Tuesday, 18 November 2008
If they move,,,, KILL 'EM!!
In a bizarre reversal of form it seems that for our first post's, there has been somewhat of a role reversal in that I'm the one posting (semi) coherent musings on life and music and Geoff's posting stuff about fanny's and gear! Whoooo'd a thunk it eh? Not in a million, blah, blah, blah, etc.
Anyhoo, I'm actually cheating a tad as the next thousand or so words are edited from a piece I wrote (and subsequently had rejected!) a good few years ago for a national magazine that will remain nameless (Q, spit!) and remains as the cornerstone and intro for a book I've been trying to write for what seems like for-fucking-ever! So here it is, the best and most condescending way I can introduce my musings. Hope you enjoy.
(Don't worry, the next one will be FULL of titty's and gak so bear with us,,,)
Its the Victoria falls of yearning, its a rush of blood to the head as well as the loins, its many things to many people, most of which involve a surging in the chest as if something momentous and life changing is about to occur. Music prompts people to act on their impractical desires leave town, drive all night, hit the city, ask the girl out, lean forward to kiss the girl when shes out with you. Its about youth. It suggests you must pursue your dreams, which, in truth, is possibly the most suspect and stupid of all musics aspects, words born on the breeze and dying as quickly on the wind. If you pursue your dreams and dont find them, where does that leave you? Too tired and bruised to even want to dream? All regrets and melancholy smiles, blown on a wish?
The criminal alternative, however, is never to feel what your favourite records feel never to feel young, gifted, good looking and over confident. To be running from, not running to the place we really want to go Heaven, Paradise,,,, wherever!
It triggers searing, visceral memories, of how you used to pull a girl close to you, just so you could feel each breath shed take, the smell of her hair,,,,, and of how now sometimes those memories come back to haunt you. Is a dream a lie if it doesnt come true or is it something worse? Or are we all missing the point: That true love requires a leap of faith? To cross that line you never come back from that means your going along for the ride, the whole ride, all the way to the end of the line. Wherever that is? Music asks all these questions.
"Everything dies and thats a fact, but maybe something that dies can come back."
Its about these dreams and our disillusions and how we deal with that intense longing that all we Human Beings have for something and someone, and how sometimes you get to that point in life when you realise that you have not achieved that. The disappointment is there but youre still willing to go back and try to hang on to something intangible.
Its the way that sometimes you pray for one face that knows you, that looks at you the way it always did. Its about hovering on that point where sheer desperation and hope battle it out, a snap-shot picture of the chasm that exists between the reality that IS, and the reality you THINK is out there. Its the first rays of the new sunrise that shines a kind of harsh light on the real world and sticks a little needle into you that says that true love doesnt always last forever, money doesnt always solve things and the truth isnt always on the lips of those you expect. But still, knowing that never stops you hoping.
Our favourite music informs us of things at the most base of levels. She Bangs the Drums and Sugar spun Sister tell me that life is both momentous and sad, but not destructive of hope, and maybe that makes me a self-dramatising depressive, or maybe it makes me a happy idiot. Either way those songs know who I am, and that, in the end, is one of the consolations of art.
Music has the gift of making things near prefect at times, when I hear Minnie Ripperton sing Les Fleur, or Marvin Gaye tearing through Inner City Blues, or even Marvin and Tammi Tyrell singing Youre All I Need I swear I can hear my own heart crack.
But in the wrong hands music can cause much harm, no-body ever loses their virginity to the song theyd like to lose it to, in a perfect world, it would be Marvin Gaye or Al Green, in actual fact its more likely to be one of your parents M.O.R. rock albums that was already in the C.D. player. Just imagine theres probably some poor soul out there who popped his cherry to one of his Dads Simple Minds albums! Pity him good people.
For me it was a satisfying fumble to the sounds of some unlistenable noise that John Peel was playing when he used to do his evening show on radio 1 at 8 oclock on a midweek night, I remember it like it was yesterday! Now in a perfect world, obviously, it wouldnt have happened that way at all. But that was still one of the defining moments in my personal/musical history, but not the most important.
