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24 October 2011

Some thoughts about politics, music and Rough Trade

UPDATED NOVEMBER 7, 2011: Soon after posting this I discovered a great full-length BBC documentary about Rough Trade posted on Vimeo. I’ve replaced the Raincoats video that led this post with said documentary. (The Raincoats song is now at the end of this post.) I’d recommend watching the doc even before checking out the book on RT if only because music only really lives & breaths when seen & heard. Contrary to reports, I have not been watching the documentary on repeat since the original posting date of the first BLOG. I’ve just been occupied.

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Kim Gordon & Thurston Moore separate. There’s protest in the streets again. Everything is born again & everyone dies. And sometimes people blog about it.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt from a book I’m reading about Rough Trade which somehow has everything to do with this.

GINA BIRCH: Before moving to London, I’d been at Trent Poly doing a Foundation Course and while I was there I got involved with what you might call a conceptual art tribe, people involved in Art & Language. It was very political because there were always lots of factions, but it was also very exciting. When I moved to London, though, and started studying at Hornsey Art College, although the course I was on was interesting, and it had some interesting fellow students — like Elizabeth Taylor’s daughter, who painted horses, and Anish Kapoor — there was no core to it, no tribe like there had been in Nottingham, so I became lonely. I was living with a bunch of drug dealers in Islington when Neil from the Tesco Bombers said I could move into his squat in West London. This was a squat within a group of squats and this became my new tribe. Richard Dudanski, who played drums in The 101ers, was there with his partner Esperanta, whose sister Palmolive played in The Slits.

There was this great community of punks and hippies and everyone joined in. We all used the Tea Room, which was kind of a local cafĂ© and food co-op in a squat where for 20p you could get brown rice and vegetables, a pudding and a glass of sarsaparilla. The punks the hippies really joined at this point and in some ways the DIY ethic chimed with many of the hippie ideals. I supposed that’s what we were, really — middle-class punk hippies.

It’s good to realize who you are. It’s good to realize how you do. It’s good to show no shame in it. Another excerpt after the jump. Read more »

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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10 November 2010

Brief thought on political art: Houellebecq, Bob Dylan, Kaiser Permanente, Shepard Fairey and the possibility of making a difference

I won’t pretend like I trust or respect political art. I think it’s inherrently suspect. Which is not to say that art cannot have a powerful galvanizing effect on politics, or that it cannot be great art.

My problem with political art is not qualitative; it’s that political art is destined to become logically incoherent in the long run.

Political situations are fixed in time; history only sort of repeats itself. Art, by contrast, should be eternal; music lasts even as the interpretations of a given piece of music change and shift; in fact, I’d argue music’s meaning should be allowed to shift over time. Viz:

Frankly, the use of the archtypical protest song — Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin‘” — in an advertisement for insurance company Kaiser Permanente does offend my sense of propriety in a fairly intense way. But the question of whether it truly ruins or modifies the meaning and significance of the song is much more complicated. Dylan’s position within & belief in the protest movement of the 1960s was at least partially opportunistic; the most important aspect of his participation in the protest movement was that it helped align his art with the interests and experiences of his generation; and, circa the 21st century, what is more aligned with the interests of his generation than health insurance?

In any case, this brings me back to Michel Houellebecq who I was quoting here just the other day. I’ll make no great claims about his art. I’ve only read a couple of his novels; I was intrigued by them but I can’t say they struck a particularly deep chord in terms of their poetry or artistic resonance. But the thematic resonance = wow. This guy has thought deeply about the ailments of our age and, in many ways, he’s got our number.

Does he understand the joys of our age? I’m less certain of that… Anyhoo, without further adieu (that’s French!), here’s another great passage from his interview with The Paris Review.

    Interviewer: What is your concept of the possibility of love between a man and a woman?

    Houellebecq: I’d say that the question whether love still exists plays the same role in my novels as the question of God’s existence in Dostoyevsky.

    Interviewer: Love may no longer exist?

    Houellebecq: That’s the question of the moment.

    Interviewer: And what caused its disappearance?

    Houellebecq: The materialist idea that we are alone, we live alone and we die alone. That’s not very compatible with love.

    Interviewer: Your last novel, The Possibility of an Island, ends in a desolate world populated by solitary clones. What made you imagine this grim future in which humans are cloned before they reach middle age?

    Houellebecq: I am persuaded that feminism is not at the root of political correctness. The actual source is much nastier and dares not speak its name, which is simply hatred for old people. The question of domination between mean and women is relatively secondary — important but still secondary — compared to what I tried to capture in this novel, which is that we are now trapped in a world of kids. Old kids. The disappearance of patrimonial transmission means that an old guy today is just a useless ruin. The thing we value most of all is youth, which means that life automatically becomes depressing, because life consists, on the whole, of getting old.

(Image at the top of this post via Kotaku. It’s by Shepard Fairey. It’s for a video game called Civilization Revolution.)

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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