Thursday, March 25, 2004

all that being said, i recognise now more than ever just how *different* i am from so many of my blogging contemporaries. the grounding so unrelated, the values so removed ...
good riddance Scott Neil. i'm actually rather embarrassed i had conversations with you. you're precisely the reason why i think The Cult of Manchester has been a corrosive intellectual force on people like me (lower-middle-class southern student-types).

you need to *think* more. you might do that more easily in, say, Newcastle (just a southerner's guess ...)
just been listening to Momus' "The Charm of Innocence" countless times on repeat. once, this song (in its re-recorded '95 version - I've still never heard The Tender Pervert) was my favourite by anyone, ever. it still sounds impressively evocative of a particular existence (the fetishism and life-as-grand-opera of the pre-WW1 German aristocracy) as it always did, although I probably now think his finest songs ever were "La Catrina" and "Landrover". was my habit of singing it out loud some evenings the reason why a gang of local chavs, with the usual mock-Estuary whine, originally took to calling me "Charlotte", recently extended to calling me a "bitch" and a "gay boy"? i would suspect so, and i'm rather proud of that.

(the other night i thought i heard someone insult me along those lines by using the word "Oscar", but then i realised they obviously weren't because the sort of people who throw homophobic insults around in the street are also, by definition, the sort of people who don't know who Oscar Wilde was.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

for the benefit of the various interested parties out there, i can be reached by email at robin@elidor.freeserve.co.uk

Monday, March 22, 2004


Amazing how many people over the years have recommended to me the album which saw Roger Waters hijack the Pink Floyd name and identity for what was effectively his first solo album (Wright had either got sick of it or been turfed out, depending on who you believe, and Gilmour and Mason were pretty much glorified session musicians), considering that I'd always assumed I'd see it rather as Tom Ewing does, as some kind of musical/cultural nadir, full of whingeing, self-centred arrogance, false attempted universalisation of Waters' own personal traumas. But I can perfectly see *why* people would imagine I might like The Final Cut; its nihilism, its cynicism, its suspicion of the motivations of governments and the futility of war fit precisely with the views I've always held underneath, even if I hid them when my involvement with ILM was at its height. In this time of a particularly futile and ill-considered war and the twentieth anniversary of the miners' strike, with all its symbolism of the Thatcher goverment's obsessive desire to destroy any cultural movement which might offer any kind of challenge to its 51st State mentality (the worst and most futile approach to government imaginable; regarding those who don't share your worldview not as opponents, but as *enemies*), it sounds oddly timely.

I may be instinctively suspicious of this kind of Big Rock, but think of the way Collins, Clapton and the rest of Waters' ostensible cultural cohorts jumped on the New Right bandwagon (it doesn't hurt us, we've got our interests abroad, who cares?), think of - dear God - Roger Taylor's infamous post-Queen album ("Nazis 1994", etc). There was and is much worse out there. And, wary though I originally was - most of the first side of The Final Cut is *brilliant*, a sort of Big Rock equivalent of Piano Magic's "Artists' Rifles" (when I reviewed that album back in Elidor, back before the world got colder, I lazily likened it to The Final Cut, and there is the parallel that both PF's and PM's earlier records had been more abstract, more exploratory, less lyrical and specific, and the more straightforward, even message-orientated direction struck many as a retraction, a step backwards, although in Floyd's case of course the change took much longer ... still, I suspect that I was wrong to change my mind on that album so quickly; I was probably influence by the overt attack of "poptimism" which I suspect drove Tom Ewing to also change his mind about that record ... not the right time for it, not the right time at all).

In mood and atmosphere, the best comparison point for me is probably "Contact", Alan Clarke's 1984 trial run for the sheer evocation of violence-as-life in Northern Ireland that was "Elephant", particularly awe-inspiring proof of why Alasdair Milne's political sacking as BBC director-general was probably the greatest cultural and artistic tragedy in Britain these last 25 years (yes, I know, "Elephant" was produced in the Checkland/Birt era, but it hardly belongs to it). "Contact" still held to some structural aspects that "Elephant" bravely abandoned - it still attempted to create some kind of verbal communication between its ciphers of perpetual, pointless conflict, it still attempted, however vaguely, to suggest that they might still have some kind of life left beyond the endless brutality that their existence had reduced them to, but what overwhelmingly sticks in the mind is the look and feel of the piece; the sense that there *can* be no end to this conflict, that it is somehow ordained for this place to remain in this state forever, that if there's a hell below, we're not so much all going to go as all already there now.

It's the same feeling - subdued, fear-ridden, broken, sometimes barely there at all - that I get from side one of The Final Cut, and the thing is, these songs *work*. The brass band on "The Post-War Dream", and sporadically elsewhere, is the most evocative in pop apart from Peter Skellern's "You're A Lady", "Your Possible Pasts" is a near-perfect evocation of the Thatcher government's systematic destruction of any cultural movement (whether industrial-socialist or romantic-ruralist) that might challenge its worldview or suggest an alternative idea of Britain, "The Hero's Return" is one of the finest songs ever about the psychological aftereffect of war, the damage it does to those who've lived a life defined by its aftermath and constant silent screams of "why?", and "Paranoid Eyes" captures the realisation that the values you spent your life working for are now regarded as quaint, outmoded, antiquated, the diversion of an abandoned era ("the pie in the sky turned out to be miles too high ..."), and the devastation of knowing that *you failed*. And I love the vignettish quality of "Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert"!! These songs are far better than I'd ever expected; they are how these emotions *feel*, and I'm tired of not wearing my political and emotional heart on my pop-cultural sleeve - I wasted far too many years with that worldview. And I've certainly no problem with "middle-class whingeing" on principle, even if I may find it hard to take musically sometimes; God save us from those Professional Proles, and one in particular on Usenet, who denounce anti-war sentiment as "public-school romanticism" and claim that it's all in the interest of the people because We All Love America And We All Love Rock'n'Roll Apart From Those Old Countryside Alliance People Who Dare To Be Snobbish About That Great Institution McDonald's, Don't We?

I never really stop agreeing with The Final Cut, but agreement can't save much of side two (I still think in such terms for albums released before CDs became dominant, incidentally). On side one there are sporadic moments which could have been better-executed - Waters' whisper of "England" on "The Post-War Dream" is somewhat inapt after his oft-quoted reference to the broken, rotting shipyards of the Clyde, and after two evocative minutes "The Gunner's Dream" fucks up when Waters *hollers* - always the very worst thing for practically any white Big Rock singer to do - before it degenerates into a sax solo, giving it an atmosphere of American sports stadiums totally inconsistent with the quietness elsewhere in the song (I can't help feeling Waters actually intended that deliberately - a song at war with itself).

But on side two The Final Cut starts to pall; I can't disagree with the points Waters is making on "The Fletcher Memorial Home", but there's still a supercilious self-obsession creeping in - all my worst fears, basically - which offset Michael Kamen's terrific string arrangements, and it falls into the usual trap of Big Rock when Gilmour's guitar comes in (right back to their days at the heart of the birth of Brit-psych, Floyd were always at their best when at their most un-rock, but it had never been so obvious previously). "Southampton Dock" is a well-made and well-crafted stained glass window of depression and melancholia - somehow that overtly suppressed rage, that overt Englishness, seems to hold it back (whereas it enhances "Paranoid Eyes", makes it all the more poetic). And "The Final Cut" itself is far too absorbed in Waters' own bleak, suicidal feelings, far too much the old cliche of "Roger Waters loses his father in the war and we all have to suffer for it" - the universality of the post-war experience of side one is gone, and it's all the weaker for it.

