Saturday, 14 August 2010

That long

Today, the day I moved into this house is precisely as long ago - sixteen years minus twelve days - as Jim Callaghan's announcement that there would be no October 1978 election was on the day of our one-way journey from Waterloo.

I did not then know the full implications of what had happened at that time, but I already sensed a strange mirage shortly before I was born, a mysterious and unknowable lost universe of the recent past even without real knowledge of the deeper context. I knew it from daytime BBC2 reruns, bleak late nights of Radio 2 - the products of the very same quieter, unmarketised BBC which died forever the summer we moved, precisely halfway between then and now. "Forever Autumn" - a song I would hear in public in the summer of 2007, just as that very same scenario was being repeated in my own time, and would be torn apart by more than ever - to me brought on uncontrollable versions of a permanently changed landscape, hidden years I could not yet begin to understand. In the gaping rooms of the empty house we arrived in, they almost single-handedly kept me going, because I knew, albeit only at some vague, unconscious level, the changes had been further consolidated, taken to another, more total level, that very summer - Blair had come, Birt had successfully taken the precise opposite of the "Himalayan Option", Potter and Jarman had gone, Tarantino had beaten Kieslowski at Cannes. On several important levels, all remaining resistance within the official political and media structures of Britain to market fundamentalism had been wiped out in a matter of months, as had official belief in a European cultural consensus which is still wrongly considered a force in the present day and attacked as "imperialist" by some of the anti-Mail single-issue blogs (whose writers, admirable as their criticism of those odious newspapers is, are still often too culturally supportive of the real modern-day imperialists). I knew something of huge importance had happened, but I couldn't work out what it was yet - all I could do was retreat into another private world that seemed immensely remote, almost like my own private August 1914, which was far more similar to the moment I was living through than I could possibly have understood at the time.

Perhaps for those born shortly after 1994 the moment before they entered the world is already developing a similar exoticism which they cannot yet understand. Perhaps for those being born now, 2010 will eventually take on a similar mythic potency as the moment the changes begun at the end of the 1970s, and accelerated in several crucial fields in the mid-1990s, began their final phase, the moment the complete, final obliteration of any trace of the British public sphere (and perhaps of Britain itself, as a state) began.

We cannot yet know. But today's Pick of the Pops - on the very same Radio 2 which, in the summer of 1994, still played the Dam Busters March in the middle of a weekday - by sheer coincidence expressed and spoke of everything. Winton opining that he thought Foreigner's "Cold As Ice", an ugly, jarring opener, had been a bigger hit (of course: he has been brainwashed), Cerrone's putative quasi-master-race that nonetheless seems wholly sympathetic (and an unconsciously well-timed, on the 43rd anniversary of the moment when Wilson unwittingly begat boomer Thatcherism, mention of Kenny Everett), Voyage's unequivocal EUtopia (the full 15 minutes may be pop's pinnacle, full stop), Renaissance at the very height of the Long Mynd (and how much we should all wish "Follow You Follow Me" had been another "Northern Lights", a pop moment in isolation by a prog band none of whom ever charted again), "If The Kids Are United" (a deeply, profoundly counter-revolutionary song, which irreconcilably called for social unity yet wilfully threw off the legacy of 1945: there is no real difference between its particular refusal of Butskellism and the Thatcherite version, or between the social conservatism of the Sham Army belief that, say, Magazine weren't for "people like us" and the age-old lumpen proletariat that reading and learning weren't), "Dancing in the City" (whose best moment, I think now, is Kit Hain's slowed, ominous final "tonight", which wholly undermines the celebration - which, throughout the song, might as easily have turned into a wake - and strongly hints at storms coming), "Forever Autumn" more final than ever, "Substitute" wholly untainted by apartheid or ABBA copyism.

And, of course, Grease and "Three Times a Lady" to remind us of who and what actually won.

It's Sunday now. I haven't just lived here that long, but longer. Somehow, Cameron's final phase of destruction seems that much more omnipresent than it did on Friday. My own personal Rubicon has been crossed. This is what Peter Hammill meant the year I was born when he wrote "Fogwalking".

Auberon Waugh wrote in the Spectator of 2nd September 1978 that capitalism was dead in Britain.

That's why "From East to West" is greater than anything with Tony Blair's electric guitars on it. That's why I'm sitting here now. That's why white pop, now, is unsalvageable. But it's also why time will be my ultimate fascination until my own is over, and why I still want to believe that there is, somewhere, a parallel universe akin to the one the freed children dance into in the final scenes of Lost Hearts and Moondial, where Voyage are more revered than Dylan, more famous than GaGa.

Don't mind me. I'll leave the house again, some time soon. But this is my justification. This is the reason. This is why I didn't die. I'll keep going, through whatever is to come.


  1. Hi Robin, great to see that you're blogging again!

    Entirely agree here:

    'On several important levels, all remaining resistance within the official political and media structures of Britain to market fundamentalism had been wiped out in a matter of months, as had official belief in a European cultural consensus which is still wrongly considered a force in the present day and attacked as "imperialist" by some of the anti-Mail single-issue blogs (whose writers, admirable as their criticism of those odious newspapers is, are still often too culturally supportive of the real modern-day imperialists')

    I notice a lot of these anti-Mail bloggers like to focus on the unambiguously odious aspects of these papers, like the non-story of the boy who was allegedly told to get off a bus for wearing a football strip by a foreign driver.

