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More John Peel
I think it was 1975 when I started listening to Peel. I’ve been on and off ever since, sometimes hardly missing a show for months on end, sometimes going equally long without hearing one. Even when I wasn’t listening, it meant something that he was still there. At a rough estimate, I have spent something like four to five thousand hours of my life listening to the Peel show on Radio 1.
It’s astonishing to think how much of my music collection is down to him. I’d been out at lunchtime and the one CD I bought was by Dillinja, someone who I’d first heard on Peel – and indeed it was Peel who first played jungle on BBC radio. And hardcore before it. As well as the punk and indie and rock stuff with which he is most associated, his show was the first place I heard so many soul and reggae and hip hop and techno and African artists that I love, plus odd unexpected chart acts like Terence Trent D’Arby and Kelis and Pink.
I think there’s another reason why this has affected me more than most celebrity deaths. I never met Peel, but he always talked a lot about his family. You often see “survived by a husband/wife and X children” in obit reports, but you don’t generally know anything about these people. This time it’s so painfully much easier to imagine the grief of his wife and children.
Until earlier that year, I had been in a tiny indie band. After the Statistics paper in my ‘A’ level maths, a paper which I failed miserably and completely, I took the unhappy uphill walk back to the 6th Form Centre. It was already clear that my life was going to take an unwanted turn into failed exams, interrupted academic paths and so on.
Back in the Centre a friend of mine gave me a cassette. “You should listen to this,” he said, and I put in into the tape player. The last few bars of “Gold Mining” played and I turned around to Simon to say a few short words about how I didn’t need the mickey taking on that day, of all days.
And then, the sound of John Peel’s voice: “… that was The Visitors, and rather good too…” He’d played it the night before, when I had been trying to revise.
It’s not much but it brightened a horrible day that day and I’m still grateful for it. And no-one before or since would have bothered playing that song, off a flexidisc given away free with a fanzine. As far as I’m aware it’s the only time that song was ever played on the radio. He followed it with another song, “The Orcadian” by an earlier Visitors I’d never heard of before. It was amazing.
That, I suppose, was John Peel for you.
John Peel (1939-2004)
Teenage Kicks (And Others)
- I sometimes used to worry that they’d sack him. I imagined him looking glumly through records he wouldn’t get the chance to play on the radio. It honestly never occurred to me he might die first.
- Mowing my Gran’s lawn when I was 15, the drone of the Flymo and the strum of “Take Me!” merging – taped, of course, off Peel.
- “Pacific State” – the first ‘dance music’ I liked. My habit of taping the whole Festive 50 meant that I had to take the rough with the smooth, until the rough became smooth.
- The first time I taped a Peel session was the House Of Love. They debuted “In A Room”, which became my favourite song by them. It’s hard to exaggerate how much all this stuff felt like a rite of passage – actually it’s not hard, you only have to listen to 6 Music, staffed by people who went through the same rites, a station Peel made possible (though he was always much more adventurous), a station I don’t want to listen to right now.
- Peel’s 50th Birthday as featured in the NME, a glimpse of a world were musicians were mates, the intersection of Peel-the-advocate and Peel-the-good-bloke. And in some ways that’s an important legacy – he was into music without any pretensions that it made him unusual or superior, he showed that the worlds of Extreme Noise Terror or Where’s The Beach? and of going and buying a pint of milk were no different. Unromantic? Maybe. Good.
- The Fall
- The last time I listened to the Festive 50 was with Alex T, in 1995 or so, sitting in his kitchen drinking beer. All the songs sounded rubbish, Peel – as usual – seemed faintly disappointed with his listeners (but also terribly proud), I guessed it was the end of my listening to him (of course now I wish I’d listened more) but I knew that I’d always be grateful, and I will.