"Not Now John", Gilmour's one significant contribution to The Final Cut and the song that in its de-fucked version threatened to be this album's "Another Brick In The Wall", doesn't really work - while it's no doubt well-meant in its desire to capture the mindless aggression that the ideology of perpetual war forces people into, it's fatally unfocused ("fuck all that we've got to get on with these" is hardly the most inspired lyric you could write while contemplating Man's futility), ends up as trudging and uninspired as Waters' later solo "What God Wants God Gets". Where "Another Brick" had something truly universal about it, it had that spark to it which enabled it to connect to the world outside at the time, and capture a moment so definitively that I cannot hear it without thinking of Ravenscraig and the grim, future-dreading faces of South Wales and South Yorkshire (as with so many other bands who were lumped together as "prog" - something that Floyd arguably never really were, but they played many of the same games and struck most of the same poses - much criticism of PF has been class-conscious, whether borne out of the Prole Art Threat lineage or the straight-down-the-line "get pissed - destroy" legacy, but whatever Suggs may have said I don't think "Another Brick" was inspired by a contempt for the working classes; it holds humanity in contempt, yes, but that contempt is pretty much universal).

Fatally unlike "Another Brick", "Not Now John" exists entirely within the self-perpetuating world of Big Rock, thoroughly devoid of wider social energy, and it deservedly flopped as a single in the spring of '83. The climactic "Two Suns In The Sunset" tries to bring things round again - the lyrics are again overtly self-centred, and once again you can't possibly relate to it as much if you aren't Roger Waters (all the worst qualities of his solo work, and of much of "The Wall", are really setting in by now), but it hints at some kind of redemption with the wish-it-were-true quality of last line "we were all equal in the end", before it's hideously crushed towards the end by another bloody soft-rock sax, the very worst way for this album, of all albums, to fade out.

The Final Cut, though - at its best, at least, better than I thought it would be, better than perhaps it ought to be, not as good as "The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn", not as good as "Artists' Rifles", better than most Message Rock. I can see why some have thought I might like it and I can see why some have thought I might hate it. They were both right.
Some time in the Heath era, Sir Ian Trethowan (the friend of Ted who sacked Kenny Everett from Radio 1 for a harmless joke about the wife of Tory cabinet minister John Peyton, who unbelievably is still in my local phone book listed as "Lord Peyton of Yeovil"), was defending the MI5-inspired secret vetting procedures at the BBC, which were often used simply as a means of making it as hard as possible for "filthy lefties" to work in the Corporation (remember: MI5 were so right-wing at the time they thought Heath was crypto-socialist). Trethowan asked John Laird, a former BBC External Services producer who worked in the Appointments Department, why he had appointed so many "reds" and "commies" as general trainees. Laird responded "They're not communists. They're independent socialists and dissidents. Besides, all the bright young people are left wing these days." Trethowan, astonishingly even for him, said "Oh, they're all the same to me. They're all commies. I can't believe that there weren't some bright right wing people."

Those words could have come straight from the mouth of Kenny "Let's bomb Russia!" Everett. How could Trethowan have objected so much to such an ideological soulmate? I suppose it just emphasises the sheer scale of the gulf between the Tories who believed in concepts of "good taste" and "decency" and the Tories who simply lived somewhere in mid-Atlantic ...
More proof of how opposition to the Iraq war is creating extraordinary, previously-unthinkable alliances; one of the consciously "radical-left" Filger / Pisk acolytes on uk.politics.misc is now reproducing, and praising, an article on anti-war.com by ***Pat Buchanan***.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Oh, and for those who care - though I suspect many will fall asleep when they see this - there was a letter in the Times in January from someone who knew Antonia Forest, claiming that "fifteen years ago" (ie, presumably, the late 1980s), she had completed the next Marlow book, which concerned itself with Karen Marlow having great difficulties with EEC (as it then was) regulations while running Trennels, the farm which had been in the Marlow family for about 465 generations (if you know Antonia's work you'll know this is much less of an exaggeration than you might think). However she could not find a publisher, and I can sort of understand - by then, the idea of such people living such lives in the present day would have seemed risible, an unsquarable circle for the publishing industry. I'd still like to see the book finally published, though - however unreal it may seem, its poignancy would be a fitting memorial. Maybe those jeans, however much an admission of defeat they seemed, weren't quite the end.
quick response to somedisco's Richard Kurt / Man Utd stuff (in turn a belated reply to my postings here last year); shortly after writing those postings I came across an MUFC fansite very much in the "Republic of Mancunia" vein, which had a gang of Reds boasting about the way they'd worn Elvis masks against Juventus in last season's Champions' League (think it was in Turin, as well). Now that's hardly a vociferous challenge to the more negative continental ideas of Us Brits, is it? Kind of like "you think we're the 51st State, eh? Well, yes, we are, and we're proud of it" (compare to, say, the Manics' "Elvis Impersonator, Blackpool Pier", but of course they came from a great puritan socialist heartland). Truly a simultaneous fuck-you to both Hoggart and Lovibond* ...

*if you don't know, you don't want to know. Don't ask. Please ...
Ten-years-ago flashback; what influence did Blur's "Parklife" have on the upsurge of broadsheet analyses of the young middle classes' embrace of Estuary-speak which characterised the year or so following its release? I certainly think NuLab's emergence that year had an influence; it provided an easy piece of symbolism in which hacks could frame their analyses of how the middle classes were abandoning their old tenets on a scale previously unseen (RP = the vocal equivalent of the Tory party?) Either way: 1994 = the year the chickens of the Thatcher years came home to roost, definitely (no wonder it was the year Auberon Waugh got even more paranoid and melancholic ...)
Why do I think the Norman Cook remix breathed life into Cornershop's "Brimful of Asha" and elevated it from being merely a very good single to true greatness, when I despise practically everything else that could ever have been called Big Beat? (for those who remember my defence of it against Neil Kulkarni's well-aimed criticisms in Melody Maker in 1998, those are certainly not my views today)

It might have something to do with the fact that the song was flooding the airwaves at the exact moment that Enoch Powell died; Tjinder Singh is a British Asian from Powell's old jackboot-stamping-ground of Wolverhampton, and I think Ben Ayres came from an agricultural background in the West Country (precisely the background Powell would have been most narrow and protectionist about), and Cook is of course a key figure in the cultural proletarianisation of the middle class, having changed his name from Quentin to fit the post-miners'-strike, Old-Labour's-last-stand image of the Housemartins. So Cook's involvement somehow seems to make the song's dancing-on-Powell's-grave quality all the more complete; the cultural proletarianisation of the middle class was a tendency Powell (who, lest we forget, believed that Shakespeare's plays were actually written by some aristocrat of the time and who learned to "ride to hounds" in his youth not because he particularly wanted to but because he wanted to ape the aristocracy in everything he did) despised at least as much as he despised the settlement of Asians in Wolverhampton.

