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Author Topic: Old man advises critics to cool it
mackstress
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So, perhaps we should all make a resolution to slap an emo round the chops tomorrow. Except it'd probably only give them more fuel.
I don't think pop should be the preserve of the rebellious youth, anyway. You perpetuate those sorts of ideas, you can all too easily end up with Pete Doherty. Or The View.

Mat P: I think 'The Purple Decades' is a best-of, really, so you've probably got most of the contents already.

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Robin Carmody
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Almost everything Mat has said in this thread (certainly his first few posts) should be taken up as a political manifesto. I'd vote for it. After all, I also despise much of what pop has done to Britain, above all else its effect on our commitment, or otherwise, to the European cause. When he spoke of those who originated rapidly becoming "bourgeois shits", I suspect strongly that he was thinking of Mick Jagger above all others: certainly he was the first person to come into my mind when I read that. A lot of my writing involves the basic idea that, without Thatcherism, pop would seem more other, more exciting today, as perhaps it still does in some continental European countries (where if anything the circumstances which would enhance pop's otherness, which retreated throughout the 90s, have resurged in the 2000s): you know what I think about that.

The problem with talking about the decline, or otherwise, of "the class system" is the question of what is meant by such a nebulous phrase: social relations/accents/dress sense/tastes or how much money people have or don't have. The former are far less divided than they were, not least due to pop's influence, the latter more unequal than ever (this is what I mean when I talk on my livejournal about 60s ideas having won a "partial victory", which I think is sometimes worse than total defeat in some ways, although to say that pop has only won a "partial victory" is only true if you think pop cared about removing financial rather than cultural divisions in the first place: the Jagger version of it certainly didn't, and *that* at least has won a complete victory). I think I actually talk more about the death of Old Toryism, and about the way younger "posh" people tend not to flaunt overt privilege (again, a key part of pop's legacy): from an Old Tory perspective, what Digby Anderson writes in "All Oiks Now" is absolutely logical and accurate. As I argued recently in my livejournal piece attacking those who criticise David Cameron as a stereotypical "toff", and stating that that actually risks blinding people to what is really potentially dangerous about him politically, I don't think it's Blairite to acknowledge that pop-cultural influences have made social relations between people of widely different financial backgrounds easier and less fraught (I doubt whether my 19-year-old mother, in 1963, could have felt on equal cultural terms with an Old Wykehamist the way 19-year-old me felt with Tom Ewing when I started writing for Freaky Trigger in 2000: I did later fall out with them to an extent, but not because I thought he was a stereotypical toff - if anything I thought his experiences blinded him to the realities and made him what I call "pseudo-rebellious", c.f. E10's earlier post, partially). What *would* be Blairite would be to state that they overpower everything else and that financial equality a) doesn't matter and b) isn't worth achieving. Rest assured that I would never say that, and if I ever have, I wouldn't now.

But I think talking about "class" without any embellishment doesn't get us very far: we should be talking about maybe "cultural differences" and "financial inequality" to avoid any ambiguity (British people even today often don't, and certainly they historically usually didn't, mean "financial equality" when they say "class"; c.f. all those who went to the US and came back saying there was "no class system" there when what they meant is that it wasn't seen as unusual for the financial elite to be completely immersed in mass culture, i.e. what is increasingly the case in Thatcherised Britain: they *certainly* did not mean that it was a financially equal society, when it was and is one of the few societies to be more financially unequal than even Britain).

"Fabled Foursome, Disappearing Decade", the essay Taylor alludes to, was an immense influence on me (at the same time that Taylor's own writing was): what was key about it was the idea that hippiedom - specifically the British ruralist wing of it - was the last gasp of an earlier culture rather than the start of anything new, and that it was the *mass* in the 60s, the ones who didn't think they were radical and weren't seen as such, who were actually what I call *unconscious radicals* (that's actually quite a good phrase for the more commercial pop in that era, really, *unconscious radicalism*). There's probably a lot of truth in that, most explicitly in the case of folk-rock (and you can see the current Archbishop of Canterbury's liking for the Incredible String Band as further proof): people like the Tremeloes were more disconnected from what youngish middle-class people in the 60s had been exposed to, culturally, in their early childhood than a lot of the underground stuff was. In the final months and weeks of Ian MacDonald's life, I was writing a lot of stuff lifting ideas from that piece without even remembering where they'd come from: re-reading after his death, I felt it was a tribute to his impact (that his ideas had wormed their way that far into my mind) but also somehow guilty.

wingco's last post is also scarily accurate.

