender of "Sledgehammer").

Something that came to my mind earlier today watching the Manchester derby and noticing the "Republic of Mancunia" banners (see this blog about two months ago passim): which particular lyric would be to Manchester's deeply ambivalent relationship to "England" what "Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun
If the sun don't come you get a tan from standing in the English rain" is to Liverpool (it's all in the *venom* Lennon puts into it, and the way "I Am The Walrus" almost goes out of control immediately after that, the psychosis almost too strong to be contained in this form) and "My favourite parks are car parks, grass is something you smoke, birds are something you shag ... take your year in Provence and shove it up your ARRRRSSSSEEEE" is to Sheffield (Pulp's "I Spy", of course, though it's very interesting how totally Jarvis Cocker has defied such pigeonholing and flown in the face of the implications of those lyrics, which seemed pretty unambiguous in '95)?

I can only think of Morrissey's "Hopes may rise in the Grasmere / But honey pie you're not safe here / So you run down to the safety of the town" from "Panic" (subtext: if they take away the puritan-socialist legacy of Manchester's industrial past, and give Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson the cultural upper hand, they'll take away my future, but Wordsworthian romantic dreams of pre-industrial England are no good to me as an alternative because they simply take away my *past*; however conservative I am I still owe the entire cultural legacy that drives me to the Industrial Revolution). But there must be something more definitive, a *statement* like those Lennon and Cocker lyrics, surely?

That being said, the more time goes past the more I think Morrissey ought to have been from Sheffield and Def Leppard ought to have been from Manchester - however much the latter's hair-metal naffness conflicts with the conscious ubercool of Manchester's last musical quarter-century, they're firmly in the one truly distinctively Mancunian tradition, the 19th Century laissez-faire Liberalism whose crushing Martin Wiener so lamented, and Morrissey's essential puritan socialism is in a Yorkshire / North East England / Central Belt of Scotland / South Wales tradition which Manchester never fully embraced. And the UK "Pour Some Sugar On Me" video - America got some boring performance clip, so I'm told - fully encompasses that lineage of contempt for both socialism and the old landed classes; a band of wannabe middle-Americans from Scargill's heartland are performing in an old country house which is demolished as they trundle through the song. The ultimate puritan socialist statement in the 80s would surely have been a refusal to make videos, most prominently expressed, I seem to remember, by some band called The Smiths ...

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Somehow it's as if everything I mentioned last night was haunting me first thing today: woke up bleary-eyed at 11am and one of the first things I heard was Dido's "Life For Rent" (the song, mercifully not the whole album), clear as you like throughout this street, like a crushing realisation of the New Mundanity's triumph. But then I gasped at the Times' Court and Social page (which I only saw by chance because I was checking to see whether they'd finally published their Antonia Forest obit yet, which they haven't), to wit:

"ANNOUNCEMENT
Mrs Christopher Hussey
Mrs Christopher Hussey (Betty), of Scotney Castle, Lamberhurst, Kent, will not be sending Christmas Cards this year. She wishes all her friends a Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year."

A google reveals that Christopher Hussey himself lived from 1899 to 1970, so this woman must surely be *at least* Antonia Forest's age (88), at a guess, quite possibly older. And the possible implications there ... too frail to even write Christmas Cards? (I will defer to her writing style) Too physically weak, too *mentally* weak to stand the task? Somehow I doubt she'll be alive next Christmas ... such things hit you with such a power now, the awareness that they are museum pieces as they are written, the knowledge that these are so surely the last days.

Tina Turner's "We Don't Need Another Hero" is haunting me now, and I know it shouldn't; it's not really the song itself, I just remember sweeping across Dorset, across Marlows country, in the early afternoon of 25th April 2001, caught up in the spring's promise, with the song billowing out of the car (it's a long story). It backed up my own minor hammering of the nails ... hearing it, you got the feeling that the next generation of Marlows were driving behind you, commuting from their *un-meant* homes of Poundbury kitsch, blindly and blandly absorbing the resounding American kitsch from our ageing speakers ...