That honour lays firmly with Led Zeppelin, and the first time I heard Robert Plant unleash his primal howl to mark the beginning of Communication Breakdown. I was 13, and had just gotten in from school when my friends brother told us that he had just bought some new records and a game for his spectrum, so it was with joystick in hand I waited to play Way of the Exploding Fist while my friends brother cued up side 1 of Zeppelins debut album, he didnt however tell me that the next barrage of sound I heard would change my life. It thundered out of the speakers and filled the whole of the room, the walls shook as Plant let go his scream. By the end of it I felt both confused and Exhilarated, the only other time I had felt anywhere near this was my first wank!
In order to understand the cultural impact of the ideals which shaped my thinking behind this document, it is necessary to examine what came before all this, starting with;
Back in 1977 almost a quarter of a century after they first started printing the singles charts, the NME polled its writers to determine the 100 greatest singles of all time. When the votes, dimpled or otherwise, were finally cast, the candidates were duly sifted and the result solemnly declared. And the winner was Layla by Derek And The Dominoes. The list as a whole reflected the prejudices of its day serious music was white guitar orientated and technically proficient,,,, and preferably bearded! Punk, just then coming round the mountain to blow away this complacency like dandruff, couldnt arrive quickly enough. The NMEs list not only highlights the dangers inherent in such exercises of looking extremely silly, but also indicates the extraordinary changes wrought in music over the pat quarter of a century.
Punks arrival in 1976/1977 created a schism in rock history whose impact was bearly recognised even as it happened. Whether it was a roar of working class (or should that be art School) discontent, a situationist prank with suprisingly long-lasting implications, a back to basics after the excessive colonic investigations of prog rock, the cultural product of a profound sense of boredom, alienation and economic gloom in British Society, it transformed everything. Its simple proposition that anyone could do it meant that music was no longer about proficiency but about ideas. All channels were now open: post-modern irony (Devo), feminism (Blonde, The Slits), multiculturism (The Specials, The Clash) all came bustling through the door, throwing up unlikely permutations. 1977 however would be pivotal for another reason the electrification of dance music. Donna Summers I Feel Love introduced the sequencer to Disco, while Kraftworks electronic epic 12-inch Trans-Europe-Express would trigger off an electronic storm of chain reactions that would impact on everyone from Bowie to Bambaataa. Just about every great single of the past 25 years has been determined by these two revolutionary occurrences. Punk and Electronica have made a melting pot of rock culture, breeding supersonic hybrids, feeding off each other, synthesising, colliding, mutating. Which is where this document comes in, a much needed celebration of our own incendiary era.
For example, the prevalence of all the Best of.. compilations, and all time 100 charts, most of them repeat the same sub-text that we should cringe in shame and awe of the old masters. Hence, an anthology of Beatles singles ascends to No1, a reminder of the days of proper music. This point is irradiated into our psyches by ads, and film and T.V. soundtracks, all of which are crammed with classic retro pop and a general culture of retro-chic that reminds us that such class ceased to be issued in music after 68. In short, this generation is labouring under an unwarranted musical inferiority complex.
Not to cheapen or sully the Old Masters, or indeed side-step the argument put forward in some quarters that the analogue recording methods in the sixties enabled the singles of those times to develop in a way they no longer can in this digital era. Only a philistine would argue against the immortality and unreachable uniqueness, of great sixties music. But since 1976, the emancipating opportunities of new technology, the increasingly rich heritage of past music to feast upon and fuck with, the continuing liberalisation of cultural attitudes, and the overall expansion of the universe of ideas and sounds has enabled post punk generations to produce work which frankly, would have done the old masters heads in. Curse the mono limitations of their era!
Trouble is modern music has been the victim of its own staggering eclecticism. The dreary retro-chic of the mid-nineties, was a subconscious response to the sheer mass and sampladelic diversity of these sonic times. Too much the public seemed to say a few years back, we just want a common talking point, like in the old days when it was just The Beatles or The Stones and we all knew where we stood. Hence, the excesses of Britpop (Oasis, and O.C.S. especially!) culminating in the timid M.O.R. tunesmithery of the truly awful Stereo-fuckin-fonics and Travis, a return to an agreed-upon sensibleness, and, again reflecting a pinning for some Tory musical notion of the classical, reducing rock from a convulsive, revolutionary wave to a cottage craft.
