Monday 25 July 2011

Squelching & Farting

Bit of a parish notice this one, as you surely don't need the likes of me to tell you how good The Who were. That said, my opinion of them is somewhat unorthodox, in that I think they only started to get really good from 1971 onwards, and that what makes them so enjoyable is not their individual prowess as musicians, or even their much-vaunted dynamic interaction, but the thick, soupy, synthesized belching that formed the swampy underlay of their sound.

"Relay" is a classic example, blinking and buzzing and blowing steam like the kind of comedy mainframe computer owned by The Goodies, or the villains of Sixties spy movies like "The Billion Dollar Brain". The cameraman won't show their feet because they're all wearing wellies.

"Join Together" is another romp in the sewage bed, the thick clots of rhythmic effluent tugging at their ankles as they splatter themselves with fragrant clumps of harmonica and Jew's harp. I'm guessing that the mods had long abandoned them by this point...

"Who Are You" was their stinky masterpiece, a five-minute journey down the lower intestine, and perhaps the most flatulent record ever made. Contrary to popular belief The Who were at the absolute height of their putrescent powers when Keith Moon tragically died in 1978, and with the band thus debilitated, it was left to George Clinton alone to carry the methane-fuelled flame of colonic funk-rock into the Eighties.

As we say so often on this blog, we shall never see their like again....

Thursday 21 July 2011

As a good socialist I’m going where the money is

A common reaction of conservatives to the trade union militancy of the 1970s was to complain about ‘greedy unions’: ungrateful workers, causing chaos for a few quid more in their pay-packets. An extended version of this argument pointed to the supposed hypocrisy between the socialist ideals of equality and solidarity and the ‘selfish’ materialism of union members’ demands.
Kenneth Williams once expounded this view on Parkinson and got slapped down for his troubles. (A rare moment of Parky not being a crawling brown noser)
A more sophisticated depiction of this conflict was the character of Roy Bland, ex-socialist turned jaded spy, in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Bland will only co-operate with George Smiley’s attempts to stop the power struggles in ‘The Circus’ (a fictionalised Mi6) if his demand for £5, 000 is met. He has no shame about this blatant horse-trading – this is the way Britain is now he tells Smiley, ‘You scratch my conscience, I’ll drive your Jag’:

Contemporary leftists looking back on 70s militancy tend to focus on its socialist aspects over the material ones - the common belief in the power of collective action, the respect for picket lines, secondary picketing and so on. Owen Hatherley recently quoted a shop steward interviewed in Huw Beynon’s Working for Ford who rejected the company’s efforts to get the workforce into car or home ownership:
But we can forget that at the heart of most 70s dispute were basic wage demands, either as compensation for Fordist drudgery or to combat the inflation following the 1973 oil crisis. Speaking on the BBC’s 1974 election coverage an NUM official, hotly denying the Miners’ Strike of that year was political, makes the very opposite point to the shop steward at the Ford Plant, “I don’t envy the man who has two Rolls-Royces or two £20, 000 houses, what I want our members to have is the right to buy one of each.”
No political group in Britain at the time really found a way of taking this materialism further in a radical direction. The bureaucratic language of the TUC and corporate-Keynesian (‘Phase Three’ ‘The Social Contract’) couldn’t express the failures of the welfare state to remedy inequalities of wealth and power, as experienced on the shop floor. In Italy however, Potere Operaio (Workers’ Power) with its slogan ‘More money, less work’ placed wage demands at the centre of political strategy. They were the way to overthrow capitalism:

“[R]aising the price of labour-power was a working-class act of force which coincided for a moment with a necessity of capital, and then overthrew it, surpassing and upsetting it ... the imbalance between wages and productivity is a political fact, and must be understood as a political fact and utilised as such”

[Mario Tronti, Operai e capital (1971) quoted in Steve Wright, Storming heaven (2002) p.66]
With Maria Rosa Dalla Costa’s call for ‘Wages for Housework’ they even saw extending monetisation as an anti-capitalist measure. The Autonomia group also addressed the other side of the coin: working class consumption. Leading a series of direct actions against rising prices, they encouraged people to ride the subway for free or to take part in ‘proletarian shopping’ where protestors forced supermarkets to cut prices. [Phil Edwards, More work! Less pay! (2009) p.73]
Back in Britain, Parkinson invited Kenneth Williams back to debate with Jimmy Reid, then riding high after leading the victory at the UCS working.

