Sunday, 29 December 2013



Yeah these yearly blogathons wouldn't be the same without at least one appearance from AC/DC. If you have a peerless, an epochal, a superlative riff, it's always best to give it a little, almost cheeky, oddly lugubrious  intro of its own as if to say,  every time you play it, well, here we all are again old friends, what more could we have asked for than this?

Friday, 27 December 2013

In response to Philzone. Im not saying Smoke on the Water is the best rock intro, instead I think it is in the category of "best intro that leads to a disappointing song" i.e. blues-rock-by-numbers growling. One of those tunes that seems to have invented just for the purpose of sampling. How many times has the opening been used on soundtracks, commercials, title sequences only for the vocals to be faded out?



 
[Pere Lebrun had a pithy description of the song on twitter, but I can't find it now.]


Thursday, 12 December 2013

Notes on ITV's Lucan

Caught the first episode of this last night. So far it's fine social-realist TV drama in the tradition of Our Friends in the North, Tinker Tailor, Red Riding, etc, and certainly better than anything the Beeb have done this year I reckon. (Definitely better than last year's shambolic effort in this regard.)


There's quite an interesting political thread running through it, too. Christopher Eccleston is deliciously demonic as gambling club owner John Aspinall. An unusual amount of script space is given over to Aspinall's Randian dialogues full of references to Alpha Males, biological determinism, the survival of the fittest, the importance of accepting the growth of an inferior underclass, and all that shite. He's basically a walking Adam Curtis theory, a right-wing crank grumbling about the power of "the Miners" in social-democratic post-war Britain, a sinister Blimp full of embittered determination to reassert what he calls the "natural order". Of course, the character is all the more shady because his views will become depressingly mainstream some ten years after the early-seventies moment that provides the backdrop to Lucan's narrative.

Another interesting thing is the way this class narrative is synthesised with a powerful feminist argument. Egged on by Aspinall's reactionary Alpha Male spiel, Lord Lucan starts to intimidate his wife Veronica - mentally and physically - in an attempt to get her committed so he can win custody of his children. Fortunately, this is the progressive early seventies rather than the Downtonite 1920s, so the courts decide in favour of the independent, sound-of-mind woman against the imperious, bullying aristo. The tragedy is that the working-class nanny who has supported Veronica in the run-up to the trial is bludgeoned to death by a crazed Lucan at the end of the first episode.

The symbolism here - of a brutal, quasi-Darwinian patriarchy reasserting its authority after a period of "effeminate" egalitarianism - is not difficult to grasp. The unheimlich contemporary relevance - bearing in mind certain recent uber-Darwinian pronouncements of the British Conservative Party - is also striking.

And then you realise who Aspinall's step-nephew is:

There can be no more denying it.

The conspiracy theory is the true realist art form of the twenty-first century.


[Cross-posted from http://thefantastichope.blogspot.co.uk/]

Friday, 22 November 2013

"Not even a bagpipe band?"

This is a fascinating lecture in all sorts of unexpected ways, but the biggest revelation is Lyndon Johnson's surprisingly pathetic and increasingly desperate pleading to Harold Wilson to provide British troops to help the Americans in Vietnam. You even start to wonder if the USA was ever really a superpower at all, but rather a much smaller country that found itself in the invidious historical position of having to imitate one.

Monday, 4 November 2013

It was all ice out there tonight

Sorry to post on top of Paul, but remembered Trevor Griffith's Comedians and thought: wonder if Russell Brand had watched it recently?

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Wolf in Man

Here's a belated Halloween entry, about the not outstanding but quite good for what it is Amicus horror film The Beast Must Die (1974), which despite some ropey plotting and unconvincing special effects has a few interesting edges to it.Since werewolves are already covered here it seemed worth a go.



The Beast Must Die is built around the central gimmick that the audience is asked to guess who the werewolf is amongst those gathered at a millionaire's country mansion. The film breaks a quarter of the way through and offers the audience a few moments to weigh up the evidence in each suspect werewolf favour. As such the film can basically be boiled down to an Agatha Christie plot plus werewolf, although the audience participation gimmick is actually pointless thinking it through: the film-makers are asking the audience to do nothing more than they will already be doing anyway.

