Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Six years ago

Reynolds, K-Punk and I had an epic discussion about, among other things, when exactly the 1960s lineage ended, highlighted by a disagreement over what exactly Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" ended - Reynolds thought the lineage of liberal tolerance and art-pop inherited from the 60s, I thought the Old Tory England which was the other, less fashionable victim of Thatcherism (as I have pointed out elsewhere, Cameron - or, as he will forever be known here, Carlton Man - merely confirms this end rather than challenges it).

I'd still broadly stand by that, though I can now better express my view that to see the 80s as a force crushing absolutely everything that came from the 60s, a decisive ending to a mythical golden era, is profoundly misleading because it ignores the vital fact that, to a very considerable extent, neoliberalism was merely a natural continuation of impulses set loose by 60s pop culture. But by the same criteria I think I can say, almost certainly with much greater accuracy, that the punk lineage - the line of descent to 1977 in British music - decisively, definitely ended with "Whatever" by Oasis. I will explain why, if anyone wants.


  1. "that the punk lineage - the line of descent to 1977 in British music - decisively, definitely ended with "Whatever" by Oasis.I will explain why, if anyone wants."
    Please do.

  2. me too ... I vote for an explanation

  3. OK then. The context is late '94: Birt's just secured the BBC's future but only on a trade-off which pretty much eliminates the traditional ideas of public service broadcasting. Accordingly, Bannister's marginalising the public service elements thrown into Radio 1 when it seemed as though that would be the only way to guarantee its survival. Blair's throwing off every long-cherished shibboleth of the Left. The Criminal Justice Act's on the statute books. The last subcultures in that clear lineage to 1977 - the whole anti-CJA protesting scene (what became retrospectively mocked as 'crusty') and NWONW - are exhausted, worn out and dying. And "Whatever" seems to embody that new populism, that new determination to play to the crowd and throw every subcultural certainty away in the name of the market. Just the sheer non-committal nothingness of the lyrics represents a massive cultural rejection of every principle long taken as gospel by the cultural Left. "Refreshingly politically incorrect" comedy can trace its roots to this moment.

    While I've argued before that the humiliation of 'Be Here Now' is a roundabout way the root of the rehabilitation of prog - it discredited the NME (which was in turn now playing to the crowd in exactly the same way as the bands it now covered) and therefore weakened the "NME consensus" on what was OK to like and what wasn't - I think you can arguably trace the end of that whole world, both the bad aspects (blind tribalism) and the good aspects (belief in a certain set of principles, specifically the idea that not every human emotion and act should be dictated by the market), much earlier in Oasis's career. I mean, by August 1996, the Daily Telegraph was advertising on the back page of Melody Maker ...

    "Common People" - the last great British pop record in the old sense - came five months later, of course, but as a statement of pop as something other than agent of the neoliberal state it was akin to my cat's last meow at the precise moment the injection to end her pain took effect. It was an incredible statement, but (alas) also a death rattle. But great pop lives on, in different ways.

  4. I loved Common People when I heard it. Great rhythm and it had a political message too. (This is in the 90s).

    At the bowling alley, there is great pop. For example, Kool and the Gang, who I don't know if they are English or American. What about Katrina and the Waves and their 'Walking on Sunshine'? Probably not very political but shiny nevertheless.

    August 1996: that was a turning point. Here I am, knowing the Telegraph only for its excellent foreign news (some here may beg to differ). It wasn't particularly excellent European news.

    The person who inspired Common People (she was Greek) makes me think of Mara Leonodis in Trebizon. Her dad was a real fixer type.

    New Musical Express really tried to play to the crowd in 2000-01 and even in 2002.

  5. Interesting post Robin. As for Common People, firstly I always thougt Cocker was narcissistic* and secondly, I always found that an ironic song given how poor Greece is(didn't Cocker say it was based on a true story then backtrack?).

    Greece is a poor country, yet there is a solidarity (especially through the Orthodox Church in rural areas which is hated by the modern left even though it has done far more for national unity than most leftists).

    Still, I wondered if you had any thoughts on the difference between American and British pop culture. A lot of Frank Zappa's songs were very amusing attacks on both the hippies and the establishment. He was always a fiscal conservative, yet at the same time deeply unconformist.

    *I think it went a bit too far, but there was an amusing Brass Eye parody of him singing a song about Myra Hindley. British comedy is one aspect of popular culture that still has some bite, even though the 'hilariously politically incorrect' rubbish seems to get the seals clapping.

  6. I can never work out whether Adelaide is serious (though that Trebizon reference probably gives everything away).

    Part of me has always wondered whether the girl was actually from a posh background *in Britain*, and JC didn't want to appear to be condemning someone the Daily Telegraph would apply their own protectionism to for stepping outside her comfort zone - in other words he didn't want to appear to be unintentionally allied with the DT, he wanted to identify it with someone they wouldn't care about. Maybe.

