Thursday, March 31, 2011

Music Matters - The 30 Day Song Challenge

'Flash' by Queen - the first single I ever owned.

I’ve consciously avoided blogging much about music so far.  This isn’t because I’m not interested in it or that I’m not as opinionated about it as anything else.  Quite the contrary really, it’s the one art form that I care the most about and the one that I really couldn’t do without.  There’s something about music that can touch us and move us like nothing else. From unborn babies able to response Mozart in the womb, to toddlers dancing along to music on the TV or the radio, through to a singer in an old folk’s home with an audience sitting back, eyes closed, letting the music transport them someplace else.  It’s the art form that we will fall for first of all and it’ll probably be the last one to leave us. 
Music is so personal too.   When we meet someone we really like, we make them a mix-tape of songs that really matter to us.  And when that someone we really like ups and goes, it’s music we turn to for consolation, understanding or just catharsis.  People can dislike a book I love or hate a film I rave about or dismiss my taste in art as rubbish and I wouldn’t take it personally.  But if someone scoffs at a band I like or a song that’s really moved me, then it’s a little upsetting on a personal level and makes me feel very defensive.
It’s also relatively easy to discuss a book, film, art exhibition or play.  We can talk about plot, character, performances, style, influences, technical merit and a whole string of other attributes that the piece has and use a common vocabulary for this discussion.  Music’s different though.  It’s often impossible to explain why we find something so moving or why we fall in love with a band.  Technical merit is usually really important in books, films and plays but you can hear a simple song, sung by a so-so singer and it can really move you.  Other times you hear something that’s technically slick with a fantastic vocal and be left cold.  There are genres of music that I don’t much like, but can still produce something to make me stop and listen and think again.  Music can always surprise you.
All that said, I’d still like to try to write something about the bands and songs I like.  So I thought I’d take on the ’30 song challenge’ that seems to be sweeping Facebook at the moment.  Because it’s all about personal musical taste then I’m not obliged to be objective and you’re not obliged to agree or justify your hating of my favourite songs.  I’ll begin tomorrow and post one a day throughout April.  Bet you can’t wait...

David Millington
31st March 2011

Song List
Day 01 - your favorite song
Day 02 - your least favorite song
Day 03 - a song that makes you happy
Day 04 - a song that makes you sad
Day 05 - a song that reminds you of someone
Day 06 - a song that reminds you of somewhere
Day 07 - a song that reminds you of a certain event
Day 08 - a song that you know all the words to
Day 09 - a song that you can dance to
Day 10 - a song that makes you fall asleep
Day 11 - a song from your favorite band
Day 12 - a song from a band you hate
Day 13 - a song that is a guilty pleasure
Day 14 - a song that no one would expect you to love
Day 15 - a song that describes you
Day 16 - a song that you used to love but now hate
Day 17 - a song that you hear often on the radio
Day 18 - a song that you wish you heard on the radio
Day 19 - a song from your favorite album
Day 20 - a song that you listen to when you’re angry
Day 21 - a song that you listen to when you’re happy
Day 22 - a song that you listen to when you’re sad
Day 23 - a song that you want to play at your wedding
Day 24 - a song that you want to play at your funeral
Day 25 - a song that makes you laugh
Day 26 - a song that you can play on an instrument
Day 27 - a song that you wish you could play
Day 28 - a song that makes you feel guilty
Day 29 - a song from your childhood
Day 30 - your favorite song at this time last year

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Art and ‘Meta Art’ – An appraisal of Anne Collier at Nottingham Contemporary

(note that this exhibition finishes on March the 27th so if you want to see it you’ll need to get your skates on.  I do recommend it).
So, art criticism, where and how should I begin?
Well I’ll start with an excuse.  This blog post is going to get very ‘pseudy’ and pretentious.  Quelle Surprise’ you might say, but there is a reason for all the ‘art-speak’ which I’ll come to later.
It seems to be traditional to begin by giving some biographical information about the artist.  So, taking this from the blurb, Anne Collier is a New York based artist who uses photography as the basis of her work.  Now already we have a problem.  The fact that she’s New York based immediately makes her cool in a way that you couldn’t be if you were, for example a Nottingham based artist.  It gives her work a currency and credibility even before we’ve even seen any of it.  I’ll come back to this later too...
Anne Collier’s exhibition consists of a series of photographs.  The photographs are all ‘third hand’ images, in that she’s photographed existing photographs, magazines and images and text from books.  A film poster, a magazine cover, pages from a book, a jigsaw made from a Jackson Pollock painting and so forth.  I’ve put some of them below so you can get an idea, with a little commentary on what I took from each image. 

