Friday, 2 January 2009

The West Coast Main Line: my final word (hopefully)

I never asserted that everything about the West Coast Main Line corridor and its influence on British culture was evil (I may have said that it has curdled from exciting future to narrow, repressive New Norm, an entirely different assessment).  I did however say that the dominance of the WCML cities' white working class of British pop has greatly declined, for multiple reasons: the middle class having taken on pop as they have absorbed commercialism more generally, the crushing of what was, even in the 1980s, a greater resistance to debt-fuelled consumerism in Yorkshire, south Wales etc. and thus an increasing pop-friendliness in those places, the impact of 60 years of immigration fundamentally altering the fabric of the WCML cities and thus creating an entirely different form of pop (although of course that has been going on for a long time - three decades will very, very soon have passed since 2-Tone).

But the fundamental changes that have weakened a few cities' grip on British pop are as much technological as anything else.  Classic example: everyone knows that the Beatles were hugely influenced by the fact that they had access to R&B records (otherwise almost unobtainable in the UK and receiving zero media exposure) because Liverpool was a port, almost everyone knows that the Stones could obtain similar records in London for the same reasons, it's like knowing that Citizen Kane is A Very Good Film, it's that obvious.  But today the closest equivalent music can be heard wherever you are in the UK by multiple means that quite simply weren't around then - I almost feel like I'm talking to five-year-olds when I say this, but the main point I have always tried to make is that this fact must, by its very nature, make a vast difference to the entire nature of pop in Britain, every single aspect of the way it is produced and consumed. Where pop was once a treat, it is now as mundane as light orchestral music was then - and it is the WCML cities who have lost their dominance as a result of the normalisation of pop.

And hand in hand with the normalisation of pop goes the sheer passing of time.  Listening to "To Know Him Is To Love Him" (charting in the UK half a century ago this week) earlier on, I could hardly believe it was as old as Second World War songs used to be.  The oldest schoolteachers still in work in any great numbers are of the generation that screamed at the Beatles, and even they will be gone before too long.  What does this change?  Nothing, except everything.

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