Wednesday, 30 April 2008
Props to the NME for this week's encouragingly modernist 'Future 50' feature.
I could grumble at the inclusion of fashion designers and Apple employees, and at the typically unhelpful hyperbole getting in the way of a good cause, but overall this is a hugely welcome mini volte-face after the recent regression into low-brow corporatism.
I actually went on the net after reading the piece and checked out some bands/artists based on NME's recommendation, something I haven't felt compelled to do in a painfully long time.
Follow this up next week with a Krushchev-like denouncement of the Pigeon Detectives and I might even start buying it again regularly.
Saturday, 26 April 2008
As some of you may have divined, I’m not all that enamoured with the current trend for ‘80s revivalism.
The new M83 album Saturdays=Youth does however point to ways in which the decade god forgot might be put to good artistic use. Yes there’s a good deal of stylistic plagiarism going on here - lots of superficial pastiche in lieu of real creative transformation of the past
Saturdays=Youth embodies all the lush esoteric loneliness of the eighties, at a time in which such emotive separatism is once again looking like one of the few pertinent ways of responding to a climate of vigorous conservative commercialism.
Friday, 25 April 2008
There might be plenty of good stuff out there, but Jesus Christ it’s difficult to identify what is genuinely worthwhile amidst all the hubris, celebrity shite and low-brow media hysteria that has penetrated the alternative cultural sphere in recent years.
The Rough Trade compilation from the end of last year provides ample opportunity for a modest recovery of optimism, although again it’s necessary to underline how much of the best and most innovative stuff on this release from a bulwark of British independent music is American.
Tunes by Glasvegas, Dan le Sac Versus Scroobius Pip, and Von Sudenfed (w/Mark E. Smith) do however offer some hope for imminent improvement closer to home.
Thursday, 24 April 2008
Wednesday, 23 April 2008
Just been to a talk at Man Uni called 'Education in a Neoliberal World'.
When asked what could be done to get rid of Martin Amis, Terry Eagleton suggested that the knobs on all the university doors be raised by six inches as a means of thwarting the diminutive Islamaphobe. 'He even has problems dealing with curbs, so that should do the trick', said Eagleton, who also revealed that Amis's creative writing classes apparently consist largely of him reading a long passage of Bellow or Nabokov and saying 'wow'.
Talk was pretty good too. The ghost of '68 was brought-up several times in reference to the recent university strike action, without it ever seeming like a hollow gesture.
(He does actually look like a bona fide midget in this photo, doesn't he?)
Monday, 21 April 2008
Henry James contrasting America with England ('Hawthorne', 1879):
No State, in the European sense of the word, and indeed barely a specific national name. No sovereign, no court, no personal loyalty, no aristocracy, no church, no clergy, no army, no diplomatic service, no country gentlemen, no palaces, no castles, nor manors, nor old country houses, nor parsonages, nor thatched cottages nor ivied ruins; no cathedrals, nor abbeys, nor little Norman churches; no great Universities nor public schools--no Oxford, nor Eton, nor Harrow; no literature, no novels, no museums, no pictures, no political society, no sporting class--no Epsom nor Ascot! Some such list as that might be drawn up of the absent things in American life--especially in the American life of forty years ago, the effect of which, upon an English or a French imagination, would probably as a general thing be appalling. The natural remark, in the almost lurid light of such an indictment, would be that if these things are left out, everything is left out.
The natural remark, to my mind, is that a place with most of these things left out sounds like a very good place indeed.
Friday, 18 April 2008
The first bit of action in years. Sat there
with blood coming out of our eyes, applauding
immaculate artistry of a wayward soviet.
Excitement when the volcano burst; autumn
spliced to a memory with a finger’s flick, holiday
blockbuster playing out summer’s end.
Move the earth to be with my good friends,
Move the earth to be there when it ends.
Our absolute team
has gathered light of evening,
shards tumbling out of our globular arms.
Shoulders lug ash.
You were too pretty with me:
you built towns with your charitable hands
but you left no footprint.
We will take on the world with a rock and a book.
Right in the dead-middle of the air
a hard-boiled hulk of a man is visible;
red yolk stiffening to a heavy glue.
