The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'the smiths'
A few seasonal links for today and tomorrow:
- The mythological trainwreck that we call "Christmas", with its ill-fitting pieces of Middle Eastern and Nordic folklore, was discussed here last year. Now, some people going by the name of Cannabis Culture (read into that what you will) have another element to add to this; namely, the claim that the legend ot Santa Claus comes from Lappish shamanic rituals involving hallucinogenic mushrooms, with Santa's red and white costume having nothing to do with the Coca-Cola logo and everything to do with the colouring of the amanita muscaria mushroom, which may be found growing under fir trees.
- A Norwegian crafter named Jonas Laberg made a 10kg marzipan pig, as a present for his friends' daughters. The finished product looks horrifyingly detailed:
- The Graun's Zoe Williams has a piece on the supposed Christmas tradition of kissing under the mistletoe, which she contends is one of those things that only happens on TV (much like adults playing with cats, she writes), and does a Twitter survey, confirming this; with one heartbreakingly poignant exception:
In 1973, Helen was 16 and having a relationship with a girl at school, but they hadn't come out for a whole load of reasons, most of them to do with it being 1973. "In those days, we were like outcasts, so nobody knew, it was a great secret. A few of my friends were really homophobic. We went to this New Year's Eve party, where people were all goading each other to kiss. So we did. It was brilliant, everybody was cheering, we were pretending it was a joke. It was probably one of the best kisses I've ever had."
It didn't make it any easier to come out, though. "We never came out, we split up two years later, the pressure became too great. Most of it on her, because her family had mapped out her life for her, she had to get married. And I did what was expected of me, when I was 18. I got married as well. I had three kids."
- Christopher Hitchens may be gone, but an unpublished essay he wrote about Christmas has surfaced: Forced Merriment: The True Spirit of Christmas.
I once tried to write an article, perhaps rather straining for effect, describing the experience as too much like living for four weeks in the atmosphere of a one-party state. "Come on," I hear you say. But by how much would I be exaggerating? The same songs and music played everywhere, all the time. The same uniform slogans and exhortations, endlessly displayed and repeated. The same sentimental stress on the sheer joy of having a Dear Leader to adore. As I pressed on I began almost to persuade myself. The serried ranks of beaming schoolchildren, chanting the same uplifting mush. The cowed parents, in terror of being unmasked by their offspring for insufficient participation in the glorious events…. "Come on," yourself. How wrong am I?
One of my many reasons for not being a Christian is my objection to compulsory love. How much less appealing is the notion of obligatory generosity. To feel pressed to give a present is also to feel oneself passively exerting the equivalent unwelcome pressure upon other people... Don't pretend not to know what I am talking about. It's like the gradual degradation of another annual ritual, whereby all schoolchildren are required to give valentines to everybody in the class. Nobody's feelings are hurt, they tell me, but the entire point of sending a valentine in the first place has been deliberately destroyed. If I feel like giving you a gift I'll try and make sure that (a) it's worth remembering and (b) that it comes as a nice surprise. (I like to think that some of my valentines in the past packed a bit of a punch as well.)
- ‘Yes we know it’s Christmas’ say African musicians as they finally record a response to Band Aid:
“Just because we don’t have Boney M or Christmas advertising in September doesn’t mean we are oblivious to it,” said Gundane who went on to suggest that Africans were a lot like the Irish. “They made it through disasters like the potato blight and the invention of the Protestant church without forgetting Christmas – why did they think we would forget it?”
Gundane said he hoped that his involvement with the song would turn him into an expert on British politics and economics in the same way ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’ had turned Geldof and Bono into the world’s leading experts on Africa.
- After some UK department store apparently used a godawful twee-folk version of a Smiths song in one of its Christmas ad, the inimitable Rhodri Marsden decided to one-up the horror of it with his own Christmas-themed Smiths travesty. Behold: Heaven Knows I'm Christmassy Now, to be a mainstay of Christmas mix tapes in years to come.
David Cameron, Britain's Tory Prime Minister, has on occasion professed his love of 1980s indie band The Smiths, known for their staunchly left-wing politics and anti-Thatcherite proclamations. And now, Johnny Marr has replied, forbidding David Cameron from liking The Smiths:
David Cameron, stop saying that you like The Smiths, no you don't. I forbid you to like it.And here is a piece from the Daily Torygraph, er, Telegraph's music critic, in defense of Cameron's uncharacteristically left-wing musical tastes, writing before the election, pointing out Morrissey's recently small-c-conservative views and claiming that at least Cameron was more genuinely into the music he professes a liking for than the New Labour politicians whose tastes are blandly focus-grouped:
less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone
Personally, I am tremendously heartened when a political leader actually demonstrates genuine and quite sophisticated cultural tastes, instead of getting spin doctors to compile their iPod playlists for them (with every song a political message). Or, like Gordon Brown, dropping clunking references to contemporary popular favourites such as the Arctic Monkeys and Harry Potter when we all know he is really ensconced in his study reading economic history and perhaps listening to a ‘Best Of’ classical compilation that his wife bought him for Christmas.
