Saturday, 26 September 2009

The best thing in S&S for ...

Lee Hall on a film legacy at least as valuable as - and perhaps more politically potent than - the British Transport Films archive I've perhaps known too long

also check this if you really want to feel bereft: this was contemporaneous with "Billie Jean"!

This is
relevant to the recent assertion of The Beatles, Inc. on multiple levels: while the remasters are, on one level, an attempt to sell the music to a generation for whom it is, finally, becoming ancient history, for whom the still-potent-in-1995 language of "it's the Beatles, man! the fucking Beatles!" - the irrational suspension of regular criticism whenever they are mentioned - no longer has any meaning, the reassertion of that very irrationality in the way they've been promoted and sold may also be seen as a cynical attempt to see off discussion of what the Beatles mean today, of whether or not their legacy is truly progressive now (and even if it ever was). If there was ever going to come a time when the progressiveness of the Beatles' inheritance would be up for question it would have come when the very class their power laughed out of office in 1964 (or so their official story has told us for so long) were on the brink of a gloatingly triumphant return and when the writing of the heavy-industrial-socialist legacy out of the public memory was being tentatively challenged. That time is now. EMI, if they are to survive, need to perpetuate the suspension of serious debate over the Beatles and what they mean four decades after - yes, quite, exactly - "Carry That Weight".

Of course, as I said, it isn't - mostly - their fault that Joy of a Toy (an Abbey Road / Python beginning / Murdoch eyeing his prey contemporary) hasn't been used to sell neoliberalism whereas their work has - it was an essential part of the Blair con-trick, the lie that somehow along with Anthology was going to come a return to the post-war settlement and an abandonment of everything from the hated 1980s (in truth, The Swing Out Sister Anthology would have been a more accurate harbinger of the political times to come). As I said earlier, I remain convinced that Lennon knew McCartney was more of a socialist than he was, and that the awareness of this haunted and chided Lennon far more than he would ever have been prepared to admit. And, as I said, I still love a lot of their work. But the fact remains that the Beatles are beloved of the very same forces who have written our industrial past and all it stood for out of history - and, in the long term, what has the Beatles' influence done more to erode: unaccountable elite power in the UK or the genuinely progressive culture of betterment (a word, tellingly, only used once in pop to my knowledge: "Earn Enough for Us" off Skylarking, what the Beatles' legacy should have been) and learning in the old industrial working class? You could surely, surely, not seriously dispute that they have done far more damage to the latter to the former. It wasn't their fault. But it still hurts.


  1. Yes, it looks a fascinating collection - and especially good to see that there'll likely be several volumes.

    Betterment; such are the interests pitted against intelligence in the US that even the relatively mild pro-education comments from Obama are barracked as 'Marxism':

  2. It's strange: when I think back to the rather desperate, posturing stances I took in my callow youth - writing to the Scout Association suggesting that the Musician's Badge become less classically-dominated (something which I think indeed happened very soon afterwards, dressed up as more inclusive when in fact it's every bit as narrowly monocultural as the old model, and in fact probably more so) - I feel an enormous, overpowering sense of shame. I feel that in some way I allied myself with all the forces of anti-intellectualism and corporate control, all the *internalised* and *institutionalised* hostility to education and learning, built on a false dream which may have seemed progressive in my parents' day. So this is why I feel so determined to break the association so many people still make (and which the Beatles industry is all about perpetuating) of "disliked by British Empire diehards 50 years ago = progressive *now*" (in few if any other countries could such an outmoded equation still be made) - it detracted my attention for far too long, and although I never fell for most of Blair's lies, it still prevented me from finding a true alternative.

    Interestingly, when I listen to the songs from 'Joy of a Toy' on YouTube, "All My Trials" on McCartney's own channel is now considered a "related video". They hardly have anything significant in common, so I wonder if this is because of my blog entry? (Are these related videos the same for everyone who visits the site? I've always assumed so.) It's a better statement than a song, obviously, and he was heading for a "he buggered off out of Liverpool as soon as he could" fall releasing it at the time, but I like the shot of a coal train at dusk in that video - so well-placed and ominous, and with a tiny hint of guilt at his own music's misappropriation seeping through.

  3. When I like something, I don't really care if the British Empire disliked it however many years ago or dislikes it now.

    But I did fall for some of Blair's lies, because they were so close to what I then came to think of as truth.

    Someone must be jigging up the numbers. Or it's McCartney being 'relevant'.

    The coal train ... yes, I did read the coal article from the British Film Society which you had last week.

    That last question of yours really does hang in the air. The elite is still around, if you mean people like the monarchy.

    Would never have pitched McCartney as a socialist.

    Read an argument on Saturday saying that young people are socialists because they are more involved in the distribution than the production of wealth (capital). Talked about children mostly being treated equally in comparison to their siblings and also being protected from most challenges by their parents. It is by a Thai-born philosopher.

  4. I'm not sure whether I'd regard McCartney as a socialist in the purest sense, but he definitely owed allegiance to the post-war settlement - I don't think he was so desperate to break out of it (hopefully into egalitarianism and libertarianism, but in reality into neoliberalism and ever-increasing inequality) as Lennon was, and I think that's where a lot of the tension came from. Lennon thought that anything other than the post-war settlement would be preferable and more free and equal, McCartney valued much more what Britain had at that time.

    Your last point has much to be said for it. Undoubtedly the more closely people become involved with the production of wealth, as they get older, the less likely they are to seriously want to challenge it.