Wednesday, 16 April 2008
I saw Ian Hislop on a recent BBC Who Do You Think You Are? programme quoting William Cowper:
England, for all thy faults, I love thee still
The more apt poetic evocation, for me, comes from Linton Kwesi Johnson:
Inglan is a bitch
dere's no escapin it
Tuesday, 15 April 2008
At the end of last year I saw Martin Amis speaking in a ‘Literature and Terrorism’ debate at Manchester Uni, and two things about the night made an impression. The first thing that struck me was that Amis is an almost laughably small man, providing a sort of poignant proof for the axiom about the startling diminutiveness of famous people. Seeing him on the stairs outside the lecture hall, after he had just fielded the inevitable staunch criticism from fellow speakers for his recent advocacy of neo-con politics, he looked lonely and slightly out of place, not at all comfortable in his latest role as an under-fire political cause-celebre in this archetype of northern red-brick normality, seemingly rather pathetically cut loose from the urbane, metropolitan world he ordinarily inhabits.
The second thing I remember, and the thing most relevant to the present discussion, is Amis trying to prove the point, now quite fashionable in political and cultural circles, that the Western left-wing intelligentsia has become woolly and relativist to the extent that it will routinely show misguided sympathy for such decidedly anti-humanitarian causes as Saddam Hussein, Palestinian terrorism, suicide bombers and the like.
Amis related an anecdote about another recent speaking event, at which he asked audience members to indicate if they felt they were ‘morally superior’ to the Taliban, a request that was met with bafflement, unease, and apparently only a smattering of raised hands. When the same question was posed of Nazi Germany, of course, the response was almost unanimous.
It seemed to me at the time that this was all a bit silly. ‘Morally superior’ is exactly the sort of reductive, chauvinistic slogan debates as vital and delicate as this can do without. Moreover, as a phrase it seems to epitomise the kind of cantankerous mid-twentieth-century-radicalism-grown-reactionary militancy currently favoured by Amis, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and their ilk. Making statements like this, Amis came across as stubborn and upper-class snobbish, looking a bit foolish beside his co-speakers, whose arguments were, I thought, much more nuanced and sensitive to the demands of a mind-bendingly complex issue.
Nevertheless, Amis’s assertion of the need for principled affirmative statements in the context of the present volatile international climate is perhaps not one that should be dismissed out of hand, even if his particular choice of wording was unfortunate. Amis quoted DeLillo’s now famous argument in Mao II, an argument which states that terrorists, with their ‘new tragic narratives’, have appropriated cultural authority from novelists. For Amis, if I’m not misinterpreting things too much, the task of the post-9/11 novelist (and presumably that of other artistic and cultural figures) must therefore be to take back this authority from the terrorist, and not to let a fear of sounding old-fashioned, absolutist and moralistic prevent you from making firm proclamations of belief. Fundamentalism in all its various manifestations, so the line goes, is not likely to be efficaciously countered by guilty liberal ambiguity and cavilled, sitting-on-the-fence rhetoric.
This seems to me to be a more than reasonable assertion, and you might want to view the post below on Thatcher in light of this.
Monday, 14 April 2008
Apparently many people are gearing-up for the supposedly imminent passing into the night of Margaret Thatcher, preparing to throw ‘Thatcher Death Parties’ as soon as the good news filters through.
Just to forestall what will inevitably be a media frenzy of fairly above-average proportions, I’d just like to offer my twopenny’s worth in rebuttal of the likely suggestion that such festivities might be interpreted as in some way inhumane.
I’m relatively young and have never met Margaret, but on TV, and in books and newspapers etc she has always struck me as, on a personal level, a completely fucking shit human being, not at all one of those people of whom it is possible to say ‘I’m sure she’s a nice person, but …’, and an emphatic riposte to the popular notion that ‘there’s a little bit of good in everyone’.
As with all public figure deaths/births/marriages, our reaction to the event of Thatcher’s death will be less a reflection on the individual than a reaction to what she as a socio-cultural shibboleth represented, which might be summarised as follows: authoritarianism, militarism, greed, social heartlessness, radical egotistic individualism, the end of the welfare state, privatisation, aggressive consumer capitalism, untrammelled economic avarice, anti-union bullying, homophobia, jingoism, racism, divisive England/South-centric majority-rule politics, anti-intellectualism, horrible nasal atonal upper-class speech, snobbery, elitism, bad taste, malign traditionalism, shoddy creative standards, sententious quasi-Churchillian rhetoric, emotional callousness: basically, a cornucopia of everything that is shit in life.
For many people, the death of this woman will represent something like a final, belated divine retribution, and reminder that the unequivocally evil cannot prosper indefinitely. It will also offer a chance for a celebratory declaration that the above values are categorically and unambiguously things that must always, always be vehemently opposed.