Woman with a camera - Anne Collier
‘Woman with a camera’ is a diptych, both images showing Collier’s photographs of the film poster ‘The Eyes of Laura Mars’ (I’m only showing one above, but they’re very similar).  A woman with a camera taking pictures of a picture of a woman with a camera, which in turn is advertising a film about a woman with a camera.  It’s a hall of mirrors.

Open Book 1 - Anne Collier

Open Book 2 - Anne Collier

‘Open Book 1’ and ‘Open Book 2’ are both photographs of photographs of landscapes in a book.  All photographs are second hand images of reality and I suppose these works are demonstrating this.  Is a reproduction at one remove better than a reproduction at two removes?  This is a good question when you’re looking at a photograph.  If the original and subsequent copies are of the same quality then what value should we ascribe to the first over subsequent prints?

Cindy Sherman - Anne Collier

‘Cindy Sherman’ is a picture of the cover of the Italian fashion magazine ‘L’evolve’ that shows the renown artist Cindy Sherman.  Sherman famously takes conceptual portraits of herself when she’s dressed and made up as a series of different women.  So, it’s a woman taking a picture of a magazine showing a woman famous for taking pictures.  But a woman who is famous for taking pictures of herself as other women.  It’s a twisty turning sort of a photo that Collier’s taken.  I’m not sure what it’s supposed to mean, but it’s droll.  Oh, and the Billy Bragg song 'Cindy of a Thousand Lives' is about Cindy Sherman.

First Person - Anne Collier
‘First Person’ is a series of photographs of pages of a book.  The pages list a series of personality traits, the sort of traits you’re asked to compare to yourself in psychometric testing, 5 being ‘strongly agree’, 1 being ‘strongly disagree’.  To me, these pictures are playing around with the notion of photography as portraiture, using a photograph to capture something of our inner selves, personality and inner lives.  Maybe Collier is suggesting we could just cut to the chase and photograph a list of defining characteristics and dispense with the image of the person altogether?  Can we really ascribe personality traits to an image anyway?  Maybe it’s an artistic investigation of the ground covered by the ‘Kuleshov Experiment’ in the 1920's when the same expressionless face was shown to an audience in different contexts and they ascribed different emotions to the face (thinking it was a different image).

My Goals for One Year - Anne Collier

‘My Goals for One Year’ is also a picture of a self help book of some sort.  Even though the goals themselves are blank, the headings themselves are very revealing. Questions reveal a lot about the questioner’s concerns, preoccupations and attitudes.

Untitled/This Charming Man
‘Untitled/This Charming Man’ uses the image (immediately recognisable to me as an 80’s Indie Kid) from the sleeve of The Smith’s ‘This Charming Man’.  Of course Morrissey designed all the sleeves himself, often from non-Hollywood films and a quick look on Wikipedia tells me that it’s a still from the Jean Cocteau 1949 film ‘Orphee’.  Collier’s title plays with this, for someone of my generation (and hers) it’s a Smiths sleeve, with all the cultural associations and kudos that brings.  For someone older, maybe it harks back to the French New Wave.  For someone younger – ‘untitled’, it’s just an image, it carries no cultural baggage.

Sylvia Plath - Anne Collier

‘Sylvia Plath’ is a picture of a record of Sylvia Plath reading her poetry.  Is there anything so unrepresentative of a poet than a picture of a recording? 
Puzzle - Anne Collier

‘Puzzle’ is a picture of a Jackson Pollack painting from his famous ‘Springs’ period, turned into a jigsaw, dismantled and put in a box.  It’s a familiar image, but rearranged randomly.  Except of course it’s a Jackson Pollock abstract expressionist piece and so does that really matter?  It has no intrinsic order.