When I ran into David Cameron at the BBC once, I asked him what was the last CD he bought. Without a moment’s hesitation, he named a new album from an obscure American band called Modest Mouse, who had been working with Morrissey’s old Smiths’ collaborator Johnny Marr (who played every date on Red Wedge’s original tour). I am not sure what credibility it gives him to tackle global economic meltdown, but he is certainly the hippest party leader.(Modest Mouse are obscure?)
Music critic John Harris looks at the curious phenomenon of today's Tory politicians proclaiming their fandom of vehemently anti-Thatcherite music from the 1980s, including The Smiths, The Jam and even bolshy Billy Bragg:
He praises the Smiths for their "brilliant" lyrics; while he was at Eton, he says the music of the Jam "meant a lot"; his initial shortlist for Desert Island Discs included Kirsty MacColl's version of A New England, written by Billy Bragg. At one time or another, all of them were leaders of a subculture that pitted a good deal of British rock music against the party Cameron now leads, but he swats away that incongruity with the same blithe confidence he has used to remarket the Tories as zealous environmentalists and friends of the poor. "I don't see why the left should be the only ones allowed to listen to protest songs," he says, and that seems to be that.Surely there are right-wing protest songs as well. The Beatles' Taxman, for example, or perhaps something by Bryan Ferry.
In the wake of the IRA attack on the 1984 Conservative party conference, for example, Morrissey rather regrettably claimed that "the sorrow of the Brighton bombing is that Thatcher is still alive". By way of pointing up his lack of remorse, his first solo album, Viva Hate, featured a particularly pointed composition entitled Margaret on the Guillotine, which ran thus: "Kind people have a wonderful dream/Margaret on the guillotine/Because people like you/Make me feel so tired/When will you die?" The song has been endlessly mentioned by those who have been querying Cameron's attachment to the Smiths, but to no avail. Just lately, he was once again presented with the words during a Guardian webchat, but batted them away with a glib flourish: "The lyrics - even the ones I disagree with - are great, and often amusing."
On this score, my favourite story concerns the Cameroonian Tory MP Ed Vaizey, who recently appeared on Michael Portillo's BBC4 Thatcher documentary, The Lady's not for Spurning, talking about the Birmingham-based 80s band the Beat, whom he claims to have "adored", despite being an "ardent Thatcherite". "They had a song called Stand Down Margaret," he marvelled, before telling Portillo he assumed that everyone in Britain admired Mrs Thatcher in much the same awestruck terms as he did, so when it came to the song's target, the penny never really dropped. "I couldn't work out what they had against Princess Margaret," he said. D'oh!The article also has an amusing anecdote about David Cameron trying to have his photo taken outside the Salford Lads' Club (where The Smiths were photographed in 1986, while the Tories were last in power and Salford had 80% youth unemployment), and being thwarted by Labour activists
Which is more evidence supporting the argument that the countercultural underground music of the 1980s has finally completed its decay into the innocuous kitsch of "heritage rock", spent of its vitriol and now merely acoustic wallpaper? And all this with neither the original musicians nor, indeed, Margaret Thatcher being dead.
In the Observer, Sean O'Hagan has a piece about the history and legacy of The Smiths:
No other group carried such a weight of expectation — and tradition — as the Smiths. Had they not risen to the occasion, it is not overstating the case to say that the entire trajectory of recent British rock music as we now know it — that's the line from the Smiths to the Stone Roses to Oasis and on to the Libertines and today's indie darlings, Arctic Monkeys — would not have been traced.Mind you, it seems that much of the influence The Smiths had over today's commercially ubiquitous white-guys-with-guitars ("indie") bands was to legitimise being an anachronism.
'Who would have thought,' as Will Self puts it, 'that over 20 years after the Smiths' demise we would be listening to so much music that, in the main, is simply an atrophied form of the Smith's rock classicism?'In other news about Mancunian bands: apparently New Order have broken up, this time permanently.
The famous photograph of The Smiths outside the Salford Lads' Club, taken by rock photographer Stephen Wright and seen on the The Queen Is Dead album and countless bedsit walls, is about to take its place in the National Portrait Gallery. Which, I suppose, is what happens when yesteryear's teenage bedsit tragics grow into positions of cultural influence.
Police evacuate the centre of Birmingham, following a security alert. Perhaps this means that it's not Islamists but Smiths fans behind the attacks.