Couple of Dizzee Rascal-related nuggets to mention:

a) his freestyle on Westwood the day Antonia Forest died - FUCKING AWESOME, though why did they change the backing track from "Santana's Town" to "Dipset Anthem" just as Dizzee was about to start rhyming again? "Santana's Town" might just be US hip-hop has got to the sheer funkless tightness of Dizzee's sharpest, harshest beats, "Dipset Anthem" is a decades-old cliched beat by comparison. Using "Santana's Town" only as the backing track for Dizzee's interview with TW was a terrible missed opportunity.

b) that interview with him - some time pre-Mercury, definitely - where he said that kids *everywhere* were now understanding where he was coming from (8 Mile was the key reference point); the parental generation out in the country wouldn't get it, but the coming generation would, and there'd be a levelling out, a new national movement, a clear break (something politically subversive not only to the expected people, but also to those like Dave Stelfox who insist that there is a "proper" way of seeing Grime - or Dancehall, or whatever - and those who haven't lived the life can't stake a claim to it; as Stelfox himself ruefully acknowledges, it's harder to prevent such distanced admiration and ignorance-of-original-context than ever, although he misses the 1980s' radicalisation of the younger middle classes as a key factor bringing that about ... fundamentally I see DS' argument as a conservative position in the same way that onetouchfootball "toffs' game" talk is conservative).

The harsh thing for the separatist, feudalist, there's-a-proper-way-to-see-everything Romantic in me was that I knew Dizzee was right - or, at least, I knew that the barriers in the way had been taken down. That's why Antonia Forest's death hit me so hard (the only deaths to do that to me previously were Aaliyah, Laura Gerrard, Ian MacDonald, Delia Derbyshire ... in their 20s, 30s, 50s, 60s, all gone too soon in a way Antonia is not); there is the ever-growing realisation that everything I once aspired to, everything I once dreamed of, is now so much a hollow shell, gone, washed out, finished. I'm still trying to work within the criteria of what I've been left with, and if Antonia Forest's death makes anything particularly clear it is that I have to do that immediately, now more than ever - anything else would be living on dreams. But who wouldn't want to live on dreams when Perle and Wolfowitz hit you in the face? This is the thing; I retreated into myself when Bush took over because living in The Big World came to seem so much harder at that moment. Now I'm slowly learning how to find my place in it again, if only because the remnants of the old world are now crumbling so rapidly that it seems, however painful, the only option.

Not sure whether I can agree with k-punk and Ingram that there's an overall aesthetic running through everything the BBC does even now (though I'd say there was most certainly such a thing 20 years ago) - there've been too many changes, too much widening out, too many attitude shifts brought on by the babyboomers taking over and those who experienced pre-pop Britain retiring, too much relative niche broadcasting (they'll allow things on Radio 1 now that they'd never have on Radios 3 and 4, and not quite seamlessly but nevertheless pretty successfully adjusting itself to the era of tightly-targeted demographic broadcasting, the BBC's internal culture has shifted enough to sustain the idea that there can be different rules for different audiences within the same corporation; 20 years ago it was one rule for the entire BBC, hence the ban on Frankie's "Relax", and if that was still the case what we'd see and hear today would be totally different, for the most part).

I would say that the BBC *is* a hugely important part of the culture, though - the mainstream Beeb's rebranding and reshaping for the New Mundanity, and effective eating away at both the questioningly radical and benevolently conservative elements of its past, Hugh Greene and Charles Curran alike, has perhaps been the single biggest factor bringing about the decline in feelings of "cultural energy" in chartpop; the Official British Culture *is* chartpop now, they're utterly merged, utterly beiged-out. Simultaneously the fringes of BBC output both give new weight to an older intellectual tradition, keeping the lineage of learning and erudition going but crucially without trying to take it outside its own clique as Reith and Hoggart alike dreamed (BBC Four), *and* bring the new edges into public consciousness, change the game for everyone, either take the cultural energy out of the fringes or make the energy stronger through taking it to more people depending on how much you believe in the theory that any sort of embrace by the established media crushes all cultural energy (1Xtra). Personally I don't think endorsement by the BBC weakens the cultural energy of the music played on 1Xtra; the idea that it does strikes me as played-out punk rhetoric, 1977 battles of Establishment vs Outsiders which no longer make sense because of significant changes in who and what "the Establishment" actually *are*.