Cut - Anne Collier

‘Cut’ shows the picture of an eye, cut in two by an office guillotine.  ‘An eye being cut in two’ is a horrible thing to type, never mind contemplate.  But it’s only the image of an eye so that’s ok?  Oh – and I assume that this image is referencing the famous eyeball slicing sequence in the 1929 film ‘Un Chien Andalou’ by Louis Bunuel and Salvador Dali (which I only know about because of the rather brilliant Pixies song ‘Debaser’ from the exceptional album ‘Doolittle’ – go and get it if you haven’t already – the best US band of the 1980s by a mile and a band I saw at 17 in Sheffield City Hall – still one of my favourite ever gigs).

(You might notice that you can see me taking the pictures reflected in the glass.  This seems quite in keeping with the spirit of Anne Collier’s work (a photographer photographing a photograph by a photographer etc) so I didn’t take any more pictures or clear them up in Photoshop.)
Overall I found the exhibition to be accessible and witty.  I enjoyed looking at the pictures and left the gallery with a smile on my face.  Something was bothering me about them too though and it was only a few days later than I thought was it was. 
You can probably see in my little descriptions of each photo and what it meant to me, that I’m citing an awful lot of other artists and other works.  This is what bothered me.  It seemed Collier's photographs seem to be more about art than they are about life, a sort of ‘meta art’.  There’s almost certainly a proper term for this incidentally but I’m not well read enough to know what it is. 
I suppose that there’s always a paradox when creating a piece of art, whether it’s a piece of music, writing or a performance.  The artist is supposed to put something of themselves into the work, but at the same time, make the work accessible to anyone experiencing the piece.  The more personal the piece, the more it’s specific to you, then the more you run the risk making it opaque to other people.  Of course if you make it too general, then you run the risk of producing something that speaks a little to everyone but doesn’t really strike a chord with anyone.
The potential problem comes when the artist and the world she lives in are so separated from the world that everyone else lives in.  We’re very lucky now in being able to view pretty much any piece of art we like now, via the internet certainly, but in the case of anything in Europe, we could even be there that day with a cheap flight.  The days for the need of a ‘grand tour’ around Europe are gone.  The palette of experience and references that artists could draw on prior to the 20th century were far more limited to those available now as were their opportunities to speak with and form communities with other artists and patrons.   There’s now an appetite for art of all types that there didn’t use to be previously (I’ll leave this statement unsupported but I’m comfortable that the numbers of gallery goers and the level of interest in modern art will support this rather sweeping statement!)  All this creates a divergence between the general public and a class of ‘arty types’. 
What I think this gives us is a highly literate set of artists and then art aficionados who are capable of deciphering their work.  If you’re in the inner circle this is fine.  The witty joke of the Bunuel referencing ‘Cut’ will draw a smile from you.  But if you’re not in the inner circle?  Then it won’t make any sense.  It’s just a photo of a picture of an eye that’s been cut by a guillotine.  ‘Craftless tat’ as Labour culture minister Kim Howell’s once described most modern art.  This is just the sort of piece that will attract the ire of anyone who’s not in on the joke.
I enjoyed Anne Collier’s exhibition because I ‘got’ most of the references, but could you enjoy if you didn’t understand them?  I’m really not sure that you could.  I think that the problem is that this ’meta art’ relies on a knowledge of the rules and conventions of art to understand how it’s playing with them and subverting them.    There’s also nothing wrong with ‘meta art’, it’s important to understand the rules of anything to know it’s strengths, it’s weaknesses, it’s limitations. 
You get ‘meta art’ in other genres too.  Stewart Lee (a huge favourite of mine – read his book here) is very much a ‘meta comedian’.  He deconstructs his own routines as he performs them, deliberately antagonises the audience so he can win them back again and plays all sorts of narrative tricks.  This is the reason the Sun call him “The worst comedian in Britain” and the Guardian call him “The best comedian in the country”.   They’re both wrong – he’s the best ‘meta comedian in the country’.  Other ‘meta art’?  Well how about ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead’, Tom Stoppard’s comedy that takes a couple of minor characters from Hamlet and tells their story with the main events happening in the background with the two plays occasionally crossing.  If you’ve not seen Hamlet then you won’t ‘get’ a lot of it.  The rest of it needs some understanding of how plays are structured and how stories are structured.  It’s a brilliant play but doesn’t say nearly as much about the human condition as Hamlet does (I could level that criticism at pretty much any other work too mind you!).  Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s film ‘Adaptation’ is another brilliant piece of meta-cinema.  I love it as a film, but it’s a complicated thing, with a terrible third act.  This is a deliberate piece of self-sabotage, demonstrating the tired narrative conventions of the ‘Hollywood third act’.  Do watch it though, because despite all the tricksyness it is a very fine adaptation of the unadaptable ‘Orchid Thief’.
I've looked at some examples of meta-art and talked about why I really like them. So what’s the problem with it?
I think that, as I was saying earlier, it's to do the balance between creating something personal and creating something universal.  I think that all truly great art finds that universal spirit and brings it out.  In 16th century Italy men like Michelangelo and Carravagio were painting scenes based on biblical stories.  Stories that were as well know to the poorest urchin in Rome as to the richest merchant.  Stories that were of as much of concern to the poorest urchin as to the richest merchant, each man having his own soul and everlasting life to worry himself with.  They were able to create works of universal appeal that anyone could look at and take something from.   Shakespeare was able to write some of the most sublime plays ever written and they could be understand by peasant and king because they were about the trials, triumphs and heartaches that all lived with.  Poets and painters, Larkin and Rembrandt for example, could make something universal and transcendent from the everyday.  Larkin’s ‘pull back and reveal’ style allowing him to take a small and personal observation and then find patterns and synchronicities with much larger themes and Rembrandt’s ability to paint a group of fairly ridiculous men and make them look like a gathering of saints.
Perhaps it's more difficult now than before to create great universal art.  People are so much better read and educated.  We’re more widely travelled, we’ve experienced art and ideas from cultures beyond our own.  There are so many connections that we make between images compared to previous generations.  This sea of contextuality gets in the way of our sharing an understanding.  What I mean by contextuality is that even a simple object, for example the chair I’m sitting in now, if photographed or painted, could represent an electric chair, or a throne, or an interrogation or loneliness or a number of other things.  It’s really hard to just see a chair as a chair when presented with it in the context of a piece of art.  Sometimes it seems like you’re playing a game of Chinese whispers with the artist. A message originates with them, is filtered through all their layers of experience and associations and has to find its way down through all your preconceptions and to speak to you directly.  It’s really hard.
So how do you cut though all these layers of context and reference?  How do you get to something more primal and honest?  Perhaps it’s easier to talk about meta art.  It’s easier to be clever than it is to create something truly original.  Or perhaps the art world would sneer at something so blatantly populist.
Well here’s one way to the heart of something.  On Alastair Sooke’s recent (and really interesting) documentary series on British Sculpture he spoke to Damien Hirst about his piece ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of someone living’ (the 14 foot tiger shark in formaldehyde). 