This is what happens when the fans of a band known for its bookish, over-intellectual fanbase grow up and get established: Manchester Metropolitan University is holding an academic conference on The Smiths next week. The symposium, titled Why Pamper Life's Complexities, will look at the influence of Morrissey's lyrics on areas such as gender and sexuality, race, nationality and class, as well as æsthetics, fan cultures and musical innovation.
This evening, Your Humble Narrator went to the Hope & Anchor in Islington to see The Smyths, who are, as you may expect, a Smiths cover band. They were quite enjoyable.
The band came on after another band, and the first thing I noticed was that they were a five-piece with two guitarists, as if no one mortal man born of woman could possibly be the match of Johnny Marr. Anyway, they played for over an hour, starting off with The Queen Is Dead (with lyrics changed to "dressed in Camilla's bridal veil"), and playing most of the Smiths favourites (This Charming Man, Shoplifters Of The World Unite, Sheila Take A Bow, William, It Was Really Nothing and Ask were just five), and a few Morrissey tracks. The front man, a chap with a quiff and glasses, played the part mostly well, singing much like Morrissey, and doing the mannerisms, albeit somewhat exaggerated (at the start, it looked a bit as if he were taking the piss, but then he started channeling the spirit of Moz in earnest), and gradually trying to wriggle out of his shirt. He didn't wear a hearing aid, though, and while there was a bunch of flowers on stage, he didn't put them in his back pocket. The audience treated the songs as singalongs, and the singer at times stopped singing to give them a chance; I believe many of them were regulars at Smyths gigs.
Anyway, it was an entertaining night, and about as close as one is going to get to seeing a Smiths gig (with the possible exception of Morrissey's solo gigs, which come pretty close too). They're certainly worth seeing if you're a Smiths fan from way back looking for a fun night out.
The Smiths are the latest band to have had a musical written about their songs; it'll be titled Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others, and said to be like "film without a text". It is scheduled to open in London in July 2005.
Meanwhile, the next New Order album, titled Sugarcane, is due out in February.
(found in the archives of the ABC's DIG News)
The Salford Lads' Club, immortalised in the artwork of The Smiths' The Queen Is Dead, has bowed to pressure from the public and opened a shrine to The Smiths, where visitors can leave photographs and comments. (via bOING bOING)
Something Awful gores indie's sacred cows, i.e., Joy Division, The Smiths, Pavement and My Bloody Valentine. (via Graham)
Everyone who considers themself a hipster should take note: name-dropping Pavement isn't going to win you any merit badges in my scout troop. You'd be a fool not to see that even the bands that everyone loves are just as terrible as the bands that everyone makes fun of. The only difference between Nickelback and The Smiths is that Smiths fans dress slightly better and don't beat their girlfriends as hard.
I hypothesize that if Ian Curtis had continued to live and exert his gothic influence over the band, they would have eventually sounded like Siouxie and the Banshees except with a terrible singer. I also hypothesize that Ian Curtis would now be fat.
They're dead-on about Loveless, btw:
Its one of those rare albums that really sounds like the album cover looks: its an indecipherable blur of noise and distorted guitars. It boggles the mind that so many goofy hipsters are so in love with an album with so little to offer. All of the songs sound basically the same, and you really have to pay attention to figure out where one ends and the next begins. The lyrics are so incomprehensible that they might as well not even be there at all. Although there are certainly noises on this album that have never been made before or since, none of them are particularly interesting noises. In most cases, its the sound of several guitars playing a couple of chords with a few layers of grinding and feedback in the background. Sure, it probably took quite a bit of time and money to make those sounds, but are they particularly interesting? No, not really; when its all put together, it just sounds like a waterfall of sludge running through your speakers.
This is part of the Your Band Sucks section, which also includes articles about bands like Radiohead and Coldplay (though, granted, there's no challenge there).
Man bequeaths estate to The Smiths (or, more specifically, to Morrissey and Johnny Marr), but only if they can stay in the same room for an hour. Um, OK... (via Rocknerd)
The Graun's Mark Simpson on Morrissey and his influence on popular culture:
Most of all, it was men who never recovered from Morrissey - the last two decades of British masculinity have been shaped by him. Fathered, even. His Smiths period handsome androgyny and narcissism anticipated New Man; his early solo work, with its preoccupation with gangsters, boxers and "low-life" prefigured New Lad - albeit artistic and passionate, where what followed was cynical and commercial, and with the balls to acknowledge rather than disavow the aesthetic and homoerotic.