The middle-class self-loathing (look, I knew I said I wouldn't bring class-consciousness into this blog, but somehow it's hard at times like this ...) of Ingram's Radiophonic piece at http://www.woebot.com gets to me somewhat; good points and valid arguments and all but I think I've got more of a soft spot for the old bourgeois idea of the Artist than he has (maybe because I'm not symbolically on the run from it each moment of my life). I wouldn't be afraid to call Delia Derbyshire's best work Art and call "Get Low" or, indeed, Keith Mansfield's "Teenage Chase" Art *at the same time*; there's no contradiction to me, they can both co-exist. I have no mental need to internalise great battles - compared even to a few months ago, I've become quite mentally settled on this front, attuned to the idea of two aesthetics co-existing without the need to always invent a mental cultural war between them. Somehow, it just seems to divert my mind and my writing away from what truly matters.

Thanks for the praise, though, Matthew! And I like the ever-so-cryptic Fairport allusion - although I do seem to recall reading once that "liege and lief" were originally codes, rituals, trades of feudal British society anyway (and, by extension, the inspiration for those who so frightened Antonia Forest in "The Attic Term", even though Antonia herself would have been, if she had to choose, more of a feudalist than a Thatcherite). Must research that some time soon. Not yet, though.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

It feels the strangest and deepest and saddest thing in the world to write about a death you actually envisaged on this very blog, more than that you were *genuinely convinced it had already happened*, convinced that it had happened while you were screaming your head off, psychotic, experiencing spiritual and mental and cultural rape, endlessly thinking about it, and wearing your nerves in blogging public ...

Well, it is now something I have to do. Antonia Forest died on Friday 28th November. We'll never know what happened next to the Marlow family, and their private world - it won't come to a certain conclusion, it will, appropriately, shrivel out, and slowly fade into memory. The word "jeans", with all its haunting implications for an English landed family (especially in the context of the publication of "Run Away Home" in February 1982, as Martin Kershaw's "The Falcon" nervously swept over ITV Schools while the snow uncertainly melted and a cold sun asked questions, ABBA's "Like An Angel Passing Through My Room" stopped hearts beating for 4 minutes and 27 seconds, and Bryan Ferry made plans for the crushing harbinger of his society wedding that summer) will be her epitaph. The blogger at http://homepage.tinet.ie/~cacophony/blog.html who said on the day she died that Antonia "should write more books! I WANT MORE!" will remain forever disappointed (heartbreakingly from one perspective at least, the next day she was listening to Linkin Park's "Hybrid Theory"). Falconer's Lure, Peter's Room, The Thuggery Affair, The Attic Term, hawking, roleplay taken too far, teddy boys, the rumbling echoes of hippie resettlement, that progressive Catholic day school in London and AF's coded political loathing for it ... all evocative, all resonant, all now definitively tied to the past. *My* past. More people's past than will admit to it right now.

(and just before I belatedly learnt of Antonia Forest's death I was on the onetouchfootball forum ridiculing a lot of the people there for being unthinking Class War sub-Marxists who think everyone who doesn't agree with them is a Thatcherite / neo-fascist when they're actually just as conservative and backward in their idea of social relations in Britain as the Daily Mail, and they're really Hoggartists in denial, and the wind was in my sails ... and then I heard of Antonia's death and I did a websearch and there were all these mostly quite young, very obviously middle-class livejournal users and the like, in a different world from me despite sharing much of the same cultural grounding because their education gave them CONFIDENCE, who were big Antonia Forest fans, and mostly had the standard mainstream and/or bohemian musical taste ... and then I checked blissblog and there was Simon R being incredulous that people think you can understand Grime without understanding its intensely class-specific London-at-its-ruffest background ... and now I don't know *what* I think. Still, it shows the difference between myself and most of my more-or-less contemporaries than one of the livejournalists can pay tribute to her "favourite writer" Antonia Forest while simultaneously citing RATM's "Killing In The Name" and The Prodigy's "No Good" among their favourite tracks of the 90s, without any apparent feeling of mental contradictions, especially when I remember that, when the Prodge weren't sure which title to give the damp squib which became "The Fat Of The Land", I proposed that it should be called "The Sound Of Eton College Burning". God, I wish I didn't *think* so hard sometimes, even though I know I couldn't live without it.)