Hirst was explaining that his first thought was to use a huge blown-up photo of a shark, big enough to cover a wall, to confront people of the reality of the shark, but he realised that this wouldn’t work, it’d just be a photo and people would react to it in that way.  So he used a real shark, suspended as if swimming, that people could stand next to.  This piece was really controversial but Hirst was, I think, trying to get away from all the layers of contextuality to connect directly with the viewer’s ‘animal brain’.   “Here is a 14 foot long lump of muscle and power and teeth and it’s coming for you”, he seems to be saying.  You can’t see that shark in the flesh without feeling a frisson of fear.  You know it’s dead, it’s in a tank, it can’t get you, but still...
This is the problem with ‘meta art’.  It can’t exist without art.  It needs something honest to subvert.  And there’s the reason that Hamlet will still be performed regularly in another 400 years and ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead’ will only be subject to very rare revivals.  Meta Art can only be a dead end.  Once you’ve understood the rules, you’re still left with them.  You can’t change the game.
And meta art forces the use of a ton of ‘art speak’ and jargon in order to talk about it.  This is another huge turn-off.  This piece reads like something self-consciously highbrow at best and at worst, something misguided and pretentious.  But what choice does it give us?  There’s also a defensiveness about it and the art world in general.  ‘Anne Collier is a New York based artist’.  We wouldn’t particularly talk about where any other artist was based and certainly not a scientist (where we’d talk about an institution and not a location).  It’s as if we’re supposed to think ‘New York – oh she must know what she’s on about.  It’s not for us to criticise.’  And I know that New York is a centre of the international art market but that’s a circular argument for some sort of extra legitimacy.
I suppose art and meta art are like idealism and cynicism.  A cynic needs to have idealists to kick against and cynicism is an important check on idealism. But it’s idealists that change the world.