I'm not sure whether I should admit this, but I've been known to sing "Fuck you Enoch Pow-e-lll..." over the hook from "The Liquidator" and "we play The Liquidator in Enoch Powell's constituency" over the last line of the verse in the Equals' "Viva Bobby Joe" (a reference to Wolves' old habit of running out to that tune, now tragically abandoned in favour of bloody bastard "Hi-Ho Silver Lining").
Another epilogue to the offshore radio thing; in 2002 a political party with a strongly New Right agenda emerged calling itself the MP3 Party, because it wanted to use a name which would resonate with its "target audience" of young people. Some were surprised, equating cultural modernism with more compassionate, progressive politics, but if they'd known the political history of the offshore radio movement and the implications thereof they'd have known that the movement in the late 60s most obviously comparable to the file-sharing movement today effectively kickstarted the New Right with their electoral choices 34 years ago (Heath's 1970 manifesto being much more proto-Thatcherite than his government became after 1972, which apparently seemed like "socialism" and "appeasement of the IRA" to the vile, reprehensible anti-democratic forces of the British military and secret services).
Come to think of it, Simon's claims in '99 that US music generally seemed dull and predictable (perhaps: *devoid of cultural energy*) in the Clinton boom, as cited in the aforementioned ILM post, *could* be interpreted as the wishes of the immature leftie, concerned more about "fighting the establishment" from their own perspective than about the general health, maturity and liberalism of US society as a whole, which has taken such a dramatic step back since then ... although I'm sure that had he been able to see what would happen under the Bush administration, he'd have taken a perpetual '99 as a lesser evil. I mean, it may have seemed rather boring to live amid so much common ground between the US govt and the (still relatively rap-free - lots of Sixpence None The Richer, Ricky Martin, pre-raunch Aguilera, pre-rap Lopez, that kind of stuff) US Top 10, but any rational person would take boredom over the current extreme tension any day. Just because the Manics threw "kulturkampf" around when they were on fire, that doesn't make the world seem any more sane and rational when you're actually living through one - quite the opposite, in fact.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Increasing cynical anti-leftist drift of ILM confirmed with whoever it was (Michael Dieter, wasn't it?) dissing Simon R as a "disenchanted leftie" or similar for his affinity to black Americans and disdain for the lack of "cultural energy" (that great intangible) in present-day dance music. Personally I *love* Simon when he gets into ridiculous over-analogising mode because it reminds me of exactly how and why I do this, why I risk ridicule sometimes ... The War On The English Disease Of Cultural Compartmentalism, always, always worth fighting. Damn, if I hadn't read SR's 1987 piece on Public Enemy (Klaus Thewelweit!) when I was 15, I'd probably be precisely the type of compartmentalist David Stubbs so accurately and depressingly describes ...

A thought: would hip-hop have *quite* the cultural energy it does right now if Gore was president? Will the feeling change at all if Kerry wins, or will it just be another flavour of much the same thing? And my big theory of US politics' interrelationship with hip-hop right now; would the aggressively apolitical ethos of gangsta rap have taken over so definitively if Bush Sr had won in '92? Would "Muse-Sick-N-Hour-Mess-Age" have been ridiculed under the Republicans the way it was under Clinton?
blimey Dilated Peoples on Westwood (who, after the madness of last Saturday when I genuinely thought he was about to have his Peter Finch in Network moment, is back to relative rationality tonight) are rhyming over "Eleanor Rigby", which millions surely heard for the first time coming from the North Sea laissez-fairists ... piquant to see the ultimate icon of the Wienerised new middle classes paying (doubtless unintentional) tribute to the movement that started it all off ...
Welcome welcome welcome David Stubbs to the blogosphere; his first posting is possibly the best analysis I've ever read of cultural compartmentalism as, perhaps, the ultimate English disease (a view I've long held especially, yes, when reading Private Eye). I knew you'd come through like this, David. Stick around.

Addendum to the below offshore radio epic ...

- Offshore radio renegades as key forces distancing the Right from its fixation with old money pursuits like, mmmm, foxhunting: Tony Blackburn ranted against bloodsports during his shows so passionately that one of his contracts in later years specifically banned him from "expressing his personal views on foxhunting", and ex-Caroline DJ Roger Gale, the only pirate to actually become a Tory MP (Thanet North since 1983) is one of the few Tory MPs to have continually voted against foxhunting (oh, if only, if only the government had the guts ...)

Thursday, March 18, 2004

"Waldorf Salad" on UKTV Gold as it now calls itself (horribly cumbersome though that name is, I'm actually rather pleased that it isn't besmirching the exact, specific name of a once-great archive channel anymore). The Guinness Book of Classic British TV calls it "arguably the worst episode" of Fawlty Towers, and I've certainly always thought it's the most psychologically dated of the twelve; the humour relies very strongly on the idea that there are vast, vast differences between the psyche of the British and American people, that Americans are brash and upfront whereas British people are meek and subservient, ideas which in the light of the psychological changes in the British people, their tastes, influences, attitudes, public behaviour, seem distant enough that this episode of the series is arguably closer to the distance-from-now of, say, "To The Manor Born" than the much-vaunted "timelessness" of FT (ha!). And tonight this became more obvious than ever; a key part of the joke is Basil scarcely recognising and certainly not being able to copy the (then) American use of "ass" ("I'm going to break your bottom", etc), with his two shouts of "arse" being the closest he gets to it, and maybe the closest he gets in this episode to a full-scale *release* of his tensions, loathings and fears. Earlier this evening, I'd heard a teenage girl out in the street very clearly and publicly repeating the now thoroughly adopted-into-British-English use of "ass", making it *exactly* clear what she was thinking about ...

(thought: how much more ridiculous does this make Tim Westwood's "grown-arse", and indeed the whole idea of somehow "translating" Joe Budden's words into British English, seem? The man has clearly gone mad, and I suspect is only a few weeks away from a definitive collapse and abandonment of his current career, after which he will tell *everything*.)

(in response to Marcello's point - a while back, I know - re. Kenny Everett's Toryism)

- The main thing that distinguished Thatcherism from earlier Conservatism was its clever, cheeky invention of means of separating the young middle classes from their parents' institutions and aligning them instead with American capitalists and their lackeys. This is also a spot-on description of the offshore radio process (a list of those who bankrolled the 64-67 stations will reveal many US hawks - those who founded Radio London came from *Texas*, say no more - amid an intriguing selection of affluent Brits with links to what might be called "the Home Service culture", notably Jocelyn Stevens, who edited the public-school-set-at-play magazine Queen while donating considerable funds to Radio Caroline.

- Most Tory support for offshore radio was to be found in the Commons (in fact, one openly pro-pirate MP was Ian Gilmour, who in 1965 seemed rather radically Americophile-by-implication to some of the old guard, but who would only 16 years later be the first minister to be sacked from the Thatcher cabinet for being too "wet"!). Tory Lords - at that time mostly still hereditaries - thought the Marine Offences Act was reasonably sound as "socialist" legislations went, because it provided a means of restricting brash, vulgar American cultural influence on the UK, and their tacit support for some of the act's implications were a key reason why Labour could rush it through Parliament so quickly (this kind of "statist alliance" of Americoscepticism between Old Labour and Old Tory is of course a generally accepted concept *now*, but 37 years ago the Cold War so totally dominated international politics, and fixed social class allegiances so totally dominated domestic politics, as to make the idea that such people could ever agree thoroughly unthinkable to most).

- Swinging Radio England (remember that jingle Martin Kelner used to play on Radio 2 which went "let's look into the future time, pick the song that's gonna climb, listen to the sound of tomorrow!"? that was one of theirs) broadcast from a ship called the MV Laissez Faire. Now how political is *that*!?

- Johnnie Walker started on Radio England. He now lives in a village in the heart of foxhunting Dorset (which of course is not the part I live in). Is there a better symbol of the Old Right's heartlands being gradually invaded by their supposed allies?

