Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Reaching out.

Erk. My growing obsession with establishing some kind of connection between centuries old and young gathers pace.

I still dream of bringing Mr Vincent Van Gogh to the present day, of course, and in-so-doing rescuing his paintings from the prisons which cage them. Not for me, the cosy 21st Century Dr Who worldview of the tortured artist locked in history, waiting patiently for a Timelord to unveil the merit and acclaim that time has heaped on his Dutch shoulders. Oh no. My visionary version of events is a rescue mission, pure and simple: these priceless paintings need to be sprung from their temperature-controlled cells and pasted up on walls. Perhaps squat walls. Perhaps not. But given back to Vincent, whatever.

Similarly, I'm not entirely sure how much of our modern world Mr Charles Dickens would approve of. I find it increasingly easy to walk around London with an inherited sense of wonder at the miracles of the age: the under-construction Shard, the buzz of helicopters, the silver tubes of airliners tracing through the sky. How great, how amazing, it would be to show all these things to Mr D. But then I check myself with the thought that Mr Dickens might prefer to stay in the car. I'd be tempted to run him out of town for some fresh air. If he's not into the fellows walking into public houses without hats on, I fantasise, he's hardly going to appreciate the scallies drinking Special Vat outside William Hill.

The more I read of Dickens, the more I want to reach out and forge that spiritual connection between our respective centuries. But, however hard I look, I don't see that desire reciprocated. Where the mighty, ingenious and entertainingly original American-born writer Russell Hoban is clearly laying out his retirement-age London for future generations to savour - tube journey after walk after cafe after park - there is no indication, anywhere, that Mr Dickens was ever scribing for an age more advanced than his own. Maybe the need to have seen it all and to report to some future audience, like a time-sensitive recce mission, is a truly modern phenomenon?

Whatever, I feel sure Mr Dickens would be glad to see his works still in print in 2011. He might be more than a bit surprised - but pleased all the same. And for the time being, I'm happy to try to see modern London through the same kind of Victoria-tinted spectacles as he would have worn. It's a push, a big push, but sometimes I feel rewarded with just the merest hint that I might be on vaguely the same page. That's something to aspire to, isn't it?

Friday, 6 May 2011

And then punk happened...

Pop music. What a journey! It started life as the fad of the new-born teenagers - a frivolous craze that parents knew little Johnny and Jenny would one day grow up and out of. It exploded through rock'n'roll and went on growing. As time passed and it developed through a myriad of styles and attitudes, so did public taste. Opinions were formed and quickly divided. Some pop became worthy of serious attention - the rest became wholly disposable.

Lines were drawn; battle lines, sometimes. Mods v Rockers. Hippies v Squares. Punks v Straights. To the unconverted, pop remained disposable nonsense. Then, for a brief moment in time, that very disposability was what held our collective public interest. The cheap, three-minute throwaway product wormed its way into our hearts and minds.

Nowadays, pop is transcient - but no longer disposable. It has become the must-keep manna of the masses, the stuff that unites us all. It has value - commercial, artistic, cultural, spiritual and (even) historical value.

Experts are on hand to guide us back through the decades and remind us what happened and when. There are many, many books, films, radio shows and TV documentaries out there, poised to loftily explain the lineage between, say, The Beatles and Blur - almost always relying on the "and then punk happened" bit to explain away the convoluted 70s.

But as anybody who got involved at any stage of the game, to any degree, will confirm: it's just not that simple. Right now, there will be a Danse Society fan somewhere who had a road to Damascus moment sometime in 1981 and who has lived his life accordingly ever since. There will be a volunteer hospital driver in Birmingham who extraordinarily played bass for the MC5 at Wembley Stadium in 1972 (it's true - he's called Derek Hughes). And by that same token, there will be a kid in Lancashire somewhere who will go to see Effluence play and have his life changed during the course of a three minute song.

Regrettably, nobody lives forever and some of the older guard are slipping through our fingers. Time marches on, and with the passing of people also goes the memories, the stories, the impressions of the innovators as well as those who were just lucky enough to be there. All their stories are important, and all of value to the collective consciousness that surrounds music. Rather than the rigid story that is played out on doco after doco, music has a living, organic history. The resurgence of garage rock or the whole Robert Johnson story - if you think about it - is testament to that.

We music fans, writers, performers, record buyers and specialist enthusiasts all have tales to tell - and with the internet age, a great opportunity to tell them. Please do so, and do it now. Contribute to the big picture and make it bigger: let's leave the people of tomorrow with a better legacy than "and then punk happened..."