“I AM LEGION“: or Making the Contradiction the Hook
Aging leftists often wring their hands and shake their heads: “What happened to rock? In my day it was the soundtrack to the revolt against war…” And then they up and blame the corporate leisure industry or postmodernism or whatever other handy get-out phantom impresses them, and pass back inside their little niche-marketed mediazone, where noble uncomplicated elves-of-light battle depraved uncomplicated orcs-of-darkness. Meanwhile the First Punk President continues – brilliantly – to keep his constituency comfortable with their own conflictedness (as in eg: the white southern semi-poor assuming/hoping the party they fanatically support actually seriously fights for things they want, when it mostly doesn’t any more; libertarians mistaking Bush for a libertarian; conservatives mistaking him for a conservative; xtians mistaking him for an xtian… and so on).
So, last minute White Knight ahoy?! Eminem’s “Mosh” – pre-released kinda now on the interweb – is a bit of a dirge, and I’m not sure his constituency is what it was around the time of “Stan”, but it still does what he does best = compress the contradictions into a bolt of self-hating angry coherence (black rap presents as community, many voices in disrespectful intra-discourse; Em as always does all the voices himself: the community acts out its battles inside his own head). And instead of “coherence” I lazily wrote “energy” first, which is a. lame promo-speak, and b. untrue: the energy stays in suspension inside, to be sought for at multi-replay and relisten, which may be a problem for what I assume MM wants this record to do, this late stage. There’s all kinds of reasons the “Youth Vote” went back to sleep after the 60s – one being the fact that they fought for and GOT musics (and film and TV and… ) which variously provided outlet for all kinds of lesser frustration – but MM is right and aging leftists are wrong, if they think the anger-energy isn’t just as present now, latently, as it wz in 1969, overtly. But yeah, now either it’s locked deep inside, and needs to be unlocked: or the different broken bits of the ring have been secreted in different market sectors and niches (and it wz consumers demanded and got this soothing separation, it was hardly an imposition). The bits need to brought cracklingly together: there’s a potent ‘together’ in “Mosh” – invoking the confederate “rebel yell” in a rap?! – but I’m not sure I caught the crackle.
But of course it’s the reception that animates pop: the performer throws the lump of phosphorus into the air — does it land in the bucket of water (our hopes and dreams and needs and rage) or skitter uselessly under the fridge…
Popjustice suggests multi-format bonanza as the best way to shift copies of a new Band Aid single. But with the line-up face-off currently being between ‘credible’ bands like Coldplay (i.e. music for cunts) and pop bands (i.e. music for proles), surely there’s an obvious solution? Make two different versions (or more — why not a metal version, and a house version, with dozens of the anonymous dolly-bird singers who front production-line chart dance tracks taking a word each too) and race them! It’d be Blur v Oasis all over again, but for charity! And anyone who really wanted to prove they were buying the single for a good cause, could buy both (or all three, four etc.) versions. Plus we (smug bo-ho scenester nerd scum) could all speculate endlessly over who on earth buys this stuff, and try and start class war between the indieistas and the popists. Of course, anyone with ears will have to stop listening to the radio for several months before Christmas, but fuck it, that’s a price worth paying.
PLUR: hidden agenda revealed
to me till now, US warblogger glenn reynolds wz merely the mind behind instapundit – a one-stop shop for tireless partisan humbug. So here he rather unexpectedly is reflecting on a. how money and politics have changed blogging (so far sohohum); and b. on himself long ago: “One of my hobbies is making electronic music, and it seems to me that the changes in the blogosphere over the past three years or so resemble the changes in the rave/electronic music scene in the early 1990s. When it started, we were all dancing in abandoned warehouses, under the radar of the authorities…”
Meanwhile two of the most lucid dead-centre (yes yes US-version centre obv) warhawks-turned-bushdoubters – matt yglesias and spencer ackerman – are unrepentently voluble Clash fans. OK Eschaton’s Duncan Black is a Buffy fan: but that makes sense (atrios = lonely warrior against a World of Wrong): the others all seem to read politics right across the grain of their music fandom and (v.unfashionable word alert) praxis…
Reports on Band Aid III are neglecting to ask the one crucial question about the new record – viz. who gets to sing THAT LINE? After high-level FT editorial discussion we’re of the opinion that there is only one man with the pipes for it.
“Well, tonight, thank God it’s them – instead of youuuuuuuuuuuuu!”