- would Kenny Everett have been so aggressively pro-Tory and anti-Labour in the summer of 1974 ("beautiful people" indeed!) had he known that a group of military and MI5 types who'd have doubtless seen him as "vulgar" were plotting to remove Labour by a coup d'etat? He might have approved of the secret services' attempt to humiliate Edward Short - who, contrary to popular myth, was Postmaster-General at the time of the Marine Offences Act; Tony Benn had held the post before that - by circulating a bogus bank account in Short's name suggesting (completely without foundation) that he had corrupt earnings, but I think the sight of their "who is this dirty little freak?" expressions when they saw him would have made Everett somewhat unsure had he ever encountered General Sir Walter Walker et al.

- Kenny Everett was sacked from Radio 1 in 1970 for making a joke about alleged Tory nepotism, suggesting that the wife of John Peyton (Heath's transport minister), had only passed her driving test because she'd slipped the instructor a fiver. The man who sacked him was a self-described Tory, Sir Ian Trethowan, managing director of BBC network radio and later Director-General, the first of three DGs thus far to have worked in ITV and the only one of those never to have been Director of Programmes for LWT - he co-presented ITN's election coverage in 1959, and the Macmillan govt returned with a landslide that night broadly reflected his personal politics (he was a personal friend of Heath - I'd be interested to see how much pressure was put on Trethowan and other BBC execs of the time by the security forces who wanted to remove Heath because he had "capitulated" to the unions and the IRA - the BBC could never, certainly not post-Hutton, fully detail these events on air but it did do a good basic primer in the 1995 documentary "The Living Dead: Churchill, Neave and Thatcher"; clips of Maggie pruning her roses mixed in with Deborah Kerr in "The Innocents", *now* we're talking ...) But back to Everett and Trethowan: the basic linear political assumptions of 1970 would have assumed that anyone who could make such a "tasteless" remark about a Tory wife which would prove so offensive to a Tory exec would have *had* to be Labour, surely? Of course now it's a given that you'll have young bucks with basically Right leanings, even if they may now follow NuLab, being as "tasteless" as they like; Everett is perhaps the single greatest example of how the pirate generation redrew the political/cultural map and set the tone for the New Right.

- Roger Daltrey on Pete Townshend, talking to the NME in June 1965: "He's very political, a right Bob Dylan." I'd love to know where Townshend was leaning at the time; I should imagine he cheered when Alec Douglas-Home was removed and probably had high hopes for Heath, the grammar school thing and all ... certainly they had a strong sympathy for the offshore stations, paying tribute with the ads-between-songs on "The Who Sell Out" (an album which would probably have done better had it not been released in the Radio 1 Blandout period, otherwise known as the Lord Hill getting censorious at the BBC, Tory by-election gains, Jenkins no longer Home Secretary phase of late '67 / early '68, the sour realisation that "we" weren't necessarily winning, and with Rivers of Blood round the corner as well). Undoubtedly Townshend was an aggressive populist - in '65 he told Melody Maker that his favourite kind of music was "anything currently recognised as being liked", which could have meant anything from Ken Dodd to Bob Dylan, "A Walk In The Black Forest" to "Stop! In The Name Of Love" - and at the time this would have been a threat to both socialist ideas of the "education" and "enlightenment" of the working class away from popular culture *and* Tory-elite cultural snobbism (ha, thinking today about how the whole FT / ILM aesthetic of intellectual popism is so strongly pro-'65 and anti-'68/'69, so pro-classless-utopian and anti-revolutionary-aims-and-tribal-wars, so definitively Ready, Steady Go with a degree rather than the counterculture with anything, and guess what comes on the radio? the very song that defined how '95 was so viciously anti-'65, despite simplistic impressions otherwise - Pulp's "Common People" ...)

- Spin. Labour in '67 knew that most of the electorate hated puritan socialism - it had been chastened by the humiliation of '59, after all - and would only vote for them if the socialist message was hidden behind bright pop-culture-youthful technophilia, cf the successes of '64 and '66. So it had to invent any number of means of hiding the true puritan socialist motivations behind their banning of offshore radio and their refusal to licence legal commercial radio to replace it, hence all the stuff about interference with emergency services, there not being enough "safe" frequencies available, which many radio experts knew was bullshit at the time, and said so. The spin involved in hiding the puritan socialist aims behind Labour policy - of reducing the impact of American culture and American-style commercialism on the UK, by any means available - was worthy of Alistair Campbell, and for the Campaign for Free Radio it was absolutely obvious; the youth who unwittingly founded Thatcherism nine years early knew *exactly* what Labour were really thinking.

- The politics of the NME 30 years after the pirate radio wars had made a 180-degree turn; in 1996, John Mulvey ended a vociferous socialist riposte to a reader who had written in defending Blair with the defiant statement "Arthur Scargill, we are yours for the taking", and in 1998, they devoted practically an entire issue to castigating Blair for not being socialist enough - here, the headline "ROCK'N'ROLL TAKES ON THE GOVERNMENT" meant that it took it on for not being socialist enough, whereas in '68 a similar headline in the NME (though it wouldn't have said "ROCK'N'ROLL"; that was seen as hopelessly square then and indeed many youth resented the '68 rock'n'roll revival as a symbol of a blanded-out pop scene post-pirate ban) would have meant that it was being too socialist. There's a case to be made for saying that the moment when pop music - originally seen almost in its entirety as an "American import" - definitively blended into British society, became part of the landscape, was when liking it and feeling an affinity to it ceased to go with feeling an affinity to the dominant anti-state, anti-socialist political, economic and social theories of the USA. This probably happened quite soon after 1967, at least in some fields of the rapidly polarising pop world, but look through any music paper from around the time of the Marine Offences Act and you can tell that, at that time, it had yet to take root. The main political aftereffect of the embrace of pop music by the British institutions is that it has stripped pop of its implicit "American-ness", and led to criticisms of all things American from people *totally immersed in pop music* to an extent unthinkable in the mid-60s - the Beatles' loathing of protest songs at that time, and their specific hatred of Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction", shows how in hock they were to a dream of The Land Of The Free; in 1965, the sort of vociferous criticism of US internal and foreign policy, and the general ethos of the country, that you now get from within pop music, only really came from people of the Ewan MacColl tendency. Anti-Americanism from followers of pop music first became apparent with the "radical" wing of the polarised landscape which rapidly emerged after the consensus-shattering events of August '67, and naturally that wing was the first to really hold the term "pop" itself in contempt (hmmm ... I think I'm getting to the bottom of why so many on ILM, certainly all those who hold the stereotypical / cliquish opinion of that forum, are so sniffy about those who really do criticise the Bush administration and all it stands for ... I mean, the sort of people who defended Tommy James and the Shondells in '68 probably weren't, generally, the most vociferous opposers of US policy in Vietnam ...)

- The real rural-conservative public schools - Sherborne, Sedbergh, Oundle et al - seemingly didn't produce anyone of significance in 60s pop culture and probably couldn't have done. Significantly, public-school-educated pop-cultural figures of that time tended to come from conservative public schools which crucially happened to be in cities (Westminster School gave us Peter and Gordon), or the less conservative rural boarding schools; Tony Blackburn went to Millfield while Bryanston gave us Ian Whitcomb, who never did anything in the UK but had a US Top 10 hit in '65, and Simon Napier-Bell, who went on to be the archetypal frustrated-homosexual public-school-educated pop manager (notably of Wham!). Neither of these schools were Dartington Hall, but they certainly weren't Sherborne either.