Calvin Lockhart plays the lead role, a sportsman who has transformed his country mansion into a panopticon, in which himself and his security team can sit at the centre and monitor the activities of his house guests through a bank of CCTV screens. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, The Conversation came out in the same year, suggesting this was the right time for paranoiac surveillance culture to really get going in the public imagination leading on from Watergate. Unusually for a British horror film (or any film of this era and probably since) the hero is black, depicted as arrogant and ruthless but not stupid or malicious, and shown as far more successful (financially, socially, physically) than his white house guests. Newcliffe's wife Caroline (Marlene Clark) is also black and not depicted stereotypically. Influential here perhaps are the possibilities of casting American lead actors for distribution in the USA, and the influence of blaxploitation that partially encouraged the casting of black actors in well-rounded and non-stereotyped roles (again concerns here were more likely financial than egalitarian, the marketing of films based on the breakdown of 'the audience' into analysable demographics). In much of the promotional material however Peter Cushing is emphasised over Lockhart, again possibly not dubious as placing Cushing on a horror movie poster is smart money, but still. Although the tension between Newcliffe and his houseguests is never expressed verbally as racial in nature, the possibility is there, a sense of resentment at Newcliffe's success compounded with racism.

From a different angle however, The Beast Must Die is maybe perceptive in that in order to accommodate to the ruling capitalist class traits such as race can be de-emphasised when presenting the right attitude and accoutrements. To do the things you must do you don't need to be anybody in particular. Here the image of Newcliffe, sitting behind his screens monitoring life in the enclosed world of the mansion, drifts towards the horror-film reality of shoot-to-kill lists and air-conditioned huts in the Arabia Peninsula. Newcliffe is prepared to kill anyone of the depersonalised figures who walk across the camera's field of vision, to track and kill them in the most productive sense possible; the image marries up well with Harry Lime's declaration about the ease of bumping off the black dots far below, although as the army can tell you the dots can be even closer than that and still be easy to take out with a button push of the controller. Newcliffe does not even spend most of his time watching the screens, subcontracting to a team of hired surveillance experts who keep watch from their hidden room at the top of the house while below Newcliffe entertains his guests.

The plot of the film is essentially fluff. The guests wander around the house, there are a few interesting character details, some appearances from a deeply unconvincing werewolf (in some scenes it is literally a big dog wandering onto set), and there are some words of wisdom from Cushing about the rule of werewolves and silver that doesn't stay quite consistent through the film. Not to spoil the reveal, the film ends with Newcliffe deciding to commit suicide after being infected from a werewolf bite. Here some of the racialised resentment perhaps becomes more apparent as Newcliffe is made to die for the folly of his success. In order to win, Newcliffe has had to destroy his entire life, not just himself but what he has worked for and what he has held dear. 


Friday, 20 September 2013

Cold, Cold World

A further depressive installment in Depressing Films of the 1970s, Featuring:



The Last Picture Show (1971)

In the early 1970s a clutch of films came out that used mythical American themes of pop culture to ask: where is America at now?

Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (1971; 1992 Director's Cut) takes place in small-town Texas in 1951. Shot in black and white, the immediate effect is that this is a lost classic contemporary to the period, in a similar line to British films such as Billy Liar or The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner that dwell on similar aspects of developing sexuality, alienation, and conflict. The black and white renders obsolete a staple of films set in the American West: the blue skies and ochre deserts are dulled into sharp but flat landscapes. Unlike films were the landscape of the West are used to suggest vast open spaces and heights of unclaimed space, the town of the Last Picture Show is pointy and restricting. Filming in this way also calls back to the “classic” era of American films, but that isn't quite right as the films that became most associated with black and white were noirish, stylish films, fast, hot and fluid. The Last Picture Show is a slow paceful film, with no flights into fancy nor stylish editing choices. If an era is being called back to it is an earlier era of films, of nitrate-silver and rough-looking films like The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance, High Noon, or Red River (a film explicitly acknowledged and shown in the town's cinema, the last Show of the title).

The Westerns that are an undercurrent to The Last Picture Show are a part of how the film draws on American pop culture to show the decline setting into the lives of the characters and the town.

