Friday, 29 January 2010

1980 in twelve steps

[Avoiding the obvious ones; e.g. 'The Winner Takes it All' and 'Love Will Tear Us Apart']

ORANGE JUICE, 'Simply Thrilled Honey'

A courtly, thoughtful postcard of a love song. There is kinship with the Monochrome Set and Dexy's Midnight Runners, as well as oft-mentioned other Scots. Devotion to devotion: 'worldliness must keep apart from me'.

JOHN FOXX, 'Underpass'

'World War Something'. Ballardian pop; from Metamatic, full of pristine shivers. Nile and 'Nard were following suit with 'Real People'.

A fellow Lancastrian's Weird Tale turned epic:
Further eurotronic pop:
European guitar music and spectral synth organ:

UB40, 'The Earth Dies Screaming'

As well as More Specials, there was this. The apocalypse of Thatcher-Reagan; despair in adversity, without any signs of unity in opposition to the incipient neo-liberalism. 'Your country needs you, let's strike up the band'. A lament for a doomed youth to rival Owen:

'Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.'
('Anthem for Doomed Youth')

Perhaps also worth mentioning this: Not the only great use of organ in this 1980 assemblage.

THE DURUTTI COLUMN, 'Sketch for Summer'

Let it speak for itself, this one:

From the following year; suitably faded, evocative video footage of Reilly playing the deathless 'Never Known' in an autumnal park:

NEW MUSIK, 'This World of Water'

Urgent synth-pop from a rather underrated source; the following two albums are more uneven yet still contain much that is lovely.

The final highlight from one of British electro-pop's most concentrated long-players:

In 1980, there was also the grave, profound 'Waterfalls' and then there is the entirety of McCartney II; surely his finest solo album - the influence of Brian Eno and the insurgent British synth pop seeping through.

PAUL McCARTNEY, 'Summer's Day Song'

It seemed like the older generations might just get it in 1980... But then you had Thatcherism and, shudder, this: Bowie had been part of the Europeanising of British music; of course, Peter Gabriel also made his compromise with the times that was 'Sledgehammer'. McCartney did also sink to those sort of depths: Such is McCartney's up-and-down trajectory that he then went from this Rumsfeld pop to the Wyattian 'Riding to Vanity Fair' in 2005, a determined transformation which sounds like a man desperately reclaiming his humanity:

Returning to 1980 and McCartney II, I place before you a beautiful slice of pastoral electronica; pastel coloured synths play a spiralling, wistful lullaby:

KATE BUSH, 'Delius (Song of Summer)'

This evokes David Rudkin's Penda's Fen and perhaps also Jonathan Miller's Alice in Wonderland, with its dreamy Ravi Shankar score. Making the classical live and creating art of hazy English summer times. Kate Bush is an artist who unites so many vital, seemingly contradictory strands: the Brontes with Prince; Roy Harper with Peter Gabriel; Rolf Harris with Powell and Pressburger.

PETER GABRIEL, 'Games Without Frontiers'

More outward-looking pop; England in the era when perhaps most open to the European influence. Fairlight the way, Peter and Kate; one of the very finest and oddest of pop songs.

ROY HARPER, 'The Unknown Soldier'

The album is uneven, like Peter Hammill's A Black Box from the same year; the uses of synth are not always sure-footed, but occasionally inspired in both cases. And there is Kate Bush, returning the favour after 'Breathing'. And then this, an acoustic ballad similar in sound to those on Valentine six years earlier. The other side of the coin; a grave sadness absurdly juxtaposed with the interviewer's namedropping bonhomie in this video clip:

TEENA MARIE, 'Behind the Groove'

From a massively undervalued artist; Lady T. - along with Rick James - set the groundwork for a lot of what Prince went onto do. Funk, pop, disco, soul and attitude; Eros and Aphrodite. Also to be mentioned in this company is George Benson's aqueous 'Give Me the Night' - that rare occasion where footballers showed some musical taste; sublime production and vertiginous backing vocals - up there with the following year's slick pop procedural from Luther Vandross, 'Never Too Much'.

Essential also to mention New York Skyy and Loose Joints at this point.


Spare and yet immense organ; an approachable Weird, conveyed by children of the Radiophonic Workshop ethos. As with much of the British music in this list, you get a sense of the new generation (b.1955-64) born not of blues or rock 'n' roll, but of this:

THE KORGIS, 'Everybody's Got To Learn Sometime'

It's not 'gotta', nor could it ever be. Perhaps the greatest of so many astounding Trevor Horn productions (well, along with this, this and this - Crewe railway station heartbreak), and one of my favourite songs of all:

'He returned to the stage...'