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Robin Carmody
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And here's the original MM review of "Loveless", indeed written by Simon Reynolds, from the edition of 2nd November 1991; his style here is manifestly less *intense* and full-on that what he'd written at MM's absolute peak in 1988, but it would have been impossible to keep that up (I mean, what I'm writing now I'm 26 is less intense than what I wrote at 23, but I think it's better, all round, though I see the importance of that all-too-brief youthful belief that nothing is beyond you). Incidentally, the same issue features an MBV interview done by the Stud Brothers, who make a rather sarcastic reference to those who felt the album should have gone further out there (they were certainly never short of attacks on some of the weirder stuff Reynolds was into, although they were still a long way from the unashamed trad-rockery they had descended into by the mid-90s when Ben Stud became an unashamed Oasis cheerleader; see also Paul Mathur ceasing to be an interesting writer and becoming to the Gallaghers what Everett True had been to Nirvana). I rather agree that "Blown A Wish" is a step over the edge on that album, and probably the track I like least.

---------------------------------

MY BLOODY VALENTINE
LOVELESS
(Creation)

It was always going to be one of the year's most momentous and anxiously awaited records. Where My Bloody Valentine's 1988 peers have either turkeyed out (Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, Loop) or gone into inexplicable hibernation (A.R. Kane, Young Gods), only My Bloody Valentine have upped the stakes with each of their sporadic releases. The hope was that this, the sequel to "Isn't Anything", would, when it deigned to turn up, unfurl a whole new frontier.

And that new frontier is sorely needed. While MBV have been semi-absent, they've also been omnipresent, as an absurd, near-exhausted influence. While there's a grain of truth in the assertion that the Scene That Celebrates Itself (an MM term for what everyone else called shoegazing - RC) bands *don't* sound much like the Valentines, it's not for lack of trying. All the Scene bands conform to the vague model that MBV coined - dazed and confused guitar blur, swoony vocals, lyrics about the chaos of desire, etc. But it's equally true that not one of them has come *close* to the MBV sound, that sensual turmoil that seems to seethe and smoulder under your skin. Instead (exempting maybe 50 per cent of Slowdive and Moose material) the Scene groups make *bliss bland*, offer rapture-by-rote. Those of us who are a little harder to please have been hoping that this LP would shame the imposters back into oblivion.

"Loveless" isn't, quite, the record to do that. But it does reaffirm how unique, how peerless, MBV are. On "Loveless", My Bloody Valentine are the same as before, only more so - more lustrous, languorous, inchoate, phantasmic. Whatever umbilical cords that still tied them to the Velvets/Mary Chain lineage or the Byrds/Husker Du/Dinosaur Jr continuum have now been wholly severed. Where your Rides and Chapterhouses are easy to dis-assemble into their constituent parts, MBV are an amalgam, an alchemical brew, a simmering all-new sound. They've never been more *them*.

Throughout "Loveless", MBV sound pregnant, as if their music is about to metamorphosise to a higher state that they themselves can't conceive. "Loomer" isn't "Rock" so much as magma, a plasma of sound that barely conforms to the contours of riff or powerchord. "To Here Knows When", too, hardly qualifies as rock: the rhythm sectioin is a dim, suppressed rumble, there's no riff or chord-sequence, just billowing parabolas of unfocussed sound (sampled feedback, actually) and a tantalising Erik Satie melody that fades in and out of earshot. It's here that Bilinda Butcher's vocal is at its most pallid and eclipsed. "To Here ..." is MBV's most suicidal song - commercially, obviously, but also in the sense that the group as human entities are dissipated, dissolved, drowned.

All of "Loveless" is suffused with an apocalyptic, pre-orgasmic glow, the sound of an annihilating intimacy. MBV music is a smelting, melding curcible of love in which every borderline and boundary (inside/outside, you/me, lover/beloved) is abolished. Instead of the normal perspective of rock production (bass here, guitar there, voice there, with the listener mastering the field of hearing), MBV are here, there, everywhere. They permeate, irradiate, subsume and consume you.