Reid bested Williams and showed he was more the capable of handling the tension between political ideas and material necessity. Reid stood for Parliament several times but tied to a well-past its peak Communist Party, never made it into full time politics. Watching him ‘going down fighting’ you get a real sense of a lost opportunity for the British Left.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Suburban Salvation

"Where has God gone?" he cried. "I shall tell you. We have killed him - you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God's decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us - for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto."
Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling - it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars - and yet they have done it themselves."
Friederich Nieztsche 

When men stop believing in God, it isn't that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything.
Umberto Eco

Monday 11 July 2011

The Press

"Now, whereas the Classical, and supremely the Forum Of Rome, drew the mass of the people together as a visible body in order to make that use of its rights which was desired of it, the "contemporary" English-American politics have created through the press a force-field of world-wide intellectual and financial tensions in which every individual unconsciously takes up the place allotted to him, so that he must think, will and act as a ruling personality somewhere or other in the distance thinks fit. This is dynamics against statics, Faustian against Appollonian world-feeling, the passion of the third dimension against the pure sensible present. Man does not speak to man; the press and its associate, the electrical news service, keep the waking consciousness of whole peoples and continents under a deafening drum-fire of theses, catchwords, standpoints, scenes, feelings, day by day and year by year, so that every Ego becomes a mere function of a monstrous intellectual Something. Money does not pass, politically, from one hand to the other. It does not turn itself into cards and wine. It is turned into force, and its quantity determines the intensity of its working influence.

Gunpowder and printing belong together - both discovered at the culmination of the Gothic, both arising out of Germanic technical thought - as the two grand means of Faustian distance tactics. The Reformation in the beginning of the Late period witnessed the first flysheets and the first field-guns, the French Revolution in the beginning of the Civilisation witnessed the first tempest of pamphlets in the autumn of 1788 and the first mass-fire of artillery at Valmy. But with this the printed word, produced in vast quantity and distributed over enormous areas, became an uncanny weapon in the hands of him who knew how to use it. In France it was still in 1788 a matter of expressing private convictions, but England was already past that, and deliberately seeking to produce impressions in the reader. The war of articles, flysheets, spurious memoirs, that was waged form London on French soil against Napolean, is the first great example.

Today we live so cowed under the bombardment of this intellectual artillery that hardly anyone can attain to the inward detachment that is required for a clear view of the monstrous drama. The will-to-power operating under a pure democratic disguise has accomplished its task so well that the object’s sense of freedom is actually flattered by the most thorough-going slavery that has ever existed.

What is truth? For the multitude, that which it continually reads and hears. A forlorn little drop may settle somewhere and collect grounds on which to determine "the truth" - but what it obtains is just its truth. The other, the public truth of the moment, which alone matters for effects and successes in the fact-world, is today a product of the Press. What the Press wills, is true. Its commanders evoke, transform, interchange truths. Three weeks of press-work, and the "truth" is acknowledged by everybody.

With the political press is bound up the need of universal school-education, which in the Classical world was completely lacking. In this demand there is an element - quite unconscious - of desiring to shepherd the masses, as the object of party politics, into the newspapers’ power area. The idealist of the early democracy regarded popular education as enlightenment pure and simple, and even today one finds here and there weak heads that become enthusiastic on the Freedom Of The Press - but it is precisely this that smoothes the path for the coming Caesars of the world-press. Those who have learnt to read succumb to their power, and the visionary self-determination of Late democracy becomes a thorough-going determination of the people by the powers whom the printed word obeys.

No tamer has his animals more under his power. Unleash the people as reader-mass and it will storm through the streets and hurl itself upon the target indicated, terrifying and breaking windows; a hint to the press-staff and it will become quiet and go home. The Press today is an army with carefully organised arms and branches, with journalists as officers, and readers as soldiers. But here, as in every army, the soldier obeys blindly, and war-aims and operation-plans change without his knowledge. The reader neither knows, nor is allowed to know, the purposes for which he is used, nor even the role that he is to play. A more appalling caricature of freedom of thought cannot be imagined. Formerly a man did not dare to think freely. Now he dares, but cannot; his will to think is only a willingness to think to order, and this is what he feels as his liberty."

Oswald Spengler - "The Decline Of The West"

Saturday 2 July 2011

Cold Turkey

This is a great film, though changing social mores make it a bit of period piece.

If they remade it, they'd have to swap cigarettes for Blackberries and iPads.