Thatcher ruined countless lives in Britain through her political actions, and had a hand in some even more appalling misdeeds elsewhere, in the Falklands and Northern Ireland, and through her tacit support for South African apartheid and such one-dimensionally murderous villains as fascist Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Rejoicing over her final demise will be a chance to make up in some small, exuberant way for all the myriad violence, death, and unscrupulous uncompassionate political nastiness she visited on the world throughout the course of her undeservedly long, comfortable life.
The truly humane thing to do.
I know it’s pretty absurdly fucking famous and has been quoted to death by all kinds of people over the years, but Auden in the elegy for Yeats is always worth repeating:
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.
Saturday, 12 April 2008
I don't really know what this says about anything, but it is intriguing nevertheless. Aside from the blatant formal-melodic similarities, both tunes feature boy/girl lead vocals, and both are engaged in the kind of superficial '80s nostalgist whimsy currently doing the rounds in just about every walk of popular cultural life.
Both tunes are also pretty good, a fact you might want to situate somewhere on a scale that runs from grimly-disheartening to weirdly-actually-quite-life-affirming.
(Curious Barrymore/Mystery Jet fans should also check out 'Pop! Goes My Heart', another artistic highpoint in Music and Lyrics, and further showcase for Hugh Grant's surprisingly OK vocal skills.)
Tuesday, 8 April 2008
‘As for the postmodern revolt against [modernism] … it must be stressed that its own offensive features – from obscurity and sexually explicit material to psychological squalor and overt expressions of social and political defiance, which transcend anything that might have been imagined at the most extreme moments of high modernism – no longer scandalize anyone and are not only received with the greatest complacency but have themselves become institutionalized and are at one with the official or public culture of Western society.’
‘What has happened is that aesthetic production today has become integrated into commodity production generally: the frantic economic urgency of producing fresh waves of ever more novel-seeming goods (from clothing to airplanes), at ever greater rates of turnover, now assigns an increasingly essential structural function and position to aesthetic innovation and experimentation. Such economic necessities then find recognition in the various kinds of institutional support available for the newer art, from foundations and grants to museums and other forms of patronage … Yet this is the point at which I must remind the reader of the obvious; namely, that this whole global, yet American, postmodern culture is the internal and superstructural expression of a whole new wave of American military and economic domination throughout the world: in this sense, as throughout class history, the underside of culture is blood, torture, death, and terror’.
- Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism and the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
Monday, 7 April 2008
Sunday, 6 April 2008
Saturday, 5 April 2008
A NON-COMPREHENSIVE, SELF-PROCLAIMEDLY RIDICULOUS LIST HINTING REDUCTIVELY AT MY SENSE OF NATIONAL IDENTITY
'Englishness' having become an unmistakably HOT TOPIC in recent times, I thought a totally absurd, borderline-bigoted summary of my personal Manichean take on things might be a good idea.
So, in an imaginary play in which English good fights English evil, and in which any faults or redeeming nuances are clumsily ironed-out of characterisation, the cast sheet would probably read something like this ...
The Stone Roses
The Venerable Bede
The entire aristocracy since William the Conqueror
The Duke of Wellington
Friday, 4 April 2008
[Just by the way, Lily Allen sounds precisely in these exchanges like a spoilt, not-very-bright public schoolgirl. This is because she is a spoilt, not-very-bright public schoolgirl.]
ALLEN: Peter Stringfellow is a nasty man.
ALLEN: I mean, respect to his trade and what he does.
LAVERNE: What do you mean respect?! Respect to what? Respect to the lapdancing trade? Yeah it’s really important to respect that! Do we?
ALLEN: I like it.
LAVERNE: Do you? Oh my god.
ALLEN: When I signed my record deal I went there.
LAVERNE: Did you? To Stringies?
ALLEN: I got quite into it. [coquettishly] I liked sitting there while they gyrated in front of me.
LAVERNE: I’m sure it’s very nice; they look like very pleasant girls.
ALLEN: Yeah yeah, it was fun, umm [turning to the camera as if to say ‘moving on …’]
LAVERNE: But yet, a little bit sad isn’t it, really? The thing is …
ALLEN: A lot of girls do it to fund their education …
LAVERNE: Nah, do you know what Lily, that’s fucking bollocks, right, cos even if they spend the money on that, it’s one of those things that, it’s one of those lies that blokes try and sell you that, you know: ‘you’ve got the power, cos like, you’re getting the money for it’. Frankly, if you’re being paid to be naked, you’ve not got any power in that dynamic. It’s not a good thing. It’s a bad thing.