- There's a website called Sterling Times, which hides vociferous New Right, pro-Bush/Sharon/Iraq war, anti-EU propaganda behind a facade of 50s and 60s pop-cultural nostalgia - think an older demographic's TV Cream, or what Cream would have looked like 20 years ago. The man behind it is also involved with the hardline neocon Free Britannia (sic) forum, which just before the start of the Iraq war a year ago was called "treacherous" by the Americosceptic Conservative Democratic Alliance (cf this blog, passim). Appropriately for a website so defiantly of the 51st State wing of the British Right, Sterling Times contains reams of text about the history of pirate radio, which is deeply, passionately supportive of the offshore stations and vociferously critical of the "statist / socialist oppression" of it by the British state / establishment. Incredibly, despite the fact that offshore radio's single biggest impact on British music and popular culture was probably opening Brit ears to Motown/Atlantic/Stax, and that latterday pirate radio reflects a culture which is racially mixed but still dominated by black influence (when you mention this fact, Tory supporters of the offshore stations significantly always go very, very quiet), Sterling Times also praise a different kind of pirate station - Radio Enoch, which broadcast ultra-right-wing propaganda in the West Midlands during the 1979 election campaign. Now if you needed a definitive example of the curious political and cultural crossover that some supporters of the "free enterprise" of the offshore stations can find themselves in if they're not careful ....!!!!!!!!
one of the last things I read on benighted ILM was Gareth's point about Jamaica's declining musical influence on Britain (oddly just as it's becoming a bigger influence on US hip-hop than it's ever been); surely that is simply a matter of the passing of time and the emergence of at least one generation of Black British people for whom their Jamaican ancestry is merely a detail of history, no longer something that particularly shapes their tastes and interests. it reminds me of what I've often written here about the sociology of speech; when you look back even to the emergence of jungle ten years ago, and certainly to all the equivalent street movements before it, the dominant accent was much more infected with Jamaican patois, much more a law unto itself existing in a parallel universe from the white London accents alongside it (when jungle first emerged, those varied from the Wienerised middle classes affecting a caricature of old cockney speech - '94 of course being the year of Blur's "Parklife" - to a modern-proletarian evolution of that accent, as spoken by East 17, which crucially still remained pretty unequivocally white). when I hear grime MCs, the main thing that hits home is now *non-racially-specific* their voices tend to be, compared to their equivalents of a decade and more ago; if you had Channel U on but never actually looked at the screen, you could easily believe that a lot of the black Brit MCs they play were white (and, sometimes, vice versa) in a way you could never have done until very recently.

now that is a big sea-change; of course it's what naturally happens when the descendants of fairly-recent immigrants integrate into a society, and influence those who are already there while those who are already there are influencing them, resulting in a new centre-ground (a natural process in free societies, not at all specific to Britain). the main result of the disconnection of much of the new generation of Black British youth from the Jamaican connection which meant so much to their parents is that they're stuck in the same vicious love-hate relationship with the US as the rest of us, and this is now where a lot of the socio-cultural tension in their music derives from. which in a sense brings them closer to Manic Street Preachers than any black artists could have been when MSP first emerged ...

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Another measure of how long I've been around now; I may not recall the miners' strike (other than going to the Christingle service when I was four and my mum donating toys for the striking miners' families while "Do They Know It's Christmas?" was playing, which is possibly my earliest memory of any pop record), but I do remember when the generation of bands coming through were - quite often - directly inspired by the events of those times. I vividly remember "You Love Us" on TOTP when I was 11, and Manic Street Preachers went on to be, above all others, the band of my adolescence; their experiences as teenagers in South Wales during the strike totally defined everything they were, the Last Blatchfordians ("Elvis Impersonator ... Blackpool Pier"!!!), the last generation with a consciousness of the collective enlightenment and empowerment of the working classes which came with so many mining communities and which the so-called "meritocrats" of the New Right aimed to destroy because the working-class empowerment they expressed wasn't totally single-minded and selfish ("libraries gave us power ..."), a band who could understand better than anyone else why student tuition fees are such a social evil, possibly the Last Rock Band, certainly the last to mean as much as Public Enemy or Tupac, and a band who suddenly - a combination I think of the post-Hutton anger and the 20th anniversary of the event which made them what they were - mean something to me all over again.

In those early records you can hear the Manics desperately trying to work themselves out, to reconcile their innate revulsion at US foreign policy and capitalism's disdain for community values with their perverse, *almost* self-loathing attraction to the heavy rock which became a natural soundtrack to the druggy nihilism of the deindustrialised Valleys, the trash-glamour of Guns'n'Roses' "Appetite For Destruction" fitting naturally into areas which seemed to have been confined to precisely that fate, with the puritan socialist echoes of 84/85 crushed overnight (I mean, they even supported Bon fucking Jovi at Milton fucking Keynes Bowl!!!), its innate abilities to push through its values through sheer aggressive bludgeoning and their dreams of somehow twisting it round by using those bludgeoning. And it's this tension - this unresolved attempt to work out the conflict between the socialist principles they'd defended right to the final minute of injury time in the endgame and the cultural wasteland that they'd been thrown into after the spring of '85, and which had meant something to them DESPITE ITSELF - which made the Manics, at their best, so thrilling. Everything seemed to be *right* in some way - even the aspects of Nicky Wire's persona - a sort of Little Welshman in his cultural tastes and holiday preferences - which clashed with my own Clinton-boom liberal-internationalism at the time fit perfectly with the aspect of Old Labour which was, in its way, more literal-conservative than Thatcherism; its contrast with the pure liberal-internationalism of practically everyone else in pop music said everything that needed to be said about the Manics' grounding in a set of values which their rivals for the Number One spot in the mid-late Nineties had never even heard of. As recently as January 2000 they had a number one.

And what has South Wales given us now? Fucking Lostprophets, a band whose singer has probably the worst mid-Atlantic accent since Sheena Easton hooked up with Prince those twenty years back, who record in LA and whose sole aim in life seems to be to worm their way right to the heart of US Modern Rock radio, in which Billboard specialist charts suggest they have indeed succeeded. I'd ignore them were it not for the fact that their engagement with US rock music is so totally the opposite of the Manics' dialectic with it - where MSP were utterly ambivalent, asking questions of themselves and us, doubting audibly whether they admired Guns'n'Roses even as they stole their riffs and song structures like hell, Lostprophets are totally one-dimensional, lifting the mannerisms of their source utterly without any detachment, any irony, any sense whatsoever that they know anything else culturally at all. They talk about their mums going to see Black Sabbath and for them that's probably ancient history, the closest thing they have to a cultural cornerstone, having grown up in a place whose heart was ripped out so deliberately. That's what happens when you strip away all the cultural tendencies in this country which were resistant to full-on Americanism; it makes British bands' relationship with American music a fuck of a lot less interesting, all the uncertainties and ambivalences which created thirty years of masterpieces climaxing with MSP, ripped out in favour of straight, dumb, soul-destroying celebration.

Maybe this would always have happened in rock music as it got older and more and more tired, and UK hip-hop continues to fascinate me, but still Lostprophets stand outside their mean genre as some kind of total cultural nadir, just The Worst Thing Ever. No doubt they were toddlers when Scargill and Thatcher fought for the future direction of their country; they are the full-scale aftermath of the New Right's aim during the miners' strike, to destroy any possible source of collective resistance to their agenda and turn those who might have followed other worldviews into subservient little satellites of her Great Ally and Great Global Peacekeeper.