"When You Sleep" is drowsy, dozy, heaven-scented pop that seems to be about hovering over the beloved, made dizzy by the newborn vulnerability. "I Only Said" is a cauldron of scalding sweetness, turning on a wincingly exquisite motif (sampled feedback again). On "Come In Alone", a similar motif is the only distinct, focal element in an asphixiatingly lovely bliss-bath - the effect is like drowning in honey. "Sometimes" is an aftermath ballad, Kevin Shields' vocal huddling forlonrly in a crater overshadowed by a looming precipice of grunge. "Blown A Wish" is yet another Ecstasy blitz, sickly and soppy enough to give even Liz Fraser toothache, while Bilinda's hyperventilated oohs and aahs sound like she's got hummingbirds in her stomach. It's swoony, but in the end it's too much: like staring into eyes whose pupils are so dilated they're like black holes pulling you to your doom. "What You Want" is another symphonic maelstrom, ending as a New Age haven of looped, lyrical flute sounds.

Despite its title, "Loveless" is very euphoric, very blissed, apparently devoid of a dark side. The jagged, Sonic Youth-y edges of earlier MBV that hinted at voodoo id-energies have been smothered in soft-focus miasma. And yet, and yet, the bliss gets to be scary, suffocating, and *that's* the fascination, the edge: MBV offer an appalling nirvana, subsuming you in a primal "we", an overwhelming here-and-now that has you gasping for air, aching for open space. After all this muggy amorphousness, it's something of a reprieve to hear the punch and (relative) clarity of the closing "Soon". The subsonic churn of the bass and drums locates a primeval funk groove midway between rock and house, implacable and impenetrable even as it penetrates, passing through your body like a ghost.

If there's scope for criticism, it's that while My Bloody Valentine have amplified and refined what they already were, they've failed to mutate or leap into any kind of beyond. "Soon" and "To Here Knows When" are the most radical tracks on the album and remain signposts to the future: the first posits an under-explored avenue of funk/noise fusion, the second proposes absconding from rhythm into ambient drift. Throughout "Loveless", MBV teeter on the brink. You can sense a scarcely imaginable infra-rock coming through their songs like a flame burning through a sheet of paper. You can hear this future explicitly in the inter-song doodles and on a track calld "Touched" - tantalizing glimpses of where MBV could be at already. "Touched" sounds like the muzak of the spheres: a whale howling the Delta blues is intermingled with what sounds like Radio Two heard from a wireless at the bottom of a swimming pool. I'm a little wistful that MBV didn't devote a whole side to such ear-baffling studio sorcery.

But no worries, My Bloody Valentine have delivered. Quibbles aside, this is the motherlode. Along with Mercury Rev's "Yerself Is Steam", "Loveless" is the outermost, innermost, uttermost rock record of 1991. All you need.

-----------------------------

For the record, MM's review of "Isn't Anything" was I think written by Chris Roberts, and was as romantically rapturous as you'd expect from him in 1988 - I'm pretty sure I have it, but I can't access it at the moment.

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Hieronymus Bosch
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ZZ, both those reviews are extremely positive about Loveless, particularly Reynolds' piece.
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Amor de Cosmos
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Thanks Mat, I certainly read The Pump House Gang yonks ago but I don't remember that piece.

I think one facet of pop that could do with being examined a bit, is the fact it's a manifestation of the cultural dominance of the United States.

As a member of the immediate post-war baby boom mentioned up top, this is interesting and while I don't think it's wrong exactly, from my perspective it does oversimplify things somewhat and it's important to consider how that dominance came about.

As a kid in the 50s I desperately wanted to be culturally dominated by someone but it wasn't happening fast enough. I wanted it because everything around me was drab and dark, because the sounds I heard were tinny and hollow, because the clothes I wore were ugly, because my food was bland. I realised all this before before I knew anything of American culture. It wasn't nearly as big a factor in British life then as it is was to become. Cinema, sure, but even so almost half the films were domestically made. TV wasn't a huge factor because not everyone had a set. Radio was pretty much 100% British in both form and content and print media the same. As important as the bits of Americana I stumbled across were, the attitudes of the adults in my life parents, relatives, teachers were more significant. Almost without exception they were suspicious, resentful and sneeringly dismissive of Americans. "They think they won the war for us." "They think their money can buy everything." I had friends in junior school who'd get "His speech is too Americanized" on their school report, my father said he'd wallop me if I ever got it on mine. It all seemed very unfair you're big on "fairness" when you're a kid and ungrateful. As I got older I added hypocritical to the list too, my parents were watching a lot of American TV by then. Americans were generous, laughed a lot, lived in constant sunshine, looked to the future not the past and drove Dan Dare's spaceship on wheels, what was wrong with that?

