Monday, 9 July 2012

Why the Beatles sound better under Cameron than under NuLab

Yes, yes, I know I posted here many times in the run-up to the last election that I'd never be able to listen to the Beatles again once the social tribe I had wrongly believed they had laughed out of power for good in 1964 was back in government.  Yes, yes, I did listen to "I Should Have Known Better" on election night, staring desperately at the sea I've so often wished could be drained to nothing, genuinely believing it would be the last time.  But strangely enough, things didn't turn out that way.  The Beatles actually sound better to me now - stranger, more rebellious, more of a challenge to the dominant ideology of the ruling elite - than at any time since before the Blairites and their pop-cultural allies got hold of them and turned them into a front for all the timewarping and imposing of fixed agendas on the working class that they ever opposed in their time.  The Beatles - or at least their mutant, uncontrollable side (why did I ever dismiss "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" as blues-bore purism?  It's easily the best and strangest thing on Abbey Road - an album which otherwise offers ample proof as to precisely why their split was necessary, and the fact that a teenage Alan Parsons was an engineer on it is frighteningly, chillingly apt) - have been rehabilitated, freed from elite manipulation, by the very event I thought would finally rob them of all meaning for good.

What has made the difference is that our current rulers come from the first generation for whom the Beatles are Before Their Time, a mere detail that contains no personal or emotional resonance and may have been dismissed as an unwelcome parental imposition (indeed, their adolescence was during the very period often dismissed during the Blair/Britpop ascendancy for not sufficiently venerating the band).  George Osborne was born a year after Let It Be was released. But Ed Miliband was also, crucially, born when they had more or less ceased to exist.  It works both ways; the Beatles being History (if not quite, yet, Proper History) to a politician may be a factor in a complete inability to see that alternatives to neoliberalism even exist, a significant reinforcement in an institutional belief that pop culture is merely a front for increasing elite power, but it might also be a reason (Miliband was born at Murdoch's first Christmas; McDonald's first came to London when he was four) for that politician being open to at least quasi-socialist ideas on the organisation of British society, without being blinded - as the Blairites were - by the misleading childhood glamour of Radio Caroline and tabloids and fast food seeming exotic and unobtainable.  Not having lived in the pre-Murdoch world utterly closes some politicians to other options, but makes some politicians far more open to other ways than those who actually grew up in it were.

Virtually throughout the first thirty years of my life (with a slight reversion to older ways under John Major) Britain was governed by former members of one or other of the two great revolutionary movements of 1974.  In my childhood, during which most of my considerable pleasures came from the dying embers of the pre-1979 world, those who - after early political careers which they would later dismiss, with Britain itself at that time, as drifting and directionless - sensed that their time might be coming when they Found Themselves as part of the right-wing anti-state movement of the mid-1970s held sway.  In my late teens and twenties, from which I can take few positive recollections of any kind, erstwhile members of the mid-70s radical student-left who had also supported the withering away of the state, albeit for entirely different reasons, came to the fore, having created a brilliantly cynical hybrid between their old pop-cultural loyalties and 80s neoliberalism which they (absolutely and entirely correctly) now recognised was a far more potent and workable method of enforcing their anti-old-establishment cultural visions and post-Marxist enthusiasm for global capitalism - the capitalist stage of the Marxist process with the ending changed (a phrase which effectively describes New Labour, the American neoconservatism it embraced so enthusiastically, and to a great extent Thatcherism; never forget Alfred Sherman's political origins).

But now, for the first time, those whose political thinking was developed during the tumult unleashed by Harold Wilson's cathartic defeat-in-victory have retired from the front rank, never to return. In the process, the Beatles really have become Proper History - and thus, as they never were before 2010, immune to the distortions and misinterpretations of the political process.  Nothing can touch them now; the elite no longer care anyway.  We have a rising political elite for whom the mid-1970s were about nothing so much as Brian Cant and Geoffrey Hayes (if even that), not a grand-scale left-right power struggle.  And that can mean anything the politicians want it to.  It can mean what George Osborne wants it to mean, or what Ed Miliband wants it to mean.  What do you want it to mean?  That is as decisive a question in 2012 as "what do you want the collapse of the post-war consensus to mean?" was in 1975.  Nobody can afford not to answer it.  There is the Cliff Richard / Duran Duran / Dappy answer, or the Beatles / Human League / Trilla answer.  How will you answer for yourself, if the judgement of history condemns you for not giving the latter answer sufficiently loudly and forcefully here, now?

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