A thought; is Joss Stone to Thatcher's battles with her Enemy Within - the Henry Williamson tendency, if you like - what Lostprophets are to her battles with her Enemy Without, the ultimate proof of the New Right's defeat of the Americosceptic memes in Britain? Certainly I realised how much things have changed last week when I thought it worth mentioning to myself that the highest-placed British artist in the singles chart, Jamelia, came from a city on the West Coast Main Line; in the 1960s, before the full-scale war on Americoscepticism set in, that was the case practically every week because the West Coast Main Line cities were the only places where people generally were uninfluenced enough by earlier cultural traditions to really make full-on pop music which worked as such. For all the good music that has come out of places off the beaten track (I haven't heard "The Soul Sessions" yet, but "Fell In Love With A Boy" promises the earth, such a magisterial, self-confident sashay through the song), I only have to look at Lostprophets and wish it was still like that. I only have to look at Lostprophets and wish the miners had won. I only have to look at Lostprophets and feel glad that at least I saw the last generation of bands who had experienced the miners' strike coming through. I only have to look at Lostprophets, these slut heroes, and feel terribly, terribly afraid for the future; is *this* the endpoint of what the New Right and their acolytes have left us with, when the pressure of the GM lobby is echoed by mindless, grinning "bring on the robot food" chants from those who should be fearful of it with their lives?

Monday, March 08, 2004

That "End of the Wu-Tang?" thread on ILM (yes, I still read it, a bit) really gets to me; makes me realise more than ever that the era I came from, the era that formed me in popcult terms, is over, that there's a generation now who knows nothing of the stuff I was obsessed with (realising that some kids now think Wu-Tang were as commercially marginal as Aesop-Rock is at the moment, I thought back to the NuLab summer and the thrill of hearing a baffled Mark Goodier announce that "Wu-Tang Forever" was UK #1 and suddenly I almost felt forty).

There is a deep poignancy about the Wu story; the sense that their collective peak (Forever) was simultaneously the beginning of the end, that the moment they went mainstream, the rules of the mainstream changed again and before too long we were on the way to safe black-on-black tribal war 'twixt bling and out-of-tune rhymes about your cat, and they seemed to go overnight from holding a clear, central cultural position to having nowhere left to go as the tribalness of the new generation got ever stronger ... a clique from the era when rap simply never topped the Billboard pop charts thrust, in one of pop's great brilliant accidents, into an era when it regularly did ... dreams of the relative enlightenment of the 90s continuing forever into a world where there'd still have been a place for them ... but, yes, probably the cultural fading would have happened anyway, Bush or no Bush (and their immediate response to 9/11 on "Iron Flag" was hardly quasi-Islamist in the vein of some of the inserts on "Forever", the like of which would probably be intercepted by the Department of Fatherland Security if it looked like hitting #1 these days ... wonder what those involved think of their "Mr Bush" reference on "Iron Flag" right now?)

It would be an act of artistic cruelty, though, to write off all those involved forever; as someone once said, half-right and half-wrong, about Mark E. Smith, the Wu have done some of their finest work *raging against their own irrelevance*. The consensus from the ILM thread seemed to be that Ghostface Killah had come out best from the fallout; a track like "Beatles" shows what he's still capable of, staring at right angles through the still-chilling fatalism of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", disembowelled and crushed, with Ghostface cutting through its heart with such rawness that, although you could never fool anyone that it was his first song - he sounds like he's been through far too much for anyone to believe that - he certainly doesn't sound like a museum piece or a mere old-school comeback kid (another great sign of when I stopped being part of the youth; when kids started calling Wu-Tang "old school" like I did with Rakim and Big Daddy Kane). As for a certain other White Album cut-up, the main reason why the Grey Album works for me is that the battle-after-the-euphoria-before atmosphere of 1968, which runs through the original White Album like a rash, even a sickness, fits perfectly with the feel of the moment and of a Jay-Z who has had all his old quasi-fascist bullishness stripped away; mixing the Black Album or anything else from '03/'04 with any record at all from 1966 would just seem false, vainglorious, unnatural, however much you might wish it wasn't that way (the poignant boom-time equivalent would be a mix of "Revolver" and "Life and Times of Sean Carter").

But as far as the post-peak Wu-Tang goes, RZA's collaboration with Xavier Naidoo, "Ich kenne nichts ..." ("I've Never Seen ..."), was old soul reborn that should make all our own pretenders blush. If it wasn't for the cowardly 51st State mentality of our music industry which insists that only novelties and dance records can ever come out of mainland Europe, it could have been almost as big here last year as the original was in Germany. Something else which can, however indirectly and coincidentally, be put down to Blair's cowardice.
I guess if anything really frustrates and angers me about the way the world is right now, as opposed to the way it seemed to be heading - to many of us, at least - in the mid-late 90s, it's the sheer *unenlightenment* of it all, from all sides.

I define myself now as pretty much stateless, I suppose because the British state so clearly doesn't want me so I don't want it back, and that's why I'm leaning more and more towards the pinched, permanent-underclass voices of Channel U, desperately jumping for their only chance - more and more, despite coming from a much more conventionally advantaged side of the tracks, I feel that same sense of alienation, that same sense that those who are supposed to speak for me have abandoned me. Since the Hutton report I've considered a possibility I never even dreamed of previously; the idea that I might actually feel so alienated by UK elections that I would not do my civic and democratic duty at the ballot box. I suspect that the bulk of South West voters for the now pretty much self-destructed UKIP in the - generally - more enlightened days of 1999 (this UKIP swing, along with skim-reading of Peter Hitchens, inspired William Hague's infamous "Real People" phase) will go back to the Tories in the coming Euro-elections, but the risk of a BNP insurgence makes a vote, to a certain extent, a moral responsibility. '99 was my fabled (at any rate, Passantino-mythologised) Green Party vote; this time it'll be either them or the Lib Dems, who certainly share my views on European integration more than the GP do. Having been thoroughly betrayed by the way all the good done to integrate this country into a civilised, peaceful Europe has been undone, pissed all over and very nearly totally fucking destroyed by the neocon allies in government, I may well have a tear in my eye when I cast the vote, but I suspect it will be more a grim, resigned expression (tears are for mere indulgent childish sadness, expressions are for ANGER).
Just how young is Ashman, who's rhyming on "How It Is" on Channel U (for those who don't know it's Channel 467 on Sky Digital, and is the closest thing we have to a British public-access channel for what is euphemistically called "urban music") at the moment? I'm equally frightened and awestruck at one so young firing words like that; it does make you realise just how much of an edge this country is on at the moment, and it makes me think more and more that I may have made some serious mistakes - though I cannot yet say with any assurances precisely what they were and *how* serious they were - last December.

Also great on Channel U right now is DL Incognito's "Spit Forever 2", which is lifted from the straightforward Brit-undie scratch-sound by glorious shafts of European light - either it actually is ABBA's "Knowing Me Knowing You", stretched out and reanimated, or it's something very much like it. It has no chance of ever making it even to "Raw" or "Fresh" or whatever the tokenistic not-entirely-Westwood/Nelson-centric spots on MTV Base are called, but it works in its own self-reliant world; I'm still not sure whether real exposure to the world beyond that would be a good or bad thing for Britrap (a term I prefer to "Brithop"; somehow any variant on "hip-hop" with the first syllable switched around seems terribly cheesy to me, frightfully 80s).
What was it with Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling In Love" blasting out of the Sunderland tannoy the moment they got to the FA Cup semi-finals on Sunday? The side of me which believes that David Kelly was murdered suspects it was a 20-years-on-from-the-miners'-strike rub-their-noses-in moment, like "we defeated you stick-in-the-mud puritan socialists forever, we humiliated those of you who resisted Elvis and all he stood for, we ensured that he became the foundation stone of your culture and it's 20 years since we did it AND WE'RE NEVER GOING TO LET YOU FORGET IT". The side of me which believes that David Kelly took his own life suspects it just shows the cultural unconsciousness of those who decide which music is played when in such circumstances; they probably don't know that there was even such a thing as the miners' strike and they just think Elvis is a cultural foundation stone of Sunderland, just as he is everywhere else in this country, and therefore it's a natural thing to do, the sort of thing it's rather funny to even imagine anyone actually thinking about or thinking was meaningful at all. But the very fact that they so clearly see nothing wrong with the idea of Elvis Presley being about as far as the culture of the people of north-east England goes back, and the foundation stone of most of the culture of those people as it stands today, is itself a sign of the scale and importance of Scargill's defeat.