(Arguably although cowboys are pre-pop culture as it is normally understood, the explosion of youth-related consumption just after the Second World War, the mythology of the West was founded on an impressive distribution of products: news articles about the cowboy lifestyle, theatre productions of the exploits of the likes of George Custer, arguably one of the first celebrities in terms understood today, recollections of battles from those involved, books, song-sheets, and so on.)

There are several apparent call-outs to Westerns, such as the already mentioned Red River, and scenes such as the one in the diner where Sonny confronts Sam the Lion: pure-Liberty Vallance. Key differences are in the ambiguities the film takes with this heritage. A film like George Lucas's American Graffiti (1973) deals in similar territory in use of film motifs and soundtrack, but is much more straightforward, shifting into referencing and sentimentalism. For all that they were part of the same wave of New Hollywood film-makers Lucas's characters not much more developed that those of the era being referenced, whereas Bogdanovich's in their uncertainty and indecision transcend the pulp stock characters of most Westerns. The decision to set American Graffiti over the course of one night also distinguishes its fantastical elements, the fetish for resolving all problems in a neatly packaged slot of time (the Ferris Bueller/24 plot-line); The Last Picture Show spreads out over an uncertain number of months mostly in daylight, so that unlike the deeply-shadowed and neon-drenched roads of Lucas's California, Bogdanovich's Texas is never allowed to appear as anything but a clear, stark, moonscape where everything is as it appears.

Further comparisons between the best critically received films of either director are apparent in the choices made over the uses of music. Lucas constructed a soundscape of rock n roll hits that obliterated a large chunk the film's budget: the sales of the soundtrack proved very lucrative, also likely being one of first big compilations of that era of music to provided a model for others to follow. The soundtrack of Bogdanovich's film is made up chiefly of country and western songs of the period 1951-52. It feels accurately true to life to how the changes and survival of certain chart songs mark the different periods of the year. Heavily featured is the music of Hank Williams, who would die from an excess of drugs and alcohol just after the banded time period when Last Picture Show was set. A remarkable voice, with a Dennis Potter 'cheap disposable pop can summon up powerfully resonant meaning, his revolution was in the deeply emphatic tone of voice and musical accompaniment, a divergence from the bluff and mediocre country songs drifting into pop once the dirt had been scrubbed off (Frankie Laine, Johnnie Ray, also present on the soundtrack). Williams also wrote an impressive library of mournful songs: even the cheery-sounding 'Jambalaya' has its pitying line “Are you cooking something up for me?” Williams' music meshes well with Bogdanovich's film: it suggests the melancholy of the declining west without indulging in cliches of riding them doggies round slow and such-like. The music is also all used diagetically, that is it is an actual presence in the real world of the film, pouring out of jukeboxes or car radios. The music also suggests one of the only links between the Old West and the New. The New West is a world where losing a football match is enough to earn the enmity of a whole town, there is no such thing as job security as characters drift from place to place, and the outdoors lifestyle has become compartmentalized into the non-places of the oilfields (despite many of the characters working there the fields themselves never feature, only as a place someone has come from or is going to). Though the characters dress like cowboys and listen to cowboy music, they are many decades distant from the lifestyle; Sam the Lion laments the loss of the empty open spaces of his youth when he came to the country: “I used to own this land” he declares to Sonny.