Much portentous news narrative of the actor and war criminal who is now back on our news screens.

On his position regarding the threat posed by Saddam Hussein: 'If you were engaged in WMD, you have to stop'.

'If you were' - ever conditional. 'If I were to say to you' was one of his old rhetorical tricks to combat non-believers; subtly disavowing, cloaking the unpalatable positions he was adopting in abstraction, distancing himself. If I were here today talking to you, which I am not really... (today, he will not engage with the Chilcot questions on their own terms but uses them to broadcast his cherished 'legacy' through the media to the country)

The WMD issue was key, was it?

'Mis-spoken'?? (re. Fern Britton interview and his apparent endorsement of regime change then) That term could do with a bit of definition.

He believed 'beyond doubt' that Iraq had WMD.

He clearly believed a lot of things; how much evidence, though, to back up his decision? 'You have to make a judgement' - does it have to be made purely on speculative beliefs?

A willing public? I hear some critical voices aired but also this: 'our job is not to question, but to support our loved ones'. If you stop questioning you can justify anything: 'People criticise Hitler, but he was only giving orders', to quote Simon Munnery.

'Tony Blair gives evidence'? There's form in that...

Monday, 25 January 2010

'To pick a card that shows your heart and your pride'

Can anything more directly sum up the Noughties cultural stagnation than this? 'Earnest' mewling, U2 ubiquity and all the post-Live Aid paradigm. Guitars in hand, preaching a false togetherness. Today is the first time I've seen this, and it is a sickening - and grimly amusing - spectacle. This symbolises, on so many levels, the void that we have inhabited (and continue to).

Who on earth was this pawn employee who decided to do this; the delusions of Capitalist Realism writ large.

And who can guess what happened to this merged company two years down the line?

Friday, 15 January 2010

'The Dignity of Labour'

The economic crisis being manipulated by businesses to their own ends, taking advantage of lax employment laws to have people working for them *without pay* for weeks or months - just to give them a chance of gaining a job at the end of this process.
I would suspect that those able to work without pay for such periods are generally more likely to have the means to do so.

Typical too that much of the holier-than-thou words come from the Baby Boomer generation (born c.1945-54), who had all the privileges of our social-democractic state - free university education etc. They took this inheritance and squandered it on the new selfishness, the vast majority became Thatcherites in outlook and behaviour, if not always in rhetoric. They enjoyed the new freedoms and progressive prosperity of the 1956-73 era and it was the following generation who suffered most from the crises of the seventies and eighties. The Baby Boomers will not take responsbility and admit fault - whilst ingrained conservatism within older generations also enabled Thatcherism, the 1945-54 generation simply turned to the right: Blair being the ultimate progeny.

The question of work - what it is for, both in the short and long term - is scarcely addressed other than in the binary terms of: hard-working families / lazy scroungers. We have to give long-term thought to what sort of work we want our people to be doing in this country. If we allow any sort of neo-liberal free-market (as 99% of our media does), then we must suspend the illusion that there can be controls on who works on these shores.

Being unemployed need not be wholly unproductive in an intellectual or cultural sense; but this would require greater education and consciousness. At the moment, it can oten become the neo-liberal trap alluded to in the articles: pacified, relegated to watching daytime television.

Discipline is a concept that needs to be reclaimed for the left. Not necessarily a Gradgrindian (or even Gordon Brownian) work ethic, in itself. Not for work that is little more than slavery. But a work ethic towards a better future, indeed. Not a routine, for that way Reggie Perrin lies, but purposeful discipline.

Nothing will be achieved by existing in a state of postmodernist apathy and hedonic impotence (the whole Generation X - Trainspotting - Quentin Tarantino lineage, the perfect 'Youth Wing' of Blairism). The Left needs to look again at something like the Dexy's Midnight Runners concept of discipline... Believe in something and work and play for it.

This is a topic to return to. Suffice it to say that I am not suggesting a William Morris-style agrarian utopia with every single person working on their individual crafts (though you see some of this ethos in some forms of employment). Technology and science must be used and harnessed rather than abolished in a display of luddism.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

'Local colour'

Park Lane bus interchange, nearby me in Sunderland, is pumping out music on some sort of PA system audible to all around the station, whether walking through as I do, or waiting for a bus: on the way into town it was some old-time oompah music (even including backing vocalists stating "oom-pahs") and on the way back home it was "Shakin' All Over" by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. This today, on a blustery, Siberian Sunday in Sunderland. This has been policy for a while now - certainly most of last year - and this extends to buses being 'named'. A friend's bus to Ryhope is now known as 'Drifter', bizarrely. Who decided this? What sort of mindsets and policies were at work?

