The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 17 Mar 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Modern music is slavery

What if you went through your entire life thinking that One Direction were completely acceptable and that anything shat out by Simon Cowell’s remorseless factory of pap was just what music was? Well, I think your life would be poorer for it in much the same way as it would be if you’d never seen any classic films like The Maltese Falcon and seen Bogart snapping out lines of dialogue or happened to read Graham Greene’s ‘The End of the Affair.’ But it seems that we’re happy to let people grow up without ever walking down some shelves in the library of cultural capital.

The reason for this may well be that it’s always easier, under capitalism, to get people interested in shiny, new things rather than old things, that it’s eternally rigged so that what was made yesterday is automatically assumed to be superior to the thing that was made years before. This is our loss, because in an era that prizes the ‘fast fashion’ of brands like Primark, where everything is cheap and feels like it, but nobody minds that your sleeve will fall off if you cough too loudly, ideas of age and permanence are just laughable old wank.

All the more reason, then, to show your arse to Harry Styles and his band of leering fuckwits by diving headlong into some music history. Should you come across someone who thinks that it all started with The X Factor and its venal attempts to push some mediocrity into the charts at Christmas and then into panto by way of I’m A Celebrity… try starting them with something nice and unchallenging. Put on some Jimi Hendrix, perhaps, and let him beguile and seduce them with some of the most magisterial guitar playing in the history of music.

Don’t be too harsh on them at first. They won’t have the vocabulary to express what the music makes them think or feel, because talking about what hat Styles is wearing or getting him to sign your tits won’t have prepared them for that. Perhaps they’ll stare at the speakers and hide behind a piece of furniture as someone who is genuinely brilliant shows mastery of an instrument he’s good at, rather than just coming third in a talent contest hosted by a sociopath in high-waisted trousers. In time, you can play them whatever grooves your personal truffles, from Blondie to Satie, by way of Bob Dylan, but don’t blow their brains too soon. They’ve been fed gruel for too long to expect them to make a decent fist of steak frites.

Before I’m traduced as an evil elitist, I’m not setting myself up as some great avatar of taste. I just happen to think the thing we’re served up and told is music is crap. Laughable old crap. I did an English literature degree where we were told to be suspicious of cultural elitism and distrust attempts to set up a canon of great works, which is all fine, but I’m sorry. One Direction et al really are risible. It’s music in the same sense that a balloon is food. By all means eat it, but don’t expect anything like sustenance or be surprised when the product of time spent trying to digest it is a sort of rubbery turd that is painful to pass and involves lots of tight, angry-sounding wind.

No, I’m utterly average for my time, except that I had the luxury of growing up when people making music still knew how to do it and people’s aspirations extended to being in a band, rather than, say, being a DJ and pretending that playing others’ music was a valid expression of anything other than lacking imagination. We had the Beastie Boys, who sang about things that would have the wee boys in each manufactured pop group wetting themselves, Frankie Goes To Hollywood who recorded ‘The Power Of Love,’ which is the best pop song, ever, and, of course, The Smiths.

To anyone who doesn’t know who The Smiths were, they were my generation’s version of The Beatles, blending well-crafted guitar hooks with arch lyrics that sneered at everything from the Manchester school system to the monarchy and effected a gloriously, lickably fey disappointed sexuality. Still, they broke up in 1987 and to the people raised to think that The Voice or, heaven help us all, Britain’s Got Talent, are legitimate forms of entertainment, this must seem like a vaguely frightening dark age when people didn’t take selfies, nobody had ever heard of an iPhone and thought a Samsung Galaxy was a Korean chocolate bar.

This is the point, though. They don’t bloody know about any of these things because nobody has told them that there was a time before now. They’ve never heard of Motown or Muscle Shoals, listened to one of Phil Spector’s girl groups or stared open-mouthed at Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ so we need to tell them as a matter of urgency. What’s at stake is liberation from the dull, monochromatic dreariness of now into a Technicolor world. It’ll be like the wire walls of a prison camp suddenly disintegrating leaving the prisoners standing baffled, but then running for freedom with joyous, undisciplined whoops.

There’s a terrible, sterile conformity in liking the things you’re supposed to like, in listening to what they want you to listen to, eating the food they want you to eat and living the lives that were laid down for you before you were born. Balls to all of it. Start with music. Find something recorded before you were born, like Brian Wilson’s work on ‘Smile’ and marvel at how much better it is than anything shat out of the modern fame machine and autotuned half to death and then realise, as I did a few years ago, how much richness and variety there is out there, repaying every moment’s interest with rich abundance. We have nothing to lose, everything to gain and several lifetimes of music to enjoy. One Direction? You’re not needed.

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