There is much that can be said about the characters in this film, but chiefly the theme of willingness to perform is emphasised, as a member of society and principally sexually, as unthinkably for films a few years later this is a film about impotence. Duane is unable the first-time around to have sex with Jacy; Jacy's mother Lois and Mrs Popper haunt their family homes, husbands absent; Mrs Popper's husband the Coach is implied to be impotent, or infertile; the preacher's son is unable to do anything more than ask the young girl he has kidnapped to remove her underwear. The stress and boredom of life in a country without a purpose drives people to empty frustrating acts. Forcing young people into prescribed sexual roles leads to destruction. The monogamous relationships embarked on by Duane and Sonny with Jacy don't work out, confounded by the pressure on Duane to perform sexually as an American cowboy (virility, freedom, forceful, phallic in many ways, such as hat or gun) and Lois's gender and class pressures to negotiate herself into a secure but maddeningly-dull housewife existence. Sonny is a different aspect of the cowboy image, a wanderer on the plains who is forced to turn back home by the police when he tries to start a new life with Jacy away from Texas in Oklahoma. Duane and Sonny do make a Western-style trek, but it is a highly commodified and controlled one, focused on getting tanked up in Mexico, now standard spring break fare. Duane joins the army and leaves for the war in Korea. Sonny tries to wander but decides that the past can't be put back together again, his friend Sam dead, the pool hall and cinema closed, the disabled Billy thoughtlessly killed on the road through town by a cattle truck. This realisation comes with the cowboy-attired townsfolk gathered around Billy's body discussing his death as if he were a dog. A cattle-truck full of braying cows summons up images of Red River (also done via a tune at the Christmas dance) and the callous killing of the mutineering cattle-herders by John Wayne's Donson. Also a film about disillusionment, Dunson is twisted to cruelty by the unrequited death of his beloved in the indifferent cosmic West: Sonny realises this is what has killed Billy and will kill him to. Seeing that the best he can do is live a good and meaningful life in the present and not become trapped in the past, he goes to Mrs Popper's house to make up for his earlier abandonment of her for Jacy.


By 1971 the Western would be in terminal decline, to revive at various points, but never again be a meaningful force in cinema in its own right, closing with 1976's finality-overtoned The Shootist and continuing in a slightly zombified manner through the films of Clint Eastwood into the 1980s and beyond. Uses of the West and the Western would be in evidence in a few places: outlaw country harking back to the chaotic outlaw demise of the likes of Hank Williams; country rock becoming the basis for easy listening mid 70s fare like the Eagles; the brutalist western-themed stories of Cormac McCarthy; several waves of alternative rock drawing on country stylings; and the somewhat moribund Americana of the 1990s and 2000s which is unable to escape a certain feeling of stilted properness. Country and Western the music genre, in the splitting off of “hillbilly” music in the early 20th century by the recording industry, has always been deeply commercialized and inorganic: modern country is now mostly gestures (hats, beards, denims), cliches, and a formalist approach to pop indifferent to greater meaning. 


Not a coming of age story, much less a film where people “grow up” like American Graffiti, The Last Picture Show is a film where, in a word, Shit Happens. This feels much more natural and true to life and is a worthy monument to the (largely flam) revitalized New Hollywood. The film offers a route out of he traps of declining America and small-town life, in refocusing from rebuilding the failed cultural myths, and failed personal relationships, of the past, to reaching acceptance not with the present with its stultifying gender and class roles, like American Graffiti, but finding acceptance and solidarity with each other.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The night they drove old dixie down

Michael Foot's speech the night Callaghan lost the vote of no confidence by one vote in 1979.




"As the tellers came in, Spencer Le Marchant, the Tory, took his place at the right of the table facing the Speaker and we knew that they had won.
So at that moment the Labour Government ended. Jim and Thatcher made short statements and as we walked out Labour Members sang the Red Flag."

Tony Benn, Conflicts of Interest: Diaries 1977-80, p.478

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Our friends in the Commonwealth

Wilson/Callaghan years as a distant mirror of the left in the commonwealth.

Jamaica: forced to call in the IMF.[Michael Manley: the Prime Minster Tony Benn could have been?]


Australia: Interference of the Establishment. Forced into a general election that Labor bound to loose.


New Zealand: smeared as 'Red' and chaotic.







Friday, 26 July 2013

Art For Non-Art's Sake

10cc were the Howard Jacobsons of pop - intellectual Prestwich Hebrews who exhibited a simultaneous mastery of, and contempt for, the art form and genre in which they worked. Loathed perhaps more than any other band by the punks, they were briefly resurrected and cherished a decade later as being as emblematic of the Seventies as Abba or Queen. Since then, they have slipped away from public consciousness, even their none-more-cynical aural masterpiece "I'm Not In Love" not finding much FM airplay nowadays.

Their reputation presents an interesting contrast with the group that was, conceptually at least, most similar to them - Steely Dan, who are in critical terms much more highly valued. This is despite the Mancunian group's music being more playful and varied, as well as being more commercially successful. Perhaps Godley, Creme and Gouldman's awareness of the disposability of pop was too keen - they may have been undone by their own disdain for what they were doing. This being the paradigm example of their brilliant self-contempt:

This is not a casino

Only 26 minutes long but reckon this is probably the most evocative (myth making?) film about any music scene. The slow-mo dancing footage is much recycled too.



