Posts from 3rd July 2005

Jul 05

A short ambivalent history of the non event

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 215 views

A short ambivalent history of the non event

i own a little green second-hand book, dated 1982, called “the politics of the pop festival” (michael clarke, junction books), which opens with the newport jazz festival of 1954, and passes, via monterey and the isle of wight, via the 70s free festivals, to a brief mention of Rock Against Racism: i haven’t read the book and i imagine now it’s an artefact as much as an analysis, but i do think a little archeology of the whole phenomenon, its embedded cultural resistances as much as its media-integrated collusions, would illuminate Lord Blob’s L8 thingie, if only bcz it’s been funny watching and reading ultra-jaded lefties first shouting “pshaw and indeed yuk!” for days in advance, then spending the entire day TV-smitten, intending only to sneer (yeah right!), before finally tearing up as gilmour and waters, reconciled, megalo-loungedroned them towards the continent of elderly nod, aw…

ANYWAY: the thing that occurred to me while at play on the three very enjoyable IL8 threads yesterday – as rescued and restated from the most negative – was this. The 60s ExplosionTM – which leapt out uncalcaulated and unbiddable at the corporate (and independent) leisure industry from the heart of its own devious, chart-rigging operations – brought to the fore, at a key moment of media evolution (“All You Need Is Love” = first live global TV broadcast) a bunch of, in political terms, amateurs nay KIDS!! At the height of an unpopular neo-colonial war, alongside the professional politicians, professional pundits, professional dissenters AND professional revolutionaries, the Stage of the Spectacle was invaded by a variegated bunch of OTHER PEOPLE, of non-vetted class and race background, who “knew what they wanted and wanted it now” — or actually kinda DIDN’T, but neither wanted nor were able to tamp their inchoate desires down into any of the established languages.

Not that the CounterCulture was competently monolithic: Lennon recorded two versions of “Revolution”, pro and con; Jagger flirted with Tariq Ali and threw him over for the Devil; Townshend whacked Abbie Hoffman on the head at Woodstock, when the always tiresome Yippie tried to use the Who’s performance as a pulpit… Through to RAR at least, an uneasy alliance existed between populist opportunism (here are lots of rather naive but well meaning people gathered together to watch Chicago; let’s hip them to MAO!!) and the genuine not-yet-coherent social cultural and musical innovation (good AND TERRIBLE) that burst out of the Beatles unplanned-for and unprecedented chart success, and has pootled along, in and out of days, ever since.

What Geldof, who had always kinda formed his pop group so as to able to mouth off in the press (and not vice versa), was that a Big Old Variety Show provded an EXCELLENT pretext for Anti-Pundit Anydude (as represented by himself) to break into the hermetic discussion on (say) Africa, famine, debt and attendant politics, and SPEAK HIS (HIS!) MIND, without having to worry about special interest groups and partylines and political correctness and _____ and ______ and ______. He wasn’t just some spokesperson in a suit, shilling from an acronymed org: LOOK HE DOESN’T COMB HIS HAIR EVEN and plus his kids have silly names…

The insight – which is a half-truth but a telling one – is that unless someone crashed the Official Political Stage, hard, blunt questions weould never be asked; and nothing would be done. Geldof rather brilliantly shoved together a bunch of already existing pop corporate practices to build a bridge from a RIVAL STAGE: he intuited that – by buying their records – we are “electing” pop stars to be our counter-representatives against the system we already have to represent us, and feel alienated from and disgusted by. (THIS idea – dotty as it sounds written down – is BUILT INTO rock ideology: it’s why we reflexively think of rock as “threatening”; it symbolises a rising generational order, all fun and tumult.)

With their shades and their leather trousers, these Erotic Politicians (yes ew ew but nevertheless copyright J.Morrison) would unsettle the pre-scripted high-table conversation!! These para-MPs (elected by their record sales) would speak for the “Ordinary Person”, in language the ordinary person understood! etc etc. No longer would politics be dull intimidating code devised to get you to shut up and hum along: our hellacool representatives would tell the Man where he Got Off…

part of the problem is clearly that our rock-school representatives got co-opted (if yr not already a seasoned part of the game, you so risk getting gamed), and we’re still sat down here in the front row blithely humming along

but another part – this is the bit that it difficult to articulate i think – is that the strong element of the utopian politics we feel we (still) intuit in events like these is EVERY BIT AS TRICKSILY CODED AWAY, in the layered body of the music itself, the clash between form and moment (as when one Robert Smith LORD OF GOTH announced – in the spirit of the event as he understood it!! – that “It doesn’t matter if we die”); and in our complex natural responses to (and against) all this kind of thing, the fun we have at the behest and the expense of the music we are drawn to “speaking for us”…

The JB All-Stars

Do You SeePost a comment • 550 views

If you could get past the insane suggestion that the Modern Review was the first publication in the history of the world to ‘take popular culture seriously’, the BBC4 doc ‘When Toby Met Julie’ did provide, possibly unwittingly, some insight into How British Middle-to-High Culture Works amid what was essentially one of those five ‘The Dirt on Kate Moss’ docs, only without actual famous or glamorous people.
In the mid ’70s, Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens, Ian McEwan, James Fenton and other Oxbridge graduates, writing in the New Review, with the backing of Ian Hamilton, took aim at the Hampstead cosiness of the preceding literary generation.
CUT TO: the late ’80s. Toby Young, and his band of courageous Oxbridge graduates, writing in the Modern Review, with the backing of Peter York, took aim at the cosiness of the preceding literary generation. And who might they be? Amis, Hitchens, et al… Nothing really changes here. The show almost let in a note of criticism from Jon Savage, who seemed entirely OTM in pointing out that having a Cambridge professor of music reviewing Jesus Jones (or whatever) was hardly the class-boundary-demolishing power-move being marketed. It doesn’t bode mega-well for tomorrow’s history of der NME, which *something tells me* won’t quite meet the standards of ILM.
PS I have a blog now, in which I will take aim at Peter Bradshaw from time to time.