    I think the relationship between American and British pop culture is the *unspoken* theme of much of my writing: it may be buried too deeply to be instantly discernible, though.

    I'm sure you'll agree with my comments re. Jimmy Carr over at Neil Clark's blog.

  7. I would trace "refreshingly politically incorrect comedy" to men who spent their pre-pub teenage Friday nights watching Central Weekend or their regional equivalents (the first British show to exemplify the point-and-laugh-at-the- prolterariat attitude) followed by Eurotrash (breathing new life into the concept of the "funny foreigner" and sending the value of irony through the roof.) The success of these two types of programmes - no doubt buoyed by a market created by the sort of forces that you anatomise on here - is responsible for *so* many of the ills on current British TV.

  8. Oh, and, for what it's worth, I think that the Telegraph were advertising in The Face in 1989 or so.

  9. Hi Robin

    I’m afraid I did not get the first reference in your Neil Clark post for the 1979 series. Britain still does make some intelligent comedies, though these seem to be ‘culty’. The strange irony for me is that Monty Python is probably the most badly written retro comedy, yet it seems the most popular and influential.

    You could be correct about Common people. It seems meaningful that the video starred Sadie Frost rather than an actual Greek. Having considerable experience of Greek culture, I don’t think that they’d ‘get’ snobbery or the lure of an underclass.

    My point about British/ American pop culture was a bit clumsily put, but it seems to me that even if we dislike it, America has a small government conservatism that does have a certain ethos and gravitas (hence they have The American Conservative whilst British Tory papers are all pretty solidly neo-con). This could be reflected to an extent in the music, so Frank Zappa voiced a call for individualism which was not as narrowly selfish as some Brit counterparts.

    @purifying storm
    Well, at least Antoine DeCaunnes had a certain self-mocking charm. I think the popularity of these comedies is partially a backlash against political correctness (which does exist and can be cloying) but it often morphs into open bigotry and nastiness.

  10. Incidentally, I don't have a TV, but from what I've seen of Jimmy Carr you are correct.

  11. Gregor - the 1979 point was simply that Thatcher came to power that year, so it's a good starting point for a certain sort of consciously left-wing and, compared to anything that exists now, counter-cultural comedy, as 1997 is an end point (for there could be no way out for Chris Morris post-Brass Eye).

    The thing with Python is that, like the Beatles and practically everything good that came out of the 60s, it's been co-opted by a load of wankers who don't have a fucking clue about its true spirit, or anything creative that they can't instantly digest and snigger at (with the Beatles it's more people who've forgotten that their heroes were formed by black American music, but that's a whole other issue and another ongoing mid-90s curse). Hence the whole American version of Python that was also taken up by New Lads: the industry of repeating the same jokes (always the least funny bits of the programme) over and over again, fucking Spamalot, the long-term non-appearance of the proper series on Region 2 DVD and the shoddy releases we eventually got. I maintain that if you actually watch the whole series - especially the later ones where the class-war tensions of the 70s are seeping further in and Cleese's caricatures of the sort of office types who would soon be blown out of the water by global capital are gone - you'll see rare invention and creativity, but I can understand you thinking otherwise, because so many twats have tried to claim it for their horrible ends and turn it into a pissed blokes' quoting contest.

    It is a bitter irony that while neoconservatism originated in the US, and is wholly alien to the British conservative tradition of comparative moderation and balance (as well as to the Arabism of many pre-Thatcher Tories), its takeover of the right-wing press here has if anything been more total here than there, give or take the odd Corelli Barnett op-ed in the Mail (which can be safely ignored because of where they are). There's something in what you say - I find the aggressive individualism of much British rock harder to take than its source, because at least when Americans take that stance it's something deep in their hearts and bodies, something embedded in the culture. Even when it's bad, it isn't a hollow ghost of something others do better anyway.

    In the case of the DT there were definitely major changes after 1986 when Conrad Black took it over and it became part of global capital in a way it had never been before, and probably got people who understood marketing in for the first time (c.f. this unbelievably stilted 1984 ad - ) - also it was sheer self-preservation, in that they knew their old readers were dying. By the decade's end, as I've only just remembered, the paper was "supporting" Channel 4's coverage of American football (without which there would never have been a Premier League, as everyone has forgotten except me).