The video to the Bluebells' "Young At Heart", which already looked like a museum piece when it was shown endlessly on TOTP in 1993 when, in lieu of anything else that people could even come close to agreeing on, the nine-year-old song somehow made it to number one for four weeks ("the only song in this week's Top 10 that isn't a club record!", late-period Bruno Brookes helpfully informed us). Still worth saving, though, if only for the sighting of the really shitty Melody Maker cover design that the Monitor clique happily consigned to grimmest history.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Oh, and up by my old school last week there were the torn pages of some kid's French dictionary straggling on the ground, meshed by the rain, waiting for a gale to blow them the other side of the world, destroyed through sheer disinterest. An apt postscript to my tale of Lubitsch and Jam & Spoon, I think.

Wiley: "I remember / things were the other way round / But the world got colder / and it changed round / I go to every manor / and it's all changed round ..."

He's got the sceptre of pre-emptive war and Homeland Security - as concepts, as mentalities, as a collective ethos - on his mind, I'm sure.

Maybe I haven't heard his best stuff, mere grime dilletante that I be, but there's something unbelievably *important* about "Wot Do U Call It", something in its very shifts and shuttles, the way it barges its way in, which make it - unequivocally - *bigger*, with a far greater wave of social and cultural energy attached to it, than almost anything else that's likely to be a major-label single this year (I mean "I've got brains / I could never be a student"!!!!! - *there's a war on*). Maybe you were right all along, Dave S. Just the way Wiley jumps in, the way he makes the rest of Channel U seem *irrelevant* (the Britrap merely our equivalent of undie, the US stuff either shit or good-but-out-of-its-depth-should-stick-to-the-gloss-of-MTV-Base kinda thing), the way he instantly seems IMPORTANT just from the timbre of his wordplay. And you start wondering; could anyone from any other sort of background seem this *total*?

Pick me up or cheer me on - depending on which type of ILMer / pop-thinker you are - if you thinking I'm turning into a popcrit sub-Marxist ...


the embrace of the populist by the highly educated, the celebration of American culture by those educated in the European academic / intellectual tradition, and the occasional dismissal of the passionately politically committed ... a sort of aesthetic anti-socialism which *can*, if left unchecked, become unconsciously right-wing:

"Time Out's coverage of the cinema has always been more sceptical and/or open-minded, rooted in an early polemic attitude whereby 'exploitation movie' became a term of approval with which to belabour the 'art house movie'. Maturing with the magazine, this preference for the rough over the smooth in movie-making evolved into a broad-based appreciation of the fact that serious cinema and serious artistic intentions do not *necessarily* go hand in hand. 'Exploitation' may mean sleazoid rubbish, but it can also harbour raw-edged, radical insight and creative excitement; just as 'art house' may mean a masterpiece, but can also cover a multitude of coffee-table pretensions. Either way, B movies like Edgar Ulmer's 'Ruthless' or Jack Arnold's 'The Incredible Shrinking Man', poverty row's equivalents to Orson Welles' 'Citizen Kane' and Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey', can hold their heads high in any confrontation even if, coming from the wrong side of the tracks, they didn't enjoy the same initial advantage. This should of course be a truism; but too many film critics and reviewers still cling, alas, to the view that B movies, horror movies, biker movies, sci-fi movies and their like are not quite Art." (Tom Milne, foreword to the Time Out Film Guide, 1989)

and from Elizabeth Sussex's 1969 book on Lindsay Anderson ...

LA (ha!): "... This is the Hollywood system, and the most extraordinary thing is that a handful of great films has actually emerged from it."

ES: "This might go without saying, except that it is hardly ever said - even by people genuinely searching for an explanation for the unsatisfactory state of the British cinema ... the fact that 'If ...' couldn't find a British backer, and was financed by an American company. Great films have always been more likely to emerge, against all commercial odds, from the American cinema than the British one. The reasons that Anderson gave for this in 'Sequence' are things he has been fighting ever since: The influence of Class ..."

LA: "It is not a middle-class trait to be examine oneself with the strictest objectivity, or to be able to represent higher or lower levels of society with sympathy and respect - limitations which account for the ultimate failure of even so exceptional an attempt as 'Brief Encounter'."

LA: "From the beginning, 'Sequence' (the magazine set up by Anderson with a clique of fellow Oxford graduates, in much the same way as 'Monitor' was set up by Reynolds/Carlin/Stubbs in the mid-80s - RC) was rather in reaction against what we felt to be an inflated estimation of British films, which took place in a patriotic way at the end of the war when there was a lot of film-makinga activity among people like Michael Powell and David Lean at Pinewood. From the first, we drew attention to the ***lively and dynamic film-making in America*** (my asterixes - RC) as well as concentrating on, and discovering for ourselves, continental film-makers and film-makers of the past."

ES: "The editors (of 'Sequence') wrote most of the copy, using pseudonyms like Alberta Marlow (the character played by Mary Astor in 'The Maltese Falcon') and Adam Helmer (from 'Drums Along The Mohawk) ..."

LA: "The so-called 'Documentary approach' has no doubt its very considerable virtues. It makes for realism, for authenticity of atmosphere, for sincere if unpolished acting. But to the extent that it inhibits the artist (in this case the director) from imposing his ideas on his raw material, from exercising his right to shape and to exclude, it is not conducive to the making of masterpieces .... During the thirties, young people who were seriously interested in the cinema tended to go into documentaries, and since documentary-makers believed in the importance of their job and were on the whole given a great deal of freedom, the results were very good. But today things are not the same. Fewer of us are any longer able to summon up that ardent, proselytizing enthusiasm for social-democracy which was the inspiration of the documentary movement."

ES: "(Anderson) then quoted Grierson writing to the effect that the origins of the British documentary movement 'lay in sociological rather than aesthetic aims' and suggesting 'that the individual life is no longer capable of cross-sectioning reality ... that its particular bellyaches are of no consequence in a world which complex and impersonal forces command'."

LA: "Against this attitude, most (though not all) of us have reacted, and have come to realise more and more that the particular belly-aches of the individual life remain of the extremest importance, that they affect society as much as society influences them."


re. the Grierson quotes and Anderson's responding criticisms of the extremes of socialist anti-individualism, I think it was Edgar Anstey quoted in last week's Guardian Friday Review saying that the problem with Humphrey Jennings' "Listen To Britain" as he saw it was that it didn't inspire people to rise up and change things, or words to that effect ... Anstey had clearly mellowed by the time he executive-produced the gloriously Let Us Not Change Anything, Let Us Celebrate The English Consensus And Hope It Never Ends travelogues of British Transport Films - something like "Down To Sussex" is probably the least revolutionary films ever made, the precise spiritual opposite of the final minute of "The Loneliness Of The Long Distance-Runner", which is probably my favourite distillation of the feeling that There Is Something Rotten In The State Of This Country ... so crushing, so totally However Hard I Try I'll Be Stuck At The Bottom Forever ... so revealing of what happens in a culture of zero ambitions other than false ones - those Rediffusion ad break pastiches! those five pound notes running down the drain just at the wrong time, just as the police come ... the sarcasm with which the Public Information Film slogan "Take Death Off The Road" is repeated as they pass an old banger, the impossibility of taking seriously what Official Britain told them ...

