Sunday, 20 December 2009

"Killing in the Name"

is a dreadful, bludgeoningly simplistic song which offers no real challenge to the tyranny of aggressive individualism - it's merely a repackaging, a different form of the same. Anything to do with the charts is, ultimately, an illusion, "democratisation" only in the misleading, Blairite sense, which merely distracts people from the much more difficult task of achieving true democratisation (such rhetoric may well be seen as unreconstructedly Communist, but the last twenty years have surely shown us that there was a lot of truth in Communist ideas of "revolutionary" rock as ultimately counter-revolutionary almost by definition).

That's not to deny I was moderately excited, though, and pleased about the number one on its own level. But nothing more. And "nothing more" is all that Rage Against The Machine ever were.


  1. Largely agree with you Robin; RATM are nothing special, though preferable to another x-factor clone. But I wonder if there is much element of choice to the state of modern music or if ‘classical rock’, as it were, was an aberration that even its practitioners couldn’t sustain. I’m still in shock from reading about Roger Waters and Eric Clapton giving a concert for the Countryside Alliance (old news, but new to me). To think of erstwhile Rock ‘rebels’ giving concerts to support the wealthiest strata of our society is something I find strangely shocking.

    Maybe the rock golden age between the sixties and eighties was one that can’t be replicated.

  2. I don't find it particularly shocking, though I can understand why others might - but when you look back at the Marine Offences Act, and the fact that many of the offshore stations' biggest supporters were bound up with the Institute of Economic Affairs, it hardly seems surprising. The "rebellion" of 60s/70s rock was *always* cast in individualist terms alien to even a social democratic society, let alone a socialist one - the Wilson government's consigning all forms of pop and rock to a station which shared time with Radio 2, and featured Joe Loss and the Northern Dance Orchestra, confirms that nagging, horrible truth. It was the Beatles' influence, floating across the Pennines, which dealt the first blows to the immense respect for high culture which once characterised the mining communities ... certainly, though, when I look through old NMEs, the thing that strikes me the most is how alien the sense of cultural war and conflict are, and how the rhetoric and criteria used just don't make sense anymore - in an age when Brett Anderson is in Debrett's and John Tusa has to talk about Peel sessions and even New Kids on the Block in the same programme as the fall of the Berlin Wall, a reference from 1981 to "provincial bookstalls and public libraries" not stocking books even about Elvis and Springsteen, almost certainly true at the time, might as well come from a hundred years ago.

    Clapton was obviously always right-wing and could be said to be proto-Thatcherite in the sense that he was politically conservative while throwing all the old cultural shibboleths of conservatism on the fire, but Waters is an intriguing balance - amid all the egotism and self-obsession of his later works, there *is* a genuine mourning for the death of the post-war settlement on 'The Final Cut', and there are quieter, subtler bricks hidden in 'The Wall' amid all the bombast ("Goodbye Blue Sky", in isolation, is a perfect threnody for the demise of collective endeavour). And nobody could call 'Animals', which in large parts is what punk tried to be but usually wasn't (with all the ambiguity that suggests), right-wing in any way. Maybe Waters' balance between left and right, between individualism and collectivism, is a perfect metaphor for the uneasy, uncertain politics of his generation and rock music itself.

  3. Oh, and should anyone doubt that 60s pop culture was *always* heading for a violent collision with the post-war settlement, may I point out that the most petulant, adolescent moan ever about having to give *some* of your vast wealth to those less fortunate came from the pen of George Harrison, that supposed merchant of love and peace.

    The problem that pop/rock culture has today is that it was built on the glorification of the young, the ephemeral and the impermanent against an establishment culture that still believed in the old, the enduring and the permanent. But now there is no *cultural* establishment, there is only a global financial elite, and now everything it called for is official and institutionalised ... where can it turn? As we have all seen in the two post-Cold War decades, it isn't pretty.