But I still think k-punk is missing the point somewhat when he laments the demise of "music as an (anti)social force, as cultural electricity, music as more than music ... all gone now ..." The fact that we don't get that feeling now from even the most exciting music the way we got it from The Clash 25 years ago is because the entire culture has moved to a new centre ground; so much of the excitement, the sense that this was SOMETHING OUT OF CONTROL that punk created came as much from the way it brushed and rubbed against the people of power and influence in Britain as from what it was itself. How can "what chance have you got against a tie and a crest?" mean anything much when those who *do* have those ties and crests sound more Estuarised than some of your own comprehensive school friends? The way we don't get such a sense of "cultural energy" from mainstream pop really has more to do with the fact that everyone except the retired and impotent and dying accepts mainstream pop these days than it has to the existence of Simon Cowell.

If the Marlow family sagas were still being written, Pop Idol might at least feel like the Bay City Rollers did - fundamentally proletarian, an ITV Class War against Charles Curran's BBC which still produced Dixon of Dock Green and the Black and White Minstrel Show, and somehow OUT OF CONTROL (that girl fan getting shot by one of their roadies, one of the group running over and killing a 75-year-old woman, the hushed-up suicide attempts - there was some serious shit there). As it is, Greg Dyke's BBC plays on exactly the same egalitarian, centre-ground terms as its commercial rivals, and if Pop Idol symbolises anything it's the death of Antonia Forest's dream of the upper middle class; Will Young's first single was the third biggest-seller of the last 15 years (irony of ironies, one of the two to outsell it was of course - how this blog started! - the ultimate SuperClass icon's tribute to the married-royal martyr who only made the SuperClass stronger, in September 1997). And Will Young went to Wellington College, the British military public school of choice, the place where the social-climbing young Jeffrey Archer *pretended* to have gone, the place where the male Marlows would probably have gone if their father had been in the Army rather than the Navy ... and there's Dido, embodying the New Efficiency, the New Desirability, the New Bourgeois, and there's Charlie from Busted, looking like a twat, behaving like a twat, thinking like a twat, but crucially BEING A TWAT ON PROLETARIAN TERMS - there was a time, not that long ago at all, when he might have simply been a chinless wonder hanger-on in Bruiser de Cadanet's clique, and left pop music twattery to the Goss twins and the like. No longer.

"Now I've found that the world is round, and of course it rains every day ..."

It's Will Young's, Dido's and Busted's world now. There can never be a new Clash or Pistols PRECISELY BECAUSE THERE AREN'T ANY ANTONIA FORESTS LEFT. There can be new masterpieces, however, on all fronts.

"Something so special doesn't fade away" ... I'll remember this night (fuck knows how many times I said "I'll remember this night" tonight, but maybe that's the point).

Oh, and Howard Dean for US President next time. Obviously. With luck. And big up Al Gore for his attacks on the Iraq war. And a big motherfucking big up to Cam'ron and (can't believe I'm saying this after the V*ct*r** B*ckh*m episode) Damon Dash for their appearance on B*ll O'R*illy's F*x News show (asterixes in the first case for obvious reasons, in the latter to protect this quiet haven - the hippie settlement just a few miles from Trennels, if you like - from rampant neocon googlers). At the moment you needed to prove that hip-hop is still a potent cultural force against the Bush insurgency, you did it.

Oh, I could have written so much tonight. I was going to do a big thing about how the Daily Mirror of the late 50s and early 60s waged cultural war on behalf of the New Egalitarians against both puritan Socialists and paternalistic Tories, and how they (or more specifically Tony Parsons and Brian Reade) can't appreciate the extent to which they've got what they wished for, indeed they don't even seem to *like* it, even as the paper revives its old tradition of radical campaigning journalism which had been lost for decades of increasingly desperate Sun/Star ambulance-chasing. I could have said how the fact that Westwood has played Lil' Jon and the East Side Boyz' "Get Low" (with its "3-6-9" hook lifted from Shirley Ellis' "Clapping Song", a prime piece of Radio Caroline 1965) fucking hundreds of times this year when he'd ABSOLUTELY NEVER play anything which lifted a hook from something John Peel would've played in 1968/69 further confirms his position in the radical-populist classless-utopian lineage as opposed to the hippie-bohemian one (and see also TW's failure to get "The Love Below" - no doubt his father taught him to say "Good day, sir" and Andre's similarly-titled track brings it all flooding back, ie it recalls everything he came into hip-hop to escape). But I can't, somehow, at least not in the detail I'd intended. What happened in Bournemouth at the end of November is, at this moment, too TOTAL.