It's wedged in my mind at the moment because I've just been reading Monica Dickens' "Cobbler's Dream", such a devastating indictment of the conformity and the culture of being ashamed of your own convictions if they were seen as "cranky" that dominated Britain in the early 60s - you can almost see the borstal breakouts, the razor gangs, the frustrated liberal-humanists ("There was no reason why Anna should be influenced by Jean, except she was tired and Jean never was, and she was uncertain and Jean never was, and during the four months they lived in Anna's old home together, Jean's energy and driving common sense had sapped what little resistance Anna had ever had against anybody with such an efficient grasp on life"), the towns of the industrial Midlands (Nuneaton, Coalville, Tamworth, Burton-on-Trent, Stafford, Mansfield, Sutton-in-Ashfield ...) and the battles 'twixt their proto-underclass and their rural hinterlands, the mainstream middle classes insufferable in their smugness and derision of those who expressed any emotion so vulgar as social concern (closer to the mindset of some of those in the Bush thread on ILM than it should be). And this is classic, encapsulating the response of the circus audience to the out-of-place-and-time liberal-humanist Anna Sheppard to the doping and tawdriness of the animal circus: "Several people turned to stare at her, and a man in the front row swung sharply round with the same kind of face he would have shown to anyone who vilified the Queen".

Some would say we've progressed no end, and maybe they're right, but the primitiveness of current US government policy - the crude, early stage of human evolution they seem to have regressed to - makes me think differently sometimes. Enlightenment must be led and encouraged from the top more than it is at the moment. 1962/63 might be closer than some of us might want to believe.
VH1 CLASSIC (slight return)

Isn't the Small Faces' promo film for "All Or Nothing" one of the most EVOCATIVE things ever? London before the great breakdown-of-consensus of which a key element was politically engineering a Tory BBC chairman whose appointment to the equivalent job in the ITA had been condemned by the Labour PM of the day four years earlier when he was opposition leader (and I really, really wish that didn't seem so timely); for the moment, the expressions of the middle-aged types bemused by what they were seeing were still mere fogeyism rather than full-on quasi-civil-war. And the breath freezing in the night, the sheer enjoyment of their audience (I must admit at this point that part of the reason why I don't think I'm blowing my cred writing this is that Neil Kulkarni likes that Small Faces song, and you didn't get more opposed to the sort of people who went on about them in the mid-90s).

The Stock Aitken Waterman version of "Do They Know It's Christmas" is probably the worst thing in cultural history, apart from P*t*r Andr* ... the performance video for Level 42's "Lessons In Love" just indulges their worst traits and makes them seem much worse than they actually were ... the "Penalty" sign at the end of the promo film for Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" sums up the late 70s perfectly ... Duran Duran's Greatest Hits is probably the arch example of meaningful meaningless, reacting to the very obvious Meaning of that "Penalty" sign by Meaning Nothing to such an extent that it actually became profoundly ideological. For people who think like me, that's the great thing about the Durannies talking to camera; nothing so fascinating as the sight of those who see themselves as totally antithetical to the idea of Ideology displaying their Ideology, and contempt for earlier social and cultural groups who opposed it, so proudly, so obviously, and WITHOUT EVEN REALISING IT (yes, ILM, I can hear what you're saying already, and of course there's only one post-1985 song in it, and that's nice, isn't it?)

Talking of unconscious Ideology, the thing I like best about Wham!'s video for "Young Guns (Go For It)" is that they're partying outdoors in exactly the same part of central London where one of the Brit-hop videos on Channel U (I don't know the territory as well as I once did, so I can't remember which track it is, but most of them are ace, especially the new Lewis Parker) was filmed. From suburban guys on the make to those who know no escape, it's been a long, fucked-up 22 years, and there'll be deeper voids and crises (already a clear political crisis is emerging; the reaction to Bush and Iraq has led to a return to Old Left and Old Right views among "natural Labour" and "natural Tory" supporters - for the latter, check the Daily Mail's extraordinary coverage of the GM issue - and neither main party is anymore psychologically capable of reflecting those positions ... if they were, I doubt we'd have people who aren't actually hardline neo-Nazis voting BNP for the anti-Americanism alone, because they WOULDN'T HAVE ANY EXCUSE TO FEEL THAT WAS THE ONLY WAY OUT).
Can it really be that there's still a song in the Top 10 - a great one, of course - which was released in the UK when Antonia Forest was still alive? Sometimes it feels like a fucking century since she died.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Peter fucking Andre, though. And Chris fucking Moyles. Fuck every one of you (including the grinning, complacent apologists on ILM). It's at times like this I'm glad I tore up my passport last year.
Simon R has it just about right on Ludacris; there's something I find inherently *unclean* about him - rightly or wrongly, my puritan streak comes through, and I just find it somehow *wrong*, although I know that he's incredibly good at what he does because sometimes, especially in less important times than these, I've found myself enjoying it, and I can fully appreciate it on a functional level, it's just getting less and less aesthetically acceptable to me. There are times when he justifies himself, though; the venom in his voice when spitting Bill O'Reilly's name on "Blow It Out" is more cartoonish than genuinely political, but I can tell the hatred is real, even if a little undeveloped, and above all else it humiliates 50 Cent, who's also on the track, and who sounds more bored and disinterested than ever in this context; coming from NYC, he doesn't NEED to care, he doesn't NEED to hate Bill O'Reilly, he doesn't feel the same determination to fight these people every waking moment which, for obvious historical reasons, is clearly there in even the most depoliticised southern rappers (it's that RAGE, despite impressions probably spiritually closer to Public Enemy than G-Unit, which I love about the texture of a hit like YoungBloodZ' "Damn", which I'm coming to rate more and more; it *smells* of contempt for all that I hate most about White America). And Banner / Pastor Troy / Bone Crusher's "Fuck Them Niggas" is, of course, worthy of entire essays about its internal conflicts and psychosis, which make it possibly the most psychologically intriguing song released by anyone last year.

But as for Ludacris, I think I can stand him best in small, trivial doses; I love the way he pronounces Usher's name on "Yeah!", especially because it makes me wish more than ever that the people in the UK with the equivalent accent could use it as a badge of pride in a pop-cultural context, rather than feeling that they have to adopt this horrible mid-Southern / Estuary hybrid just because they're immersed in pop culture, the horrible compartmentalist bullshit you get that certain accents and certain tastes "don't mix" (God how I wish I had a Uzi to use on anyone, anyone who ever says that things "don't mix"). But I still feel somewhat *irresponsible* enjoying "Yeah!", and I don't think that mood's going to change for some time.

DEPECHE MODE - Enjoy The Silence
CHANGING FACES - G.H.E.T.T.O.U.T. (whatever happened to this lot, incidentally, and why can't I download "I Got Somebody Else" anywhere? tying with Sparkle and R Kelly's "Be Careful", which is probably Kelly's best moment, for my favourite slow jam of the mid-late 90s)
KANYE WEST - We Don't Care
PUBLIC ENEMY - Welcome To The Terrordome
WALKER BROTHERS - The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore
AL GREEN - How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?

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