David Millington
March 22nd 2011

Friday, March 18, 2011

Forthcoming Attractions

I’ve been rather lax about blogging for the last couple of weeks.    I’ve a fair few things I want to write about but none of them are even nearly finished yet so to tide you over until Monday, when I’ll hopefully get going again, I’ve made a few notes on what the next batch will be about.
A blog about the gig on the 17th of March.  I’d say a review but frankly any review of I’d write of Elbow would have all the objectivity of Matthew writing about the Sermon on the Mount.  “Jesus brought us all to the kingdom of heaven tonight and totally dissed the pharisees.  The merchandise was a bit pricey though – 10 pieces of silver for replica sandals! WFT!”. Etc.
Musical taste
A lot of waffle on how musical taste is a more personal preference than almost any other art form and why.  This is half written but it keeps going off in different directions.  It’ll be a companion piece to the already published ‘Lost in Music’.
Thomas Cranmer and Aslockton
I wanted to write something about Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who was born in Aslockton, just to the south of Nottingham.  He rose from humble beginnings to become the first head of the Church of England and the intellectual architect and powerhouse of the English Reformation.  I’m interested in how he was able to rise so high and I want to draw comparisons to the present day when the middle and upper classes are becoming more entrenched than ever in the best jobs.  I find the protestant reformation fascinating anyway as it’s the real beginning of the modern secular world and also for the parallels with modern Islam.
Offensiveness in Comedy
I’ve been avoiding this one for ages as it’s bound to be controversial and I’m not sure that I really want to stand up for what I believe on this one.  I will take the time to write it but possibly won’t post it.  I have few enough readers already and don’t want to piss any of them off!  We’ll see...
Goldstein and Collier at the Nottingham Contemporary
I really enjoyed the current exhibition at the Nottingham Contemporary.  Enough chords were struck with a few other things I was reading and in particular Alastair Sooke’s excellent recent documentary series on British sculpture and Andrew Graham-Dixon’s series on German Art (both on BBC4) and it’s stimulated me enough to want to write about it.  It’ll be about what I’m choosing to call art and meta-art.  It will probably tie into the 'Musical Taste' blog too.  It’s likely to be a bit massive though.
Fear of Falling
This will be about the similarities and differences between climbing and getting on stage to act.  They’re both activities that tend to draw the comment “you’re very brave to do that” and I thought I’d examine this further, ‘cos I think it’s an interesting comparison to make.  This will almost certainly be the last bit I write about acting for a while and hopefully the start of a few more outdoorsy pieces.

And go on then – a short poem.  Some days it’s called ‘The Optimist’ and some days ‘The Pessimist’. Another from last year.
All I have left of a half-love,
are half written poems,

