I am a radio addict, it’s true. I avoid most current affairs programmes and continuous rolling repetitive news. I try to avoid Britain too, by listening only to the ‘World Service’. Of course, that is a very British institution, but its slightly wider global perspective gets me out of the ‘Westminster Bubble’ and all of the daily headlines, driven, it seems to me, by Right Wing tabloid-style media, that in turn seems to determine and run the government, and shape and delimit the society, here on these little islands off the North West coast of Europe.
The World Service makes some excellent Podcasts, about people with extraordinary lives, and about people swept up in great moments of history, and I sometimes become transfixed by one of these. I know that I’m having my emotions manipulated by the professional skills of the interviewers and narrators, plus occasional music, but that, I suppose, is the pleasure of it. i.e. history is a kind of drama, a theatre. I have often noticed that historical events make me emotional, literally bring tears to my eyes. There is something about a huge crowd of people, with a sense of a just and unifying cause (one with which I empathise of course), taking to the streets, waving banners and chanting slogans that just gets me every time. The modern idea that we can change the world and that this is what Democracy really means and requires, at its roots, just fills me with emotion.
Of course, what I listen to most of all is music. When I feel I have done a quota of work for the day, eaten dinner and wound down for the evening, I tune in to music radio shows. There too I am immersed in history, as well as a certain currency – and the two are of course connected, seamlessly. All the DJs I listen to at least, play the most incredibly eclectic range of musics old and new and from many parts of the world. It might have seemed bizarre a generation or two back, but now it has become the norm. Popular music, allied with radio, and reproduction via vinyl, CD, MP3, streaming etc. has conquered the world with its history, and whatever your taste in music, you will today revel both in the latest emerging ‘hits’ and the whole history of popular music running far back into the decades of the previous century.
There too you or I might find things to make us cry. It could be a song’s beauty but it could also be its sheer brilliance, its invention, its wit, its originality. When this happens I wonder if my tears are for the artist, for the world, for art, or for myself, sad deep-down that I will never make anything as good as that to which I am listening.
Lately I’ve been listening to lots of emerging bands that I might classify as ‘New Punk’. They all have that raw (roar), attacking, simple (sometimes innanely simple) approach to music and lyrics, but they are also very knowing, purposefully witty and inventive, quirky and perverse. This might manifest itself in the vocals, but is just as likely to be something alarmingly original or amazingly awkward about the beat, the riff etc. As such, these bands draw upon the legacies of all the many different strains of punk, but also on something that links avant-garde activity (back to DADA) to a kind of desperate and uncompromising belligerence, the main point of punk being its unapologetic insistence on doing and saying exactly what you want to say, doing it now, not waiting for permission or to be qualified, and using attitude and audacity as much as any skill or experience – or lack of the same – that you have or have not ‘got’.
These bands of course make me laugh as much as cry (and sometimes laughter and crying seem to be the same thing). They don’t set-out to make history, but only to make a 2-3 minute assault on culture, to knock-down walls, deflate pomposity and keep possibility alive at all costs. As such they do politics (and inadvertently ‘do’ history) by other means.
And, BTW, Punk is something that Britain still does, and always has done, exceedingly well.
Here are a couple of examples of New Punky songs that had my attention this week: