Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cult Studs 101

Watching the Top Of The Pops clip of Roxy Music doing 'Virginia Plain' (yes, that's the exciting shenanigans we get up to on a Friday night...) is a bit of a weird experience: firstly a sense of cognitive dissonance, seeing Bryan Ferry pounding away at a piano, but with rude electronic honks flitting through the soundfield not in time to his movements; he articulates his words very deliberately, like he wants absolutely everyone to know what he's saying; the camera cuts to the rest of the band, panning past Eno (the source of that odd, almost flatulent noise), Andy in a flamboyant (metallic) green silk shirt, tootling away on a distinctly phallic clarinet, Rik Kenton (I think) and Phil Manzanera looking like trad glam longhairs, flares and platforms, back onto Ferry, looking like some alien emissary in his sculpted green-sequinned top and elaborate hair. So far, so pop 1972; but Manzanera then drops a huge CLANG of distortion worthy of Robert Fripp, twisting it around like some electric snake, while the bass carries on underneath like it's Paul McCartney doing one of his downward spirals on the early Beatles sides, and Paul Thompson thumps away Oh, by the way, there's no chorus, either; and while Ferry's piano melodies carry on their merry way, Eno - who looks, BTW, neither man nor woman, nor even especially human, dressed in immaculately-tailored leopard-print and two white, rhinestoned gloves - lets off huge eruptions of synth-noise, seemingly at random.

Towards the end, the camera, after lighting on Eno, going for a final arpeggio on his synth (which must have been an odd thing to see on TOTP by itself, like watching a compressed alchemical experiment), flashes onto the crowd. And the generically wobbling teeny-boppers are dressed, every one of them, in outfits that you'd see (and I have seen - it was an intensely dispiriting sight) at an indie club nowadays - checked shirts, skinny jeans, frocks that would be considered 'vintage' now. Is this how far we've come in more than 30 years? Are we travelling backwards in time? I would suggest that Roxy were so far ahead of their time that we've only just managed to catch up with them, but in the majority of cases (there is a small amount of innovation and interest to be found among 'indie' milieus, particularly in the hipster capitals of Brooklyn and Portland) consumers of music, and those who, ahem, 'participate' in it (who involve themselves in the social orbits of 'indie' music and take part in its semiotic codes) are utterly jaded, unwilling to demand anything more in the way of music. (And don't try and talk to me about the high fashion elites of Hoxditch (or is it Shoreton?), who dance to music that may as well have been made in 1984 - a slight improvement on most guitar indie, which may as well have been made in 1970 - but who're still as retrograde as the 'lesser orders' they deride.)

So, the question I think I'm asking is, Why, for the love of God, why are we not living in the future Roxy promised? Theirs' is a future I think I can live with: the current situation, not just in indie-land, but as it connects with/infects wider society is predicated on a) an apparent democratisation (both in the activity of music, and in access to reasonable fashion-wear) which masks what is actually an outward display of privilege, and b) a disavowal of any notion that we could either do better, or that we should maybe discuss doing better. Indie-land, supposedly an escape route, has turned into a middle-class club for those too thick or lazy to attempt educational achievement, but saved, by their class status, from having to work a shit job like everyone else (including me.) The notion of intellect - and Roxy were fiercely intellectual in their concept and organisation - and any evidence that intellect once operated in culture, has been wiped out. And the fact is, that I find places and people like that, interesting, infuriating and intimidating at once - on the one hand, feeling weirdly thrilled at all that entitlement (and the presence of so many good-looking girls - I can't deny it), disgusted at all the ridiculous morons who can carry on like this without a care in the world, and feeling like I shouldn't even be there, like I'm on enemy territory, the sanctum of my 'social betters'. Cunts. Roxy were aristocratic, but not hierarchical - anyone could enter, if they were sophisticated enough, regardless of class (Bryan Ferry being, famously, the son of a miner.) (And I think I could dig the clothes as well; I'd get along better than I do in this climate of purposeless semi-finery and frame-strangling fashions.)

I bought a copy of Michael Bracewell's Remake/Remodel recently, so I may well be able to find the answers around there. "I tried but I could not find a way.../Looking back all I did was look away..."


I love, at the end of this clip, the quip by the narrator - "Those aren't the sort of clothes you'd want to take the night bus home in" - in relation to this. I guess some things never change.


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