Thursday, 11 July 2013

Off The Record

It doesn't seem a coincidence that album art of the 70s so often recalls the wax dioramas of 19th century metropolitan low art later appropriated by Surrealism. The air of stilted bourgeois drama that hangs around the form at its most stagey - Dali, Paul Delvaux, the sculptures of the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition - resurfaces in the gestures of a form caught between the glistening pleasures of international business (which rock had long since become a part of) & the now antiquarian memory of wrenching sexual & material alienation (that survived, coelocanth-like, in the likes of the Knack & Dr. Feelgood). (The radical strangeness of the dioramas, incidentally, would be picked up primarily by Walter Benjamin, who devotes part of The Arcades Project to them, & Hollywood's B-industry, responsible for 1953 Vincent Price vehicle House of Wax, whence it fed into the likes of Alice Cooper & The Dictators.) The climate of many of these covers, curiously composed, simultaneously frozen & charged, hinting at non-existent mystery, seems of a piece with the LP's ongoing role as spliff-rolling surface. They provide the appearance of spurious depth whose spuriousness they self-consciously proclaim. They appear to us now as the sexual climate of the fin de siecle appeared to the 1970s - the emphasis on tits, arses & male impotence in particular is quite peculiar; the general air, particularly of Hipgnosis' many covers, quite explicitly recalls Moreau, Watts & Alfred Moore.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Gentle Thoughts


Herbie Hancock bottling up the 70s for a future generation's appreciative perusal.

Was anything this laid-back and 70s again?

Friday, 28 June 2013

Aquarius Rising


Woe to you, my Princess, when I come. I will kiss you quite red and feed you till you are plump. And if you are froward, you shall see who is the stronger, a gentle little girl who doesn't eat enough, or a big wild man who has cocaine in his body.
Letter from Sigmund Freud to his fiancee
The sun, the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands." - See more at: http://quotationsbook.com/quotes/tag/ecology/#sthash.Zgz3KQEA.dpuf
The sun, the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands." - See more at: http://quotationsbook.com/quotes/tag/ecology/#sthash.Zgz3KQEA.dpuf

I've often thought that there isn't any "I" at all; that we are simply the means of expression of something else; that when we think we are ourselves, we are simply the victims of a delusion. 
 Aleister Crowley, Diary of a Drug Fiend

It is not heroin or cocaine that makes one an addict, it is the need to escape from a harsh reality. There are more television addicts, more baseball and football addicts, more movie addicts, and certainly more alcohol addicts in this country than there are narcotics addicts.
Shirley Chisholm

The sun, the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago... had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands.
 Havelock Ellis

Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.  
Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience


The sun, the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands." - See more at: http://quotationsbook.com/quotes/tag/ecology/#sthash.Zgz3KQEA.dpuf
The sun, the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands." - See more at: http://quotationsbook.com/quotes/tag/ecology/#sthash.Zgz3KQEA.dpuf


Saturday, 4 May 2013

Siberian Gold

"For help was coming from an unexpected dimension. In 1961, the first oilfield had been discovered in western Siberia, and by 1969 geologists - many working out of Akademgorodok - had identified almost sixty of them, brimming with saleable crude. The were just about all on-line and pumping in time for the 1973 oil shock, when the world price for petroleum rose by 400%. Suddenly, instead of being a giant autarchy, trying to bootstrap its way to prosperity, the Soviet Union was a producer for the world market, and it was awash with petrodollars. Suddenly, it was possible for the Soviet leadership to buy its way out of some of the deficiencies of the economy. If the collective farms still couldn't feed the country, then food could be quietly imported. If the people wanted consumer goods, you could buy the technology to produce them, like the complete Fiat car plant assembled on the banks of the Volga. The Brezhnev regime managed to make some everday luxuries available. There were thirty million TV sets in Soviet homes in 1968, and ninety million at the end of the 1970s; by which time, too, most Soviet families owned a fridge and majority had a washing machine. Vacations to the sunny beaches of the Black Sea became ordinary. Cigarettes and vodka and chocolate and perfume were usually on the shelves, even when milk and meat were not."