The fact that Nicola Marlow could very well have ended up as Alex Parks is, perhaps, reason enough for the threads left dangling in February 1982 to be left hanging forever. When "Leave Right Now" sold out on its first day, Antonia Forest was still alive. When copies ran out midweek, and Shane Ritchie's cover of the soundtrack to Lord Hartwell's collapse overtook it, she was still alive. But when Will took the lead again at the end of the week, when he triumphantly returned to #1, when he counted down the Top 10 with Foxy, when he laughed and giggled with Wes, she was gone, although we didn't know it yet. Maybe it was right. According to the Telegraph she may have died just before she was due to go to the cinema to see Russell Crowe (!!!!!) in "Master and Commander" (she was a great admirer of Patrick O'Brian, which explains it), but the Independent quotes her words earlier this year: "I think most of what is written for children now is frightful ... The world is changing, but I am not, and I don't think much of it." She didn't live to see "Never Mind The Bollocks" on the front cover of one of the Times' Saturday supplements, an obstacle for the pre-Murdoch veterans of the shires to get past before they could read the Weekend supplement with its talk of Victorian follies and Derwent May's Nature Notes. Maybe that's why she abandoned the never-completed next Marlow book; having moved the setting on every time, always stretching out the poignancy and always retaining credibility because the Big Changes hadn't gone far enough yet, she knew that a leap into this era would be beyond her, in all senses.

The door slammed shut on an entire world when Antonia Forest died, which is why it will live with me all the way. Rest in peace, in the truest sense. Rest in peace.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Before we return to the present, here's a bit of the past, in all senses - my March 2001 piece on The Fall's extraordinary "Various Times", originally published on Freaky Trigger, but lost to that site when the freakytrigger.com domain went belly-up soon afterwards. With the 25th anniversary of this single just past, it seems apposite.

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THE FALL - VARIOUS TIMES (Step Forward single, November 1978)

Michael Bracewell put it better than any of us could, but my take on Mark E. Smith has always been that he is the voice of England's (and not just northern England's) "cultural unconscious"; what he says is what goes unspoken in the rest of the media, what many believe privately, but are too lumpen, too parochial, too tied up in their internal prole-on-prole battles to express.

When this single came out, Time, as a subject in pop, was generally stigmatised with the plodding "poignancy" of prog-rock or folk-rock, but this was something totally difficult and pretty much unprecedented.

Apparently, the song structure was derived from the Shangri-Las' "Past, Present and Future", but the juxtaposition of the opening near-monologue evoking the proles of Berlin, 1940, and the "Present" section, with its scattershot flow of images from an industrial urban environment of disillusioned cheats and bad liars, followed by the "Future" picture of a land invaded, its buildings reduced to shells and returned to the medieval practice of witch trials, has me feeling unsettled, uneasy, as I always am when Nazism and any kind of subsequent environment, apart from actual fascist dictatorships, are compared.

What did Smith intend us to believe? Was he suggesting that Britain, with its infrastructure and consensus falling apart and the last ever government in touch with the old Northern working-class culture about to crumble, was becoming as inherently rotten as Germany had been during the Weimar Republic, was vulnerable to an extremist dictator rising up and taking over without anyone noticing? Or was he just invoking such imagery and leaving it to us to draw analogies and comparisons? And was the closing reference to "time mistaken; three places at once" pure science-fiction or an actual description of how Britain felt in the first age without certainties since - coincidentally or otherwise - the era when Nazism was marching through Europe, 40 years earlier?

I wouldn't want to know, really, because Mark E. Smith has always been the unknowable; the assertion that "There is no culture is my brag" which opens 1982's "Hex Enduction Hour" is probably his best ever self-definition, evoking a world where nothing is seen to have any worth anymore, and there is no officially-imposed criticism and comment, so voices like his are more and more necessary.

Already leaping further, more quickly and more dramatically than anyone else, away from '77's haze of guitar fuzz and attitude, The Fall set new standards with this single; as post-punk is canonised and becomes part of Mojo's raison d'etre, it would be a tragedy to exclude it and narrow things down to Siouxsie / Buzzcocks / Magazine / Wire. Smith's genius was set up and defined at this point; he's probably the lyricist (certainly in Britain, if not the world) who did most to reshape and reinvent the English language, and redefine where we could expect to hear it mutated and played with, in the last quarter of the 20th Century.

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