Little wonder then that his fans are mostly male, overwhelmingly heterosexual, and all are passionately, vehemently in love with him, wrestling beefy security personnel to the floor to hug and kiss him onstage. "I'd sleep with him if he asked me to," a hod carrier from Norwich once volunteered to me at a Moz gig, out of the blue. "My girlfriend would understand," he added. "She's a Morrissey fan too." Of course she would.
Apparently Simpson has a book titled Saint Morrissey coming out later this year. Meanwhile, there's a Channel 4 documentary titled The Importance of Being Morrissey airing in the UK soon. No news on an Australian date. I may have to ask someone to tape it for me and airmail me the tape...
For the love of Ghod, no: Russian Mafia-manufactured pedo-porn-pop duo Tatu cover The Smiths' How Soon is Now (aka "the song with the same guitar line as Soho's Hippychick"). And all signs are that it can't possibly be anything other than utter pants.
Tatu's Julia Volkova told NME that she had never heard of The Smiths before being given the song to sing: "[The producers] just put it on for us and we decided it was worth a try. Frankly speaking, we hadn't known this group."
So we know it's going to be dire; the question is: will it be dire enough to appreciate in an ironic sense (like Pee Wee Ferris' commercial-dance version of Blue Monday), or will it just be shite?
Today I picked up a copy of Belle & Sebastian's The Boy With The Arab Strap, after hearing it in the car when catching a lift back from Saturday's Ninetynine gig. (The advantage of living in North Fitzroy: people you catch lifts with are likely to have good stuff playing in the car.) I'm listening to it now, and it's growing on me. There are some quite catchy understated melodies there; I particularly like Sleep the Clock Around and Ease Your Feet In The Sea.
I didn't get into Belle & Sebastian a few years ago, when all the indiekids were wearing their I-own-Tigermilk badges, because I just didn't get them. I mean, I was into The Smiths, mostly because of Morrissey's sardonic miserablism and Wildean allusions (and probably living a socially isolated existence in Ferntree Gully had something to do with it), but B&S didn't scratch the same itch. Then again, I didn't quite get the concept of (indie-)pop sensibility back then either; it was a bit too subtle for me. As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.
NME names The Smiths as the most influential artist of the past 50 years, edging out the Beatles. In the Plastic thread, there is some outrage from people who don't understand why a pack of whining nobodies could be more influential than the Beatles, and countercriticism questioning whether songs like "She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" are that much more significant than the likes of "Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loves Me" or "The Queen Is Dead".
Meanwhile, the Stone Roses are at #3; which seems a bit odd. (I don't mind the Stone Roses, but are they really the third most influential band of our time?)
Today I picked up two CDs: the most recent one from Trembling Blue Stars (which is getting better than his previous ones, with nods to The Cure and The Smiths in evidence and some interesting electronic textures (though his drum loops still sound a bit Phil Collins in places); however, it's not quite up to the Field Mice's standard IMHO), and the new Silver Mt. Zion (which comes with a rant about the state of the world, and isn't quite as overbearingly morose as the first one; not that that's a bad thing).
An old yet most interesting interview with Greg Egan, the Australian hard-scifi author.
Music is just as important to me, on a personal level, as literature, but any influence it has on my writing is usually pretty tangential. I did write a story called "Worthless" for In Dreams - a recent anthology on "the culture of the 7-inch single". I'm a big fan of The Smiths, so the first idea that occurred to me when I heard about the anthology was to try to write a kind of SF equivalent of a Smiths song - a story with the same ambivalent attitude to the whole idea of worthlessness, half-embracing it as a positive thing. That was a one-off, though. The only other story where music played a major role was "Beyond the Whistle Test", in which scientists use neural maps to design advertising jingles which you literally can't forget.
I don't want to write motherhood statements - feel-good stories that cave in at the end and do nothing but confirm everything you ever wanted to believe; I've done that in the past, and it's insidious. Stories like that should be burned. If I'm certain of anything, it's that understanding how the real world works - how human brains actually function, how morality and emotions and decisions actually arise - is essential to any kind of ethical stance which will make sense in the long term.
As Paul Davies has said, most Christian theologians have retreated from all the things that their religion supposedly asserts; they take a much more "modern" view than the average believer. But by the time you've "modernised" something like Christianity - starting off with "Genesis was all just poetry" and ending up with "Well, of course there's no such thing as a personal God" - there's not much point pretending that there's anything religious left. You might as well come clean and admit that you're an atheist with certain values, which are historical, cultural, biological, and personal in origin, and have nothing to do with anything called God.
Australia possesses thousands of subcultures, quite apart from any question of ethnicity. One of those subcultures consists of people who consider their nationality a vital part of their self-image; that's their right, but they should stop deluding themselves that everyone else thinks the same way. Nothing's more ridiculous than talking about the "unique Australian character" - unless it's talking about the "mystical qualities of the Australian landscape".