Francis Spufford, Red Plenty: Inside the Fifites' Soviet Dream

More oil, here, and an interesting peak oil talk between Simon Reynolds and Justin Buckley here.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Let's Get It On

Andy Beckett's 'When the Lights Went Out' captures an interesting moment in history, when the right decided to organize itself along leftists lines, via collective effort, to crush the Grunwick strike. It appears that the victory of the right owed it success in the mid 70s to superior organization - the group efforts of the Grunwick-strike breakers, but also the creeping relevance of the neoliberal think tanks. I'm quite happy to be corrected on this, but to me organization is a big factor, and the left, at least from Beckett's book, comes across as increasingly disorganized and dysfunctional. Some of the ideas about organization that would help the right were emerging not just from the left, but from the world of industrial psychology.

Organization has always been something psychology has been concerned with. Some of the first major 'wins' for psychology as a science of organization were Charles Myers' work at Rowntrees in the 20s and 30s, and the foundation of modern psychology, Robert Yerkes' work screening recruits for the army just prior to WW1 (Yerkes' work is memorably demolished in Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man). Out of the tentative beginnings of industrial psychology came the personnel psychologist. In the 1950s, when an influx of GI-bill tutored psychologists came into the field, the personnel psychologist became a totemic figure of the 'organized society', which was the subject of many of the criticisms that would go on to create the counter-culture movement.

The personnel psychologist carried out many of the functions that would improve an organization: administering aptitude tests; making Taylorism-inspired efficiency savings; recomming training; and in general manage feedback. This was an application of scientific methodology that most businesses were grateful for: there were other services however, which were of even more value.

The union movement in America in the 60s and 70s was growing more powerful: civil rights actions had expanded the franchise of the unions and given them more power. Throughout this era the personnel psychologist, along with picking suitable applicants for job positions, had been rooting out potential union members as a valued service to capital and management. The personnel psychologists (Charles Hughes, author of 'Making Unions Unnecessary', and Nathan Shefferman, ) would create, much like forensic psychologists do of serial killers, profiles of potential union members and ditch any job applicants who matched them. They would also devise organizational structures resistant to unionization.

Of Shefferman's innovations an associate said: "We operate the exact way a union does...but on management's side. We give out leaflets, talk to employees, and organize a propaganda campaign.”

John Logan, labour historian:  "Between 1974 and 1984, one firm established by one industrial psychologist trained over 27,000 managers and supervisors to "make unions unnecessary" and surveyed almost one million employees in 4,000 organizations."

The tactics of industrial psychology, leftist organization, and advertising technique became blended into the right's efforts to start winning victories against the consensus. The logic of industrial psychology union-busting has always been described in terms that the solutionists of the late 2000s could appreciate: unions are illogical roadbumps to better, rational organization.

Unions are now shadows of their former selves and there isn't a lot for the personnel psychologist to do. Enforce happiness quotas, positivity, etc. Strangely a lot of them are now concerned with fighting figures more alien, more irrational than the unionists. Outsiders bent on major disorganization.

Psychopaths.







Saturday, 20 April 2013

Also interesting esp on the deliberate suppression/manipulation of Seventies' referendum on independence.
Actually one of the first videos we posted on this blog, but here in a single upload.

Saturday, 13 April 2013



Speculation on a confluence of things:

  • This sliver of an obit/memoir from Hari Kunzru at the Guardian popped up following James Herbert's recent death - 
  • The above worn copy found yesterday in a charity shop in Loughton, Essex. Actually someone appeared to have offloaded their entire Herbert collection for the benefit of the Sue Ryder charity. I was sorely tempted to grab them all but wasn't sure how to justify them in terms of space to the rest of the family (or to myself). This horde  reminded me of the jumble sales my local scouts used to have where I could hoover up Sven Hassell paperbacks and all manner of unwholesome pulp from the heaving piles of paperbacks. This was rich compost for the impressionable mind. Although tidied up and carefully managed, charity shops still  occasionally possess this magical power to open portals and transport. But I digress into funny smelling,slippered-up nostalgia.