I suppose the longwinded point I'm making is that, as much as anything, an explicit love of American culture became a stick to beat our parents with and they had nothing that could stand against it. Fifteen years or so later it was they who voted for Thatcher, not us boomers, they believed she was their sister in spirit, and they wanted the world their children had deprived them of back. Instead they got something much worse.

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Robin Carmody
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As an old friend and acquaintance of ZZ, I can tell you that he's often a prickly character, and I doubt he'd be offended at being described as such. But I wouldn't be without him, here or anywhere.

Thinking back to what E10 said earlier in the thread, as most here will know I hold the view that Thatcherism did not really begin until 82/83, and that pop's decline after its all-time peak was inherently connected with the political changes. When pop was at its best, it was still entirely possible that Thatcher could be defeated by a moderate/Heathite/wet coup from within, which would not only have created a far more just and fair society but would also have considerably (maybe permanently, maybe not - I'm not sure) prolonged pop's otherness. Pop's decline ran directly in parallel with the babyboomers gaining political power, which started to happen later in the Thatcher era (I thought it was generally agreed on here, *especially* by wingco and ZZ, that the High Thatcher period - 1985 especially - was pretty poor for chartpop). The great pop that *did* thrive in opposition to Thatcherism at its peak, as opposed to the beginning and end of her reign, was largely shut out of the charts and daytime radio, so could not become "pop" in the most commonly-held sense, and the dominant chartpop of that era was *implicitly* supportive of Thatcherism in a way that absolutely no pop of any kind could have been to either a Heathite government or a neo-feudal Monday Club one (which Thatcherism was not, although it successfully conned Monday Clubbers, a group who have never been able to overcome the difficulty of reconciling their general distaste for deregulated media with their natural opposition to the post-war consensual "statist" IBA model of broadcasting regulation which was one of the last tenets of the old order to be destroyed, right at the end of the Thatcher era, that it truly represented their values, rather than a populist, tabloid-aimed distortion of them).

A good way of expressing my view on the effect of pop on British society - which is broadly similar to Mat's - is to quote a 1989 MM piece by Mark Sinker, probably the most underrated British music writer of the last 30 years. Reviewing a set of albums released on Factory Records' classical offshoot, he stated that pop's legacy could be defined as "we're all entitled to an opinion": as opposed, he implied, to the pre-pop days when a nebulous elite - presumably preferring classical music and "high culture" generally - held unquestioned, neo-feudal power. And for about 30 years, mid-60s to mid-90s, pro-pop and pop-sceptic opinions co-existed perfectly amicably and peacefully in British public rhetoric. But since the mid-90s a whole new intolerance has taken hold, every bit as censorious of dissenting views as the pre-pop elite ever were, whether of Old Left anti-pop views (Guardian) or Old Right ones (Telegraph): there is now a *dictatorship of pop* in a way there was not when Mark S made those comments, and pop's legacy has been twisted to actively start denying people the right to express other opinions. When that happens, we should not call it "choice" - we should *certainly* not call it "multiculturalism" or "diversity" - anymore. We should call it what it is: crude (and anyway outmoded) class revenge turned into bigotry repackaged, and remember that two wrongs never make a right, they just make more hatred and intolerance.

Pop has probably done at least as much as Thatcherism to eat away at putative British commitment to the European project, the one thing in the post-war world that could have saved our post-imperial state. Worse still, it has worked *alongside* Thatcherism, c.f. its final appropriation by Blairism. I don't think we'd have been better off without it *altogether*, but we'd certainly have been better off without what it has become.