Very odd indeed, music being piped out (at a not overbearing, but decisively dominant, volume) in a bus station. An attempt to 'rally the troops', to make it a public space in the today's sense: which means constant exterior stimulus and background noise.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Ross, and our times

Leaving the BBC - might be gratifying to those who believe the BBC can and should do better. But then again, it may be a harbinger of serious cuts to come.

A Year Zero which results in a better media is not going to come. What might is a BBC hamstrung by restrictions placed by a Cameron government, a BBC forced to become *just* a niche broadcaster for a privileged few, any idealist notions of its role 'to educate and entertain' all people in Britain banished in the marketisation drive. A drive that is absurd; unutterably grotesque in this era wherein fundamentalist belief in the market has been shown to be morally and fiscally bankrupt.

The left - and indeed thinking British citizens - need to fight on the defensive to support the NHS and the BBC and the vestiges of enlightenment that we still retain, however *imperfect* and reduced compared with what they were. They still offer a vastly preferable future to that offered by the appalling likes of Gove, Hannan and sundry EasyCouncil Tories.

But then the Conservatives' media policy is effectively decided by the Murdochs - compare recent Tory announcements on regulation, Ofcom etc. with those of James Murdoch.

Ross? I don't like the man. I can see he had genuine interest in film, but was content to sit on the fence and offer bland platitudes instead of proper film criticism on his BBC1 show; the man, and, likely, the Corporation, afraid to rock the boat. Adhering as ever to Capitalist Realist thinking: this is the way it is, you cannot criticise the Hollywood blockbusters in anything other than the blandest terms. Otherwise, you are alienating your customers, erm, audience. People on the Guardian website have generally supported the idea of Mark Kermode, an outspoken critic currently employed by the BBC, being given Ross's film show on BBC1. One or two have tellingly remarked that he might not be mainstream enough - after all, he delivers heartfelt rants against the likes of "Transformers 2". Kermode is hardly a fundamentalist for intellectual or European cinema; he praises much of the better Hollywood product. It says a lot that he might be deemed out of bounds for a BBC1 film show; he has opinions! He dares to assert feminist arguments against the most tawdry of Hollywood summer films... Obviously, much better to have Ross hedging his bets and trying to offend nobody! He was rarely as oafish on his film show as often on other programmes, but just not entertaining or enlightening on the whole... His opinions were received and rehearsed, the programme's intent being to give a focus-grouped consumer's view.

Jonathan Ross is not the point; he is surely being claimed as a scalp of the Daily Mail's in their wider campaign to shut down voices of opposition. Voices in the media which might, as Adam Curtis asserts (in a passage quoted by Mark Fisher in his fine Capitalism Realism), offer people ideas *beyond their selves*, beyond the infantilizing pandering that has comprised so much of our media. Currently, insecure selves are offered admonition; you should be this, you should be that. Universally, the 'betterment' proferred is banal, solipsistic, simplistic - focused on appearance, home furnishing and the whole sorry litany.

Andrew Marr pulled back from a denunciation of the Noughties in the recent three-part BBC2 documentary on the past - seemingly unlamented - decade. He is undermining his own position and the public service he has given in the past by not providing the requisite damning closure to a programme about a damnable decade: the horror of American power laid bare for all to see - Bush, Blair, Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Katrina - and the destructiveness of acquisitive capitalism leading to taxpayers supporting failed gamblers, erm, businesses. In the midst of all this you have had British consumers going about their merry way with little regard to planet or neighbour. Enjoying a cultural operation, a media brainwashing comparable with any totalitarian state. And Marr can state that it wasn't all bad... Evidently some advances were made for people in their individual lives, as in any era. But what do lives mean if lived with no regard to anything else...?

Positives might include the potential space offered by the internet; Wikipedia, however necessarily flawed, offers a route to issues and ideas otherwise not discussed (adjudicated through terms of objectivity by a regular team of editors). YouTube and other such sites have great material (inexhaustible amounts of Adam Curtis and Jonathan Meades stuff, for example)... But these avenues are as yet not producing any change. This is the year that the left must use media to expose media. David Cameron's fatuous, Blair-copybook posters should provide an easy first target...

You have many opposing Daniel Hannan, Nick Griffin, Jan Moir etc., but still around 50% of those bothered to vote in the European elections casting a vote for a decidedly backward-looking right-wing option.