David Millington
18th March 2011

Friday, March 4, 2011

Lost in Music – Part Two

<<Continued from Part One>>
There does seem to be a respect and an acceptance towards older music that didn’t really exist when I was a teenager.  I’ll cite the club night, held at the Bodega (aka The Social) in Nottingham last week, where they played Radiohead’s entire back catalogue, from the 'Drill' EP to 'The King of Limbs' from start to finish.  Now I admire Radiohead hugely, they’re probably as significant a band as there’s ever been, I’ve even got a white label of the Drill EP kicking around somewhere, but I can’t imagine I would have been interested in listening to the entire works of any band in my time at Uni, even if there had been a band who were still respected by the critics after 18 years of producing music.  I’d have been contemptuous of this ‘music by old people and for old people’ and would have wanted to hear something with a bit more attitude and that spoke to me more directly.
Maybe it’s because the ripples of punk were still being felt through the guitar music scene, even if they did take a while to reach all way through that terrible 80’s hair metal to give us grunge.  Maybe it’s because the hip-hop crossover happened.  Maybe it’s because of the rise of electronic music, sampling and dance that continued through the 80’s and kept things interesting and fresh meaning no-one had the time or inclination to delve much into the past.  Probably it’s because with the creation of the web and then Napster, iTunes and Youtube, everything is available and free(ish).  Probably also the huge number of festivals that have sprung up in the last 10 years, with their seemingly endless appetite for performers, keep old bands going past their sell by date.  I expect it’s also because of all the Gen-X (people born between ‘61 and ’71 by the way – this tends to be misquoted all the time – go and read the book if you don’t believe me, although Coupland has written better since) and Gen-Y people who are still going to gigs.  Bands don’t get to die out so much these days.
Looking at my record collection (now there’s an old school term!) there’s actually very little from the 60’s and 70’s and what I do have was added relatively late as I earned relatively more money and so could afford to buy a few selected ‘Old School’ classics.  There’s only really been Dylan since I was a teenager, mostly his folk period.   I added a load of soul/funk compilations since,  as well as various classic 70’s soul albums (recorded between the commercial straightjackets of the 60’s and 80’s).  I’ve a couple of dozen ‘cool Jazz’ recordings and a decent scattering of ‘classic’ albums (Big Star, The Who, Love, The Doors, Pistols, Marvin Gaye, Gram Parsons, Scott Walker – the usual suspects) that I don’t much listen to.  Nick Drake would probably be the person I come back to the most and who’s been with me for the longest, but then his late fame and relative obscurity have kept him fresh in a way that very few artists can be.

I don’t know if I think that this respect for the past is a good thing or not.  It is probably the best time ever to be a music fan.  Everything is more accessible and cheaper than it’s ever been.  There are more genres than ever before and lots happening in these genres.  I’m lucky enough to live in Nottingham which has some excellent live venues and club nights (I’m looking at the Boedga and Sounddism in particular here) and you could easily go to a couple of worthwhile gigs a week, usually more.  While the record shops have mostly died (hang in there Fopp!), it’s all there on the web to download at the touch of a button, much of it free to at least sample.
And yet something seems to me to have been lost.  Once upon a time, if someone had heard of a band, it meant that they’d worked hard to find out about them.  We heard our music on John Peel, or via crackly mix tapes passed from person to person, or playing on the stereo in the cool record shop.  You needed to know the cool kids at school to find out what they were listening to (some of them even knew students  *gasp*).  You saw the occasional handwritten fanzine.  You poured over the NME each week to find out what was happening.  An Indie Band scraping into the top 40 felt like a personal triumph.  I’d listen at the radio each week to hear if The Wonderstuff or Northside or Morrissey had made it, like a football fan listening to the final scores at Saturday tea-time.  If you saw someone in a cool band t-shirt you knew they were a fan and not just some hipster, they’d have to have bought it from a gig as there’d be no-where else to buy it.  You knew they were one of your tribe.  It wasn’t an easy tribe to be in but it was worth the effort for the sheer pleasure of the music.  And because in those days it was the only tribe we had, at least in my provincial town and lots of others like it. 
I suppose that really the only thing that’s been lost is the exclusivity.  The snob value.  The knowing that you know best.  The huge musical currency that used to belong to me, that I built up over years and years has been devalued.  The records that I painstakingly researched, saved for, tracked down and treasured are now available to anyone with a computer and a few hours of free time.  We cheered each little victory when a song or band crossed over, made endless mixtapes for friends to bring them into our gang, argued passionately (and no doubt arrogantly and annoyingly) at parties about why our bands were better.  And now everyone's 'got' them, we feel a little lost and cheated.  We thought it'd make everyone else in the world more like us, whereas they took our bands and carried on as before.  Watching them in bland arenas instead of sticky floored clubs, clutching popcorn, cokes and hotdogs.  Talking through the songs rather than hanging on every word.
It’s not much to mourn really is it? My tribe is now huge and open to all.  It should be a cause for celebration.  And it is. I’m really pleased that the records I love and loved are there for everyone to share.  I wouldn’t turn back the clock or have it any other way.  But I do sometimes feel a little lost amidst all these people.  And the music.  So much damn music, stretching away back for 50 years and ahead for as far as I can see.  How will we ever have time to listen to it all? And I do still want to listen to it all, as much as I ever did.  ‘Lost in music, caught in a trap’ indeed.
And if you only listen to one link from this post and the last and you don’t already know him – make it Nick Drake.
David Millington
February 28th 2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lost in Music – Part One