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Robin Carmody
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Ah, xpost to A de C. Says it all about precisely how and why Britain changed, and who changed it, and what made them change it, and however I regret it now, I understand precisely how and why it happened. I'm shivering as I read that (suddenly your post some time ago dismissing the Incredible String Band seems all the more significant: they represented *another way*). It's not that I think 50s Britain was perfect - far from it - I just wish we'd taken another way out, the European one (it is highly significant, and telling, that the Everly Brothers' version of the translated French song "Let It Be Me" was one of their lesser hits).

The point you make about Thatcher is absolutely key. Her *original* supporters - in short, the GB75ers - wanted Old England back, wanted (as you say) a world devoid of pop-cultural influences and what they considered to be practically generational class/racial/national treason. Her original supporters were people who held precisely the sort of views on American influence that you mention: people tutting about "vulgar" "upstarts" who "only care about money", sometimes with an anti-Semitic tone to their remarks, and banning them from their golf clubs. In 1979, her victory seemed like an end for putative steps towards pop-culture-as-God, rather than a step on the way to furthering it permanently. They may have denounced the "statist" system of broadcasting regulation in effect at the time, but in their ageing remnants they are right, by their own criteria, to want it back today: it held together the remaining hints at their ideal society.

But some boomers *did* vote for her, maybe not at the start but later on, and many more than you'd think, and they were the ones who denied *from within* (ultimately far more potent, far more final, than doing it from without) any chance your parents had of getting their neo-feudal faded imperial glory back. Certainly by the mid-80s, the Mick Jaggers of this world - and he had and has spiritual cohorts in every town in England - were effectively deciding Tory policy far more than your parents' generation. The final nail for people who thought like them probably came in 1986 (Conrad Black taking over the Telegraph, the Big Bang). Broadcasting deregulation came late, partially because of fears that Old Right and Old Left MPs might combine to torpedo it (a substantial number of such MPs retired in 1987, replaced by Thatcherites and proto-Blairites) and more generally because Thatcher knew it was the area where she and her ideologues were most at odds with your parents' generation, the people who had put her there in the first place, the people who hadn't yet twigged what she was actually doing (unbelievably, some of them still haven't).

The fact of the matter is that the British people abandoned their own culture because they simply did not want it anymore, not because of shadowy conspiracies as believed in by the far-right I sometimes argue with on other fora. That was fine. I just wish they'd abandoned it for something other than they actually adopted. Had the UK effectively merged with France in 1956 - and it might well have come closer than many would begin to believe - I'm sure I'd be a far happier person today.

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Robin Carmody
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I suppose what I'm saying is: boomers did not cause Thatcher herself - she became leader long before they held any meaningful power - but they did cause Thatcher*ism* when it diverged from previous Toryism, from about late 82/83 onwards. At the start, she seemed to offer a return to pre-war Toryism, breaking down the welfare state and re-establishing deference and everyone knowing their place. Thatcherism as we now understand it - so perfectly described by Mark Sinker as "radical-reactionary" came later. The two main figures in legitimising the Right for the people who did not initially support Thatcher but without whom she could not have reinvented the party and the country - people for whom the Right would once have carried associations of cultural hate figures such as Elgar or Betjeman, would have seemed untouchable and redolent of all the things they hated about their parents, all the things you so accurately describe - are, in my view, Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton. The two main factors leading to their abandonment of Harold Wilson - who they had once almost universally been intensely excited by, back from 1963-67 - are, again in my opinion, the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act of 1967 and the failure of "In Place of Strife" in 1969. After that, they - far greater in number than those who genuinely believed in any sort of left-wing radicalism, the people Ian MacDonald was writing about when he said "*they* changed the world, not the hippies (and certainly not the New Left)" - wandered without a home until they realised that Thatcherism, under Martin Wiener's influence, was evolving in such a way that it could actually include them.

I've been writing recently on my livejournal about the way people roughly on the "cultural Left" who don't recall the old order of British society seem to enjoy playing about with ideas that their equivalents in the 60s would have regarded as next to Mosleyism - that Tim Westwood should stick to "his own class heritage", for example - and those who actually remember what the old Britain was like, such as Mark Sinker (who accused the anti-Westwood people of believing in "cultural apartheid"), are horrified at such suggestions because they know precisely what the young and historically naive are playing about with. A de C's posting relative to what Mat (and to an extent myself) had posted is another perfect example of that. I can't hate A de C for what he did. It was quite understandable. But whenever I hear that a British soldier has been killed in Iraq, I have a frisson of rage and, sometimes, that does extend to hatred of A de C and his ilk. But my mum doesn't think like that, and that's key as well. I will not apologise, though, for the fact that for me, here, now, the values of A de C's generation have become every bit as stultifying a norm, every bit as much something to react against, as his parents' values ever were for him and his contemporaries (you can hate what something has led to while understanding what caused it and not hating those who brought it about; they didn't know, and had they known as much as we know today about the underbelly of US society I'm sure they'd have thought twice). But what I want in its place is a United States ... of Social Democratic Europe.