If the musical landscape today seems devoid of quality, its not due to a dearth of new ideas but in a perverse and complex way to an overload of them which resulted in a relapse into conservatism. Which means practically the only left-field incursion into the charts youll get nowadays, from all the bubbling babble of contenders, is the plodding, emotional sobriety of someone like Coldplay. A band guided to pre-eminence by a conspiracy of marketers and Radio 1 playlisters who decided there should be at least one Indie style band broken this year. And theres your second problem; the triumph of the science of marketing, into which so much creative energy is channelled nowadays.
Such wasnt the case in the aftermath of Punk, then, a door opened briefly. Record companies, unsure of what the hell was flying around, adopted an oh well, I expect you know what youre doing attitude towards new acts, an attitude which has always proven fertile in the art versus commerce stakes. The single, previously scorned by the likes of Zeppelin and Floyd, came into its own. The Buzzcocks, Elvis Costello, XTC and The Pistols all stormed the ramparts. And there was a sense of a storm too you could see the fear in Noel Edmonds eyes as he introduced The Ramones or The Undertones whilst he affected a glazed look of forced jollity at these gatecrashers on Top Of The pops. This was to say nothing of those like Magazine, The Clash and The Gang Of Four who refused to go on TOTP because it ran counter to their principles, oh,,,, and they thought it was shit!
Then came the great wave of Avant-pop in the early Eighties, from ABC and The Associates, to the likes of Heaven 17 and Talking Heads, once and forever punks working in primary colours, but informed by a romantic excitement that pop music could be more than just wall paper, a collective revolution, that culminated in the glory that was Frankie Goes To Hollywood. A little more downbeat but equally vital was the 2-Tone surge, headed by The Specials and their three minute, monochrome studies in social realism.
Economic boom years tend to be indifferent pop years, and so it proved to be in the mid Eighties before the recession hit late Eighties-early-Nineties brought a crop of disaffected insurgents over the wall: The Happy Mondays, Primal Scream, The Stone Roses, all ripped to the tits on Punk, Rave and Acid, as well as the likes of Sued, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth, The Jesus And Mary Chain, The Manics, Dinosaur Jnr, Radiohead and The Pixies, each beneficiaries of the reinvention of Rock in the late Eighties, later came Britpop with its occasional moments of nation uniting magnificence such as Pulps Common People.
But this isnt merely about the crossover successes. Many of the Bands I've mentioned didnt even chart. But they moved the world at a deeper more seismic level nonetheless, in terms of their power and influence and, later, reputation. See Lee Perry, Wire, The Fall! Primal Screams Higher Than The Sun failed to breach the top 30 in 1991, but now who remembers the fluff that kept it at bay that week, Chesney fucking Hawkes, Sonia? So what? Even New Orders Blue Monday never made it to the coveted number one spot. Yet it was one of the best selling 12 singles of all time in the long term.
This is about records and bands that rocked the world not those that popped the world. This is sternly anti-kitsch, no Bee Gees, no ABBA, no Spice Girls, no Madonna even - and certainly none of that big boisterous blank, Robbie Williams. Drawn as we increasingly are to the gawking vortex of celebrity, you have to snap your fingers to remind yourself that for all their zillions, people like Williams are not actually happening, that their cultural, historic impact is, like that of the Osmonds, nil.
This is about what did happen and what soundtracked those pivotal events of peoples lives, the music that left these scorch marks is still smouldering, this is the music that is in danger of being written out by those potted TV retro-histories of pop, in which the Seventies mean Elton John and Queen, the Eighties Live Aid and the Nineties, more Elton John and Queen. Of course by saying this Im not installing myself as some kind of self-appointed monitor of cool,,,, no, rather regard this as the tip of an undoubted iceberg.
This is about the music of our very own, very recent times. And. It. Is. Gigantic.