    I think the Central Weekend/Eurotrash point is a good one - those regional shoutathons (a TV Cream quote, for shame) really did seem to herald the abandonment of journalistic integrity and responsibility, a pseudo-democratisation that in reality *strengthened* elite power, and of course Eurotrash was always one of the worst things ever broadcast in the UK, an emotionally, culturally and politically stunting force which massively strengthened all the factors which have kept us from engagement with our true partners just at the time when they might have been overturned (earlier today I watched a 1968 'Howerd's Hour' - peak-time ITV, Sunday night - on which Sandie Shaw sang "Ne me quitte pas" *in the original French*: Britain more "global", in the true sense, than it was 40 years ago my eye). I think it's fair to presume, though, that virtually all of those men would have owned '(What's the Story) Morning Glory'.

  12. Seems like an ambiguity above (which I had to edit down) - I hate the Mail myself, obviously, but I find Corelli Barnett's op-eds just about the least worst things in it. My point was more that neocons assume, probably correctly, that they won't be taken seriously if they're only in the Mail - whereas if paleoconservative sentiments appear in the "proper" right-wing papers they now control, i.e. the Times and Telegraph, *then* they get worried.

  13. Robin
    Haven't seen the MP series in a very long time, but I would like to watch it again. Still, I didn't like their films. But you sum up what I was talking about, which was more to do with its influence than the show itself:

    'The thing with Python is that, like the Beatles and practically everything good that came out of the 60s, it's been co-opted by a load of wankers who don't have a fucking clue about its true spirit... the industry of repeating the same jokes (always the least funny bits of the programme) over and over again'

    It seems that most modern comedy uses the formula that weird + incongruous + offensive+ catch phrase = hilarious. And when people say 'the knights who go mnee' it is just annoying.

    By contrast the works of Perry and Croft are now regarded as deeply 'uncool' despite being very well written. I half suspect it was because a lot of the humour was surprisingly sophisticated and also that many of the characters were service/ working class. Sex in the City mainly uses double entendres, which are often idiotic, yet it is 'sophisticated' because the characters are upper middle class careerists. The social comedy falls flat on its arse, yet no-one seems to care because it is a 'cool' show.

    Still, whilst Chris Morris left the radar, his colleague Armando Iannucci did a show with some really funny and challenging scenes. I thought the 'it's all made of paper' sketch was quite a cunning take on Britain's allegedly massive GDP and the reality of our manufacturing. I also thought In the Loop was the best Brit film I've seen in quite a while.

  14. I was brought up on Dad's Army (the 90s reruns) but, perhaps precisely because of that overexposure, never really want to watch it now, though I recognise how well-observed the characters are (specifically the tension between insecure social climber and lazy, gently declining lapsed aristocrat, probably the best development of one of Britain's archetypes) and wish P&C had taken them further in later years, and not written quite so many episodes in which Pike or Hodges get wet. Is It Ain't Half Hot Mum anywhere near as good as Neil thinks it is?

  15. Robin

    I was thinking mainly about Are You Being Served and the early seasons of Allo Allo. It is true that Croft and Perry were extremely prolific and their work suffered as a result, but they were very skilled writers and assembled a lot of very good casts.

    Oddly, I’ve read that some gay rights groups attacked John Inman (himself gay) for portraying Mr Humphries. It seems oddly ironic and indicative of our cultural coarseness that Graham Norton’s dick-obsessed oily caricature of a gay man is uncontroversial whilst the ingenuous yet amusing Mr Humphries is attacked.

    As for shows like Eurotrash, I think there is a certain unintentional irony. In America there is the joke that Europeans, especially from the East, are obsessed with American culture but don’t get it and subsequently look very stupid.

    Now I think we Brits are probably the worst. I saw a book critic in Te Graun with a face like a bulldog and an emo haircut. Thankfully I’ve forgotten his name (Stuart something) but this beefeater with a pretty-boy haircut seemed to sum up all that’s wrong with modern Britain.

  16. AYBS and 'Allo 'Allo were co-written by Croft not with Perry but with Jeremy Lloyd, whose sense of humour was much more innuendo-heavy and end-of-the-pier than Perry's and much less developed (I always get the impression that a lot of the slapstick in Dad's Army was Croft, and a lot of the characterisation - which, as I said, I wish had been developed further - was Perry). To be honest, the Croft/Lloyd sitcoms leave me cold - I can understand why people respect them as part of the once-normative culture of a previous Britain, but they don't have the warmth and affection of the Croft/Perry ones, whose veneration (which significantly is much greater anyway) I can understand far more. In the social context of the 1970s I can understand why Mr Humphries (and Larry Grayson) were attacked, though I'd find it hard to get worked up about either now.

    Absolutely agree with your last point. This time of year is when it's most horribly clear.

  17. Yes, because it's the silly season.

    And the papers run out of things to say.

    Just wait until New Years' Eve, when they have all their lists and highlights/lowlights/sidelights of the year past.

    With Eurotrash and the American reaction: isn't that what a certain Borat and a certain Bruno play on?