ALLEN: [holding up her hands, perhaps realising she sounds slightly ridiculous] But I think it’s a woman’s right to sell herself. If there’s a market for it, why not?
LAVERNE: [magnanimous, but clearly utterly appalled by this stage] Let’s do this on ‘Loose Women’. For now, back to the show …
Now, I should begin by saying that, as far as myself and Lily Allen’s music is concerned, I think it’s mostly not that bad. Or, put differently, while it would be slightly disingenuous of me to say that I have a lot of time for her first record, it might be said that I have something approaching a little bit of not-very-valuable time for it, some of the time.
So, I was initially willing to give Lily a chance. But then strange things started happening. Lily had made a fairly decent, sometimes innovative album that appealed to a wide range of the British listening public. This was pop, but it was the kind of mildly urbane, occasionally trenchant and witty pop the alternative fraternity could appreciate just as readily as could a twelve year-old girl. The music was a neat, hi-fidelity hybrid of The Specials, St Etienne, and The Streets, and underneath the bubblegum sheen there appeared to be a sort of laudable combativeness and belligerence, a hint of marginalised rebellion and feminist vigour which set Lily apart from the Bailey Rae/Melua school of say-nothing mediocrity.
As such, it was confusing when Lily began to behave not so much like an alternative musician, and quite a lot like a first-year graduate intern at Price Waterhouse Cooper. Lily began to make statements like: ‘I just want to make some money. Maybe I could retire at 25. I’m only going to do one more album’, and [see article below] ‘So what if we're middle class? Just 'cos your mum was too lazy to get her fat ass up off the sofa and make some cash. I shouldn't be able to make tunes, yeah?' Apparently, we were told, such comments had to be viewed in light of Lily’s difficult upbringing. Lily’s poor mum had struggled for years to raise Lily and her siblings in the face of innumerable hardships such as having to fork out for her kids’ private education, being the wife/girlfriend of successful commedians Keith Allen and Harry Enfield, and producing multi-million dollar international blockbuster movies. Lily’s cynical, money-minded careerism, we were told, arose from a desire to ensure she herself would never have to return to this world of Dickensian privation.
Soon Lily’s face began to appear with increasing regularity on the cover of lifestyle magazines throughout the land, commenting on yet more aspects of her arduous life: Lily was after all going out with moderately famous Chemical Brother Ed Simons, taking cocaine now and then, and suffering from the bane of having an arse she thought was just that little bit too voluminous. Despite this, Lily became a ‘fashion icon’ and role model for young girls everywhere, a paragon of good style-sense and straight-talking neo-‘girl power’ sensibility.
Then it was announced that Lily was to be become a chat show host. Now, I am quite prepared to admit to being the holder of principles that might strike some as being woefully puritanical and old-fashioned. Nevertheless, it seems to me that hosting a chat show is probably not the sort of thing anyone interested in producing challenging, worthwhile art should be indulging in. Chat shows, surely, are vehicles for people like Terry Wogan and Oprah Winfrey, people with a penchant for suave, inoffensive affability, celebrities adept in the art of entertaining as many disparate people as possible with professional inanity and a studied genial populism.
Yet it seems that, for Lily, there is nothing wrong with trying to be, on one hand, something like a poppier Kate Bush, and on the other, a cooler, ‘feistier’ Davina McCall, nothing incongruous with being a serious musician at the same time as being a flirtatious celebrity style-icon. Presumably, as with most things where Lily is concerned, money provides legitimacy for this indiscriminate willingness to conflate mainstream and anti-establishment characteristics.
The above quoted conversation is a useful case in point. Here we see a young, inordinately rich musician defending the woman’s right to sell herself as a lapdancer, to the total bafflement of another, rather more scrupulous musical figure from a not-so-distant period of history, in which the justification but if there’s a market for it … was not some kind of quasi-postmodernist get-out clause masquerading as a proclamation of self-empowerment, with the potential to excuse all manner of corporate evils.
If Lauren Laverne personifies alternative music past: funny, articulate, principled, politically aware [Laverne, remember, memorably labelled The Spice Girls 'Tory scum' back in 1997] , then Lily Allen epitomises with horrifying exactitude the present state of the musical-cultural landscape: a place in which consumerism, fashion, self-objectifying sexuality and a kind of reactionary Burchillian brattiness have come to define the public persona of a girl who initially promised something a lot smarter and more creative.
Thursday, 3 April 2008
INTERVIEWER: Who are you trying to impress when you perform?
KEN DODD: Oh, almost certainly it’s your parents.