  • I remembered 'The Rats' being set around Epping Forest and near to where I was standing. Flicking through, I realised the action was generally around the East End, where James Herbert grew up. It was the less powerful Lair, set around the Forest, that I remembered being shared around the school in 1979/80 like Mayfair, Men Only or Penthouse.  This stuff was 'dirty'. The sex is full-on and explicit and any pleasure is generally tempered by brutal death. To adolescent boys it was powerful, if chastening, stuff at a point where they were being force-fed 'improving' literature from the Canon. Other alternatives were, from memory and my parent's bookshelves, updated Boys Own stuff by Alistair MacLean and  the racing thrillers of Dick Francis. I don't remember comics featuring much.

  • This boarded up canalside house, seen on a recent walk, also seemed to fit with my memories of the Rat's landscape.




  • In the next decade Derek Raymond/Robin Cook plunged his hands back into the black swamp and came up with even more brutal pulp in the Factory series, having tried his hand at class satire 'A Crust on its Uppers' and clunky, dystopian vision 'A State of Denmark'. He describes writing 'I was Dora Suarez' as 'a battle with evil'. In this company Cook was unusual as a drop-out from the ruling class, someone who deliberately turned his back on the route theoretically mapped out for him by breeding and education. Judging by his sales he didn't hit the reading public in quite the same way as Herbert, maybe lacking the former's marketing background. David Peace cites Cook as an influential fore-runner in his use of what Cook called 'the Black Novel' to anatomise and dissect contemporary society throught he prism of its worst horrors.



    • Coincidentally I reread an interview with Stewart Home, another working class 'outsider', who plagiarised/appropriated whole chunks of Richard Allen's Skinhead pulp, along with other works from the New English Library (NEL) canon. From the carcass of these pulp works Home constructed  books like Pure Mania and Red London in the late 80's and 90's, which he pumped full of repetitive sex and violence riffs interpersed with political theory and experimental avant garde techniques. Home talks extensively in other places about his love of in pulp fiction, and exploitation cinema in opposition to what he views as the exhausted literary and cultural mainstream. Sex is not brutally punished in Home's work. 

    • 'The Rats' appeared in 1974, coincidentally the same year the Stranglers formed. There are some similarities in the general levels of misanthropy, the image of rodents and the deliberate use of violence and shock. Herbert was a marketing man and designed his covers and the ad campaigns for his books. I may be wrong, but with the Stranglers it also feels that they were fully aware of the musical, lyrical and visual aspects of what they were doing. This level of professionalism damned them in the eyes of the Punks. It 'feels' like the work comes from the same swamp, although probably, in Herbert's case, without the Gnosticism that Phil divines in the Stranglers work. 

    • Like the Stranglers, James Herbert was huge in terms of sales and did not 'fit' comfortably into the prevailing cultural landscape. He was there in plain sight, like a large rock in the road. He made shedloads of money, but his interviews suggest a man who is always concerned that people don't get it.  He was a working class author writing about ordinary people, against prevailing modes, and he was conscious of this fact.

  • I don't think it's purely nostalgia that makes 'The Rats' and its companions resonate. Herbert was plugged into something vital, if deeply unpleasant, in the prevailing culture. It was recognised as 'real' by 15 year old schoolboys as readily as many other 1000's of others. Never something to be entirely proud of, never trumpeted, except in the Horror community.   This is probably why the books are turning up in charity shops and not being proudly displayed next to Martin Amis. 


  • All this is really a prelude to me having to re-read 'The Rats'. Many of these decades blogs  seem to be the revisiting of formative experiences and barely understood childhood events with adult critical apparatus. My first pop hero was Gary Glitter and Jimmy Saville bestrode the entertainment landscape like a colossus. Maybe something in 'The Rats' was reflective of this state of affairs. Will report back, hopefully in more coherent fashion.
  • Thursday, 28 March 2013

    Human Stock Crisis; Depleted


     "And the opposite of socialist is not capitalist. Our party is older than capitalism, and wider than any class. It grew up in the first place out of concern for liberties, traditions and morals. It has evolved a good deal in the past three centuries yet it has retained its essential character; its area of concern is the whole of public life and all matters which should be of public interest down to the treatment of every man, woman and child."

    ...