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Amor de Cosmos
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Great post RC and I can't say I disagree with any of it. Partly because I haven't lived in Britain for any length of time since 1976 so I consider myself merely an observer to the changes that have occured since then, I don't "feel" them in the way that you and others do. But mostly because I think you're right. At least about some of my contemporaries, if not I hope myself and many others.

Along with our parents, we lived and worked through the golden economic decades of the 50s, 60s and 70s. We expected them to last forever, or at least until the revolution, either way we'd inherit the earth. When times changed too many pulled up the drawbridge and drew the curtains. It was easy to rationalize, there were kids, responsibilities and so on.

On occasion I get extremely angry with those who wrap themselves in the roseate glow of our collective youth and reminisce about how we changed the world in the 60s, man. Did we fuck. As I've said here before we blew it big time, but we blew it as individuals, not as some glorious generational collective, whether named hippies or something else. And if, as individuals, we don't realise and accept responsibility for that then we've failed to learn what is, perhaps, the most important life lesson placed before us during our time on this speck of dust.

they didn't know, and had they known as much as we know today about the underbelly of US society I'm sure they'd have thought twice

What we mostly didn't know and hardly any one in Britain did then was how money really worked, internationally I mean. We knew how the old British "system" worked but that didn't count for much as the the old manufacturing industries crumbled and everyone was clueless what to do about it. You're right, we didn't understand that buying into a culture bought much more than we bargained for. We've learned much since. I hope.

I'm sure you're right about the Claptons Jaggers and probably quite a few friends of mine voting for Thatcher in the 80s. I wonder if they'd admit it if I asked them?

[ 20.02.2007, 06:05: Message edited by: Amor de Cosmos ]

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Spearmint Rhino
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quote:
I don't think pop should be the preserve of the rebellious youth, anyway. You perpetuate those sorts of ideas, you can all too easily end up with Pete Doherty. Or The View
...who really are the worst band in the world, aren't they? Rebellion, to them, is wearing the same jeans 4 days in a row, and dressing down when everyone else is dressing up.

Well, maybe not quite the worst. The Kooks still exist, and yesterday I had the misfortune to hear a bunch of herberts called The Holloways. But you know what I mean.

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Spearmint Rhino
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By the way, Robin Carmody is only 26? Wow. I had him pegged as at least 20 years older than that.
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Ibex Trounce
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The Jaggers and Claptons of that world were voting Conservative even in the sixties. Depending on whom you read/believe, Lennon voted Tory on the quiet to keep his taxes down (IMac) or never cast a ballot in his life (Goldman). Probably the only unambiguously Labour-voting Beatle was McCartney (though even he briefly defected to the SDP in '81). None of this should be surprising since sixties pop was all about being on the postwar make and on the post-rationing take, and inevitably leaning towards proto-Friedmanesque notions of self-reliance (since clearly they couldn't rely on their managers). Freedom was generally interpreted as being singly about free enterprise, as per the overwhelmingly Conservative-voting pirate radio DJs, away from all that stifling Labour legislation ("Get Off Of My Cloud" indeed) and indeed as recently evinced by all the sixties King's Road veterans now outraged at having to pay the congestion charge.
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Gangster Octopus
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Fascinating reads from both Robin and John. So is Revolution In The Head worth the effort for a Beatles-sceptic such as myself?
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Ibex Trounce
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It's definitely worth reading though you may be put off by IMac's ceaseless subtext of the golden age is over.
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Mat Pereira
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Ah, yes! Get in! Fantastic stuff from Robin and John! this is exactly the kind of discussion i'd hoped we'd have.

I'll respond to it all properly in a tick.

Posts: 9018 | From: The Sticks | Registered: May 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
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