  4. I presume you’re speaking about Tax Man? I do think that we should remember that many of the pop-musicians who argued with the state did not have the ‘wisdom of hindsight’ we might have now. For example Harold Wilson got a lot of flack for not condemning the Vietnam war when we were up to our ballocks in debt to the states. Of course when TV screens were flooded with images of brutality from that war, it must have been all to easy to criticise Wilson, but compared to Blair…

    I even saw someone on an internet comments page said that Paul Weller voted Tory in 1979. I suppose if Harold Pinter voted Tory then, anyone could. But I doubt if they expected her eerie personality cult to arise after The Falklands. Whilst the 70s seems idyllic in some sense now (and according to one poll it was when the Brits were happiest) that is not to deny that much of the economy was inefficient: many would have criticised the government without especially expecting neo-liberal hegemony.

    Still, I sadly think you are right overall. When I arrived in Greece, I stopped in a café in Athens airport where the radio station played beautiful folk music. Not twee ‘Zorba’s dance’ but very gentle singing. Perhaps the irony in retrospect was that it was more lovely than the mechanical jingles you’d get in Britain from whatever band has been shat out of the x factor.

    Speaking of Greece and popular culture’s worship of youth, I noticed how the horrid spoilt brats that went around attacking innocent people and their property were pretty unanimously called ‘protestors’ in the Brit media (the parents of the boy who was tragically killed nd who was their alleged motivation implored them to stop because they were not honouring their son’s name, but in typical ‘generation y’ fashion they continued). I also noticed that a Greek columnist in Te Graun said that they needed reformed limited government in Greece, which I think shows just where the world is going. My friends in Greece tell me things are changing rapidly for the bad and the ‘left wing’ Papandreou government wants to triple church taxes.

    It is curious how neo-liberalism seems to have an almost soviet attitude towards alternative social institutions.

  5. Your first point is undoubtedly correct. Had I had to listen to Bob Miller and the Millermen covering Motown, I dare say I myself might have idealised the American way and assumed that *anything* else would surely be freer and more equal than the post-war state, and I dare say I might also have demonstrated against Wilson for being subservient to the US (which was part of the reason why John Lennon returned his MBE) ... I just hope that I would eventually have realised my mistake on the first issue, and realised on the second matter that Wilson in fact did as much as he could in the circumstances, with Britain's effective bankruptcy, to maintain an independent foreign policy - refusing to send troops was, considering Britain's national mortgage, a brave and proud effort, especially when set against our beloved rock'n'roll Prime Minister of recent and sorrowful memory. It's interesting how boomer liberal semi-hawks like Ian McEwan use the word "parochial" to refer to opponents of messianic US-led efforts to "reorder the world" (not that I think the US will ever again be as uncritically sure of itself in doing such things as large parts of it were in the first half of this decade, but still), a sure sign of the false equation they make even today between people who take a certain political stance and the stuffy old fogeys they vanquished decades ago.

    Indeed, just as many demonstrating in Eastern Europe twenty years ago would have wanted a more democratic form of socialism rather than what they ended up with, many in Britain in the 70s would have wanted an alternative, maybe more efficient and less held down by restrictive practices, form of social democracy - in fact, pretty much what Wilson advocated in 1963 and rendered himself a hostage to fortune ever thereafter. I think Weller felt, as a lot of people did, that the Callaghan government was worn out and decayed and that *some* sort of change was necessary - it was the classic pop/rock mentality of those years, feeling that anything which took us out of stagnation would automatically be better. There's an early Jam song called "Time for Truth" which is full of ludicrous bombast about the loss of British power and how everything needs to be sorted out ... horribly confused and adolescent, but happily they became more coherent as time went on and Weller (who for me peaked in 1988 with 'Confessions of a Pop Group', but then I've gone on about that many times in many places) realised his mistake very quickly indeed. All that being said, if anyone tries to organise a mass download of "Eton Rifles" for election week number one, they really shouldn't - partially because something like the RATM thing can never work so well a second time, and partially because Peter Hammill's "The Old School Tie", an almost exact contemporary, says pretty much the same thing far more incisively and effectively.