The last ten years should cause the end of postmodernism and self-absorption. That they won't sums up the level of subconscious indoctrination - many good people are allowing themselves to be deluded, refusing to break with previous assumptions. Only a full-scale de-indoctrination process - Berger's Ways of Seeing taught in schools from age 5! Languages and Philosophy given greater emphasis - will do. But until then, you avoid the worst options; many on the left have argued that the visible collapse of neoliberalism will hasten its demise. The collapse is not visible within the media, or for most people. It is our task to make this clearer, and an extension of this, for me, is support of the founding ideals of our better public institutions. If we don't do this, we merely hasten greater neo-liberal control of cultural life (the dissident voices that we do get via the BBC would be silenced). The 'consensus' is not about to collapse by the force of its own contradictions. The unbelief, the disavowal of meaning or a better future, exists as unconscious belief for the majority.

The pro-BBC campaign has to be made in terms of the best instincts of the BBC, the fact of it speaking to a diverse audience... but also to a stronger drive to get audiences thinking and not consuming.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

"My ears are not closed, not to no one, ever."

'It was at Camberwell that Einzig met the person who would be the greatest influence on her life, the charismatic, mercurial illustrator and painter, John Minton, who, along with Keith Vaughan, was also teaching there. "I was quickly drawn into this group," she said. "We all used to meet at weekends and draw each other. We went to the cinema and discovered the films of Jean Renoir, René Clair and Marcel Carné. We jived and jitterbugged to Humphrey Lyttelton's jazz band every Monday evening. We also got sucked into the drinking scene in Soho. It was all over within two or three years, but in my memory it seems to have been much longer."'
(Susan Einzig obituary, The Guardian, 6 January 2010, p.32

'I advanced meself, didn't I? I took every exam that was ever available and I really, really enjoyed it, too. I found education to be not a thing you turn your nose up at and sneer at, but to be an absolute release. But then I always loved books, when I was very, very young I could read and write before I went to school. My mum always got me interested in that'
(John Lydon, John Lydon: A Culture Show Special, BBC4, 5 January 2010)

Somehow this connects in my mind with watching John Lydon's interview on BBC4 recently. Einzig, Lydon; these are considerable people, who have made contributions through defying dominant cultures. 1945-79 Britain offered a route out for people like Lydon - council flat background, rises to achieve an immense amount. 'Religion'. 'Death Disco'. Metal Box per se. The Flowers of Romance too in its one-man thrashing-about spareness.

People like Lydon should be running things, setting the example; a thoughtful, rascally human being, engaged in language and life. Praising Dickens and Shakespeare but 'not as the schools were teaching it' (perhaps emphasising the roots of the demise of the post-WW2 consensus). He embodies a living culture that too many have abandoned: people actually enjoying learning, revelling in it. Not out of snobbery or pecuniary considerations, but making it part of your life, and developing an individual voice. Lydon praised Gandhi's passive resistance and what it achieved; whatever he might have done in the past, the Dickens and the dub remains pulsing through his veins.

'I'll take the furniture
Start all over again...'

Friday, 1 January 2010

New year thoughts

2010, eh?

Personally 2009 has been frustrating; consolidation and steady development, no big changes to the pattern of life. The new year and decade must see some continuities and some departures from previous form - once I am back to full health (have been bedevilled by a lingering, never-quite-dissipating cold for a few months now), certain planning can commence. The much-delayed move out of home, the consideration of other teaching posts that might be available. The desire to find more real-life forums and connections - in terms of politics, my cultural interests and love. There has been progress; there are ventures I feel part of, but there is so much more of life to be experienced. Self-doubt, whilst ineradicable in totality, must be held in check.

Some things to be thankful for: Zero Books (providing much-needed pause for thought), Sunderland Green Party (however incipient and embryonic), Star and Shadow Cinema (the sort of organisation to be fought for), BBC4 (from Meades to that Postgate doc. to some much else, it sets the standard for civilised British broadcasting), music and film (so much - to be discussed in a subsequent year round-up post).

It is difficult to look forward with optimism to the global or national picture; the prospect of David Cameron in Downing Street sickens. It is to be hoped that he will scrutinised by the media, but not really expected. It is also to be hoped that a non-New Labour left wing alliance could be forged. A move that might have been enabled by Brown being bold enough to pledge a referendum on Proportional Representation on polling day. This sort of boldness might have offered a slight redemption amid the dying embers, enabling Labour to claim some mantle of radicalism that they could develop in opposition to a Cameron government.

The choice has to be: vote for a Green or other socialist candidate who is sitting, genuinely Left and non-NuLab Labour candidates or LibDems. Cameron must not be allowed to gain a Blair style majority if he is to win.