    "Such words as good and evil, such stress on self-discipline and on standards have been out of favour since the war with the new establishment. They have preferred the permissive society, and, at the same time, the collectivised society. At first sight this paradox might seem inexplicable. Why should people who believe in strict state control over economic life, who disfavour private enterprise, independent education, private pension schemes, private medicine, so strongly favour what they call permissiveness in social life? How is it that those who claim to oppose the exploitation of man by man and what they call commercialism should favour the commercial exploitation of indecency, the commercial exploitation of woman by man?"

    ...


    "The decline is spreading. We know that some universities have been constrained to lower their standards for entrants from comprehensives, discriminating against more the talented [sic] because they come from grammar or independent schools. We see how the demand for absolute equality turns into the new inequality.

    In the universities, which should be sanctuaries for the pursuit of truth, the bully-boys of the left have bean giving us a foretaste of what leftwing dictatorship would endeavour to achieve, actively cheered on by the casuistry of some members of the university staffs, cuckoos in our democratic nest, and by the pusillanimity of others, by the apathy of many and, I must add, by moral cowardice in public life.

    ...


    "It was the radical Socialist writer and patriot, the late George Orwell , who described the left-wing intellectuals as men motivated primarily by hatred of their own country. Socialists who spoke most about brotherhood of man [sic] could not bear their fellow-Englishmen, he complained. Their well-orchestrated sneers from their strongpoint in the educational system and media have weakened the national will to transmit to future generations those values, standards and aspirations which made England admired the world over.

    It is just because their message is that self-discipline is out of date and that the poor cannot be expected to help themselves, that they want the state to do more. That is why they believe in state ownership and control of economic life, education, health. Their wish to end parental choice in where and how their children shall be educated, in spending their money on better education and health for their children instead of on a new car, leisure, pleasure, is all part of the attempt to diminish self and self-discipline and real freedoms in favour of the state, ruled by socialists, the new class, as one disillusioned communist leader called them."

    ...

    "It was Freud who argued that repression of instincts is the price we pay for civilisation. He considered the price well-paid. So can we, now. But we must see the dilemmas, we must argue it out among ourselves, to find a way through these moral dilemmas, while we fight for our ideals in wider fora through words and deeds. But you may ask what can fallible politicians in short-lived governments do in the face of all these tidal forces? Most of what needs to be done, I have stressed, is for individuals as themselves and as members of all manner of bodies. But some tasks are for government, and to these I will return on a future occasion.

    This could be a watershed in our national existence. Are we to move towards moral decline reflected and intensified by economic decline, by the corrosive effects of inflation? Or can we remoralise our national life, of which the economy is an integral part? It is up to us, to people like you and me."

    Keef lays it out in 1974; the eugenics arguments near the end of the speech possibly cost  him leadership of the Party, but did provide the example for Thatcher to cloak 'moral responsibility Toryisms' in euphemism and wordplay. The conception of the left as some pervasive conspiracy is staggering, as is the thought that Joseph was at the helm of Thatcher's policy decisions. As I recall from Peter Henessy's The Secret State, he was also one of the politicians assigned to the government's Cotswolds bunker in the event of nuclear war. Enoch Powell too. Brr.

    Wednesday, 13 March 2013

    Black Gold/Black List

    Monday 12 March 1979

    "... Now the oil companies tell us they want the Government to use the Criminal Records Office and Special Branch - with its link with Northern Ireland - to check people employed on oil rigs. The companies would give us the names, and we would be expected to check them out and blacklist them if necessary for previous convictions or political reasons.
          It would mean moving towards a police state as a by-product of having oil. I put this bluntly to Jasper Cross [civil servant], who said that, if we refused to help out, the Government would get the blame if anything went wrong."

     Tony Benn, Conflicts of Interest: Diaries 1977-1980


    Wednesday, 20 February 2013

    It's all about the music


    LP artwork of the 1970s. A golden age of graphic design in music.

    Well not for John Martyn it wasn't, whose record company commissioned a consistent run of absolute shockers.
     
     
     Bless the Weather (1971).                                                         
                                                                    Sunday's Child (1975).

    Bless the Weather and Sunday's Child are just plain lazy. "Stick his head in the middle, with the name at the top and the title below. Next!"
     
     
    The compilation album So Far So Good tries to make this a bit more interesting by using a painting but the effect is very A-Level Art submission in acrylics.