Sometime in 1999, there was one of those emails floating around the office I worked in.  One of those emails that contained jokes or funny pictures of cats or Darwin Award winners, the ones that we don’t get anymore since Facebook appeared.  This particular email contained a bunch of amazing facts about the millennium, one of which was that first year university students would only have been 8 years old when the Stone Roses debut album came out.  In the office this did give us pause for thought.  A generation had grown up and gone to college who probably had no idea how important that album had been to my generation and who had a relationship with it that was, at best, the same as my relationship to Joy Division’s ‘Closer’, a record I loved but could never really ‘get’ as I’d never heard it in context.  It was a snapshot of a time I only dimly remembered and of a scene I had no experience of.
(I’ve linked a load of videos into this bit.  Don’t worry about watching them, they’re there as a sort of series of footnotes, you don’t need to listen if you don’t want to.  But you should, because they’re brilliant! Except for Al Martineau.)

Of course 11 years further on and this year’s graduating students, never mind undergraduates, weren’t even born when the ‘The Roses’ album first made it’s impression on a generation of indie kids.  That’s an even more sobering thought.  Putting that into my own timeframe, the genres of glam, punk, disco, krautrock, prog, hip-hop, new wave and dance were all ‘invented’ or at least popularised after I was born.

Going back 10 years before I appeared and the Beatles and Stones hadn’t released a record.  Bob Dylan was playing the folk clubs in Greenwich Village having just released his first album.  Go back another 10 years and it’s the first year that the Top 10 (Top 12 as it turns out) was even recorded.  The people having the most hits were Bing Crosbie and Vera Lynn.  The first recorded Number One is ‘Here in my Heart’ by Al Martineau (have a listen – yikes!).  It was a very different world.  Rock and Roll was still two years away in the form of Bill Haley and the Comets ‘Rock Around the Clock’ which sold 15 million copies around the world and kicked the whole shebang into commercial life.*

I re-watched a film called ‘Almost Famous’ a few months ago.  If you don’t know it, it’s a Cameron Crowe movie, heavily autobiographical, set in 1973 about a teenager who blags himself a job as a music journalist following a band, which are on the point of breaking through, as they tour around the States.  It won an Oscar for best screenplay and Kate Hudson showed she’s a damn good actress before going on to appear in a seemingly endless stream of terrible rom-coms.  I digress.  In the film there’s an old, wise, journalist who acts as a mentor to the young hero.  What struck me was that from Bill Haley to the setting of the film, only 19 years have passed and that this is all them music that this old sage will know about.  That’s like the film being set now and no music existing before 1992.  It really brought home to me just how much of what we should probably term ‘pop music’ was made in my lifetime and how much of it I can remember first hand, certainly compared to the bright young things I stand alongside at gigs.

I wonder about the relationship that people have with music that comes from a time that they don’t remember.  I get a sense of ‘now’ from music that’s been freshly made and even listening to stuff I first heard twenty years ago I can still remember how it made me feel back then.  It still has some of that newness.  That connection back seems important in the way I relate to the songs.  It always feels very personal, even if the person I was has gone, leaving only me.
A lot of music I hear now will be made by people of a different generation who have grown up in a world that’s moved on from my growing up in the 70’s and 80’s.  It might be music by and of people living in a culture and from a background of which I have no firsthand experience and no real understanding, like West Coast Hip-hop or Americana.   That doesn’t seem to matter.  It’s enough that they’re living in a world that I understand and that we’re all experiencing something of the zeitgeist together.  Does this matter to other people?  Is there something important about listening to new music as it appears or is living in a world of old songs fine too?  I’ve not come to any conclusions.  Feel free to let me know what you think.
<<End of Part 1 – I’ll pop part 2 up later this week>>
David Millington
February 28th 2011
* - And I’m not citing any of these records as era defining or ‘classic’, they’re just examples of what was going on at given points in time and records I like.