    But I notice a real wincing over issues like the Mail's fanatically neo-con foreign policy.

    I read a while ago the Russian film-maker Nikita Mikhailkov stated that the Orthodox Church was all that was saving Russia from MacDonalds. Wonder how many 'anti-Imperialist' ultra liberals would applaud this, largely correct, comment? Maybe it isn't an 'Imagine' dream scenario, but with pop culture become a fallen idol and the likes of Robbie Williams no more likely to intellectually criticise America's record in Latin America than he would have any inclination to morally attack it, it seems that nationalism and religion are the two major forces left opposing American imperialism.

    The ultra liberals don't need to take the anti-imperialist side, but difficult as it may be for their egos, they need to acknowledge that they are at best irrelevant to the debate and ideologically closer to neo-liberal imperialism than they may like to think.

  2. The thing is that the single-issue anti-Mail blogs, while they do a good job in alerting attention to the distortions and lies of modern tabloid journalism generally, can be criticised from two angles: both for their uncritical support of certain aspects of US influence *and* for their somewhat naive conception of an axis of opinion and thought which defines itself almost *solely* against the US (though maybe it shouldn't be so strange because in this case, as always, the general rule that socio-political tendencies which define themselves against each other are much more like each other than either would want to admit very much applies).

    We have the bizarre situation where Islam - which is broadly socially conservative and, in its fundamentalist forms, unequivocally far-right - is defended almost uncritically by *some* ultra-liberals and secularists, yet decried - as I alluded to in my other post - by newspapers which are broadly socially conservative and sometimes veer towards the far-right. I have no doubt that this has a lot to do with the Thatcherite realignment of mainstream conservatism towards an uncritically pro-Israel position, which has distorted the debate on every level: it has created kneejerk, unthinking bigotry among casual Sun and Mail readers against *all* forms of Islam, but it has also made *some* leftists feel they have to defend practices and social attitudes which are the antithesis of their own.

    While I agree with leftists when they point out that the majority of British Muslims are not fundamentalists/Islamists, I think some of the same people have a blind spot re. Christianity, often stating in the same breath that American fundamentalists of the Fred Phelps school are somehow typical of British Christians. This is a dangerous double standard, born out of a nasty combination of cultural cringe and belief that the US and UK are indistinguishable. There is something very unsettling about secularists stating that all religious beliefs are irrational but in the same breath calling people who have an attachment to Christian traditions "nationalists", "reactionaries" and "bigots", while refusing to criticise people whose interpretation of Islam would regard those same secularists as the ultimate enemy, and who are far more extreme and far more *unlike the secularists* than British social conservatives and traditionalists, whose differences from secular liberals are mild by comparison.

    But it is obvious why this attitude exists - it is the impact of the distortion of public debate by the Mail and the other tabloids, and the (understandable, even when - as in this case - misguided) left-liberal desire to be the absolute opposite of them at all times because they are *so horrible* and *so indefensible*, especially (and here's the deepest irony) when they're stirring up bigotry against people who are *even more socially conservative than they themselves are*. Had Arabist Toryism remained the leading strain within the party, there would probably be much less overriding Islamophobia *and* the legitimate left-wing case against the more extreme interpretations of that religion would not seem so tainted - one of many senses in which continued One Nation dominance would have been better for Britain.

    I tend to dislike the worst excesses of both neoliberal capitalism *and* religious fundamentalism - which is why I tend to support a certain idea of Europe, as a hopeful means of avoiding both. That might not work on either front I know but it seems a better chance than other options ...

    When I've had some sleep I'll do a blogpiece on the discrediting of the American dream through mass immigration etc., and what this might mean for the global appeal of pop music and what form it will take - songs like "Stereo Love" will feature prominently, no doubt.

  3. Robin
    Entirely agree re Islam and Christianity. I certainly feel ashamed of how Britain yaps around American ankles, ready to be complicit in any fight against Muslim nations. At the same time I notice that many liberals show astounding naivety about the Kosovan/Bosnian/Chechen/Turkish Muslims and have misinformed hatred at ‘Orthodox Serbs’ (in fact the Patriarch was a strong opponent of war and violence, Serbia is one of the most secular countries on earth).

    Also the way that the fanatical British atheists always seem to be chasing American fundamentalists (who I find equally appalling) is really stupid. I think they deep down avoid wanting to discuss people like Rowan Williams because 1) They wouldn’t understand his thought 2) He isn’t entertaining enough 3) Whilst they probably wouldn’t want to admit it, they’d feel bad being so rude about a middle class Oxbridge Brit instead of trailer trash. The irony is that many of them have more in common than they’d like to think with the fundamentalists.

  4. Indeed. To say that, while most Muslims in this country at least are not fundamentalists, the percentage who are is higher than the percentage of Christians in most countries (the US may perhaps be an exception) who are fundamentalists is not Islamophobic - you don't even have to be a Christian believer (I don't think I am anymore, particularly) to concede it.

    Did you ever read any of my 2003/04-ish writing re. Rowan Williams and the Incredible String Band?

    Incidentally, as I was very tired when I made my previous comment, I want to disassociate myself from one phrase I accidentally used above - I do not think the "American dream" has been discredited because of "mass immigration", I meant to write "mass unemployment". Many apologies to anyone else reading this who may have got the wrong idea.