Monday, August 29, 2005

Anglo File

It’s tough when the things you’d like to buy all seem to cost around $20-$30 apiece anymore, which seems to be the going rate for import CD’s, special edition DVD’s and any decent book. You have to make some cuts in your shopping list or at least try to space them out.

So I was caught between a postpunk rock and a hard place at the Tower this weekend when faced with the dilemma of throwing down cash for the new Mark Stewart compilation Kiss The Future or Simon Reynolds’ 1978-84 overview tome Rip It Up And Start Again (Faber U.K.), first mentioned here ages ago.

The Stewart comp is brought to you by the fine people at Soul Jazz, who have done such a fine job reissuing the A Certain Ratio catalog. It’s weighted heavily in favor of his work with the Maffia, with only two Pop Group tracks in sight, We Are All Prostitutes and She Is Beyond Good And Evil. My hope is that we’ll get the Pop Group stuff on CD eventually and, as I like the Maffia stuff but have much of it on vinyl, I opted to put it on the back burner for now and read about it instead.

Initially enthusiastic after reading about Reynolds’ forthcoming book (and exchanging an e-mail with him at one point), I was taken aback when a friend read it and said that he thought it was a simple cut-and-paste job with nothing much new to say. As the only book to come forward on the era that I felt was a golden age, not to mention one that I was lucky enough to live through, I felt obligated to buy it regardless.

Although I can understand where my friend was coming from (there may not be enough “new” info you haven’t heard before if that’s what you’re coming here for), the book excels at placing the period in context and explaining just how these various scenes sprang up and interacted with each other. And there actually was enough new material in it to keep me happy and interested. Was I aware of the hidden Mekons/Delta 5 connection before? Well, I am now. Did I know that Young Marble Giants used to bring their dog to their gigs? Well, sir, I do now. Reynolds also does a nice job of encapsulating what a band was about in a handful of paragraphs. I thought his Fall section was very fair and perceptive, saying a lot more than some of the recent books on the subject.

Some of what the book has to say may sound obvious if you were there at the time, but you have to remember that it’s already started to fade into history. Reynolds conveys the adrenalin rush of these six years when it seemed that anything was possible and record after amazing record appeared in a seemingly endless series of instant classics. It’s the story of how group after group of kids suddenly realized there was nothing to stop them from putting out their own records and the distribution systems that were almost organically created overnight to handle the traffic. It’s a story of missed opportunities (the tale of how Magazine seemed to kill the momentum of an incredibly promising career with one appearance on Top Of The Pops is especially dismaying) and pop stardom that occurred both by accident and by dogged perseverance.

Mostly, though, it’s a great antidote to the history of punk that’s flogged by the mainstream press, the one that jumps from Never Mind The Bollocks to Nevermind. That’s not what happened.

This is.

Speaking of The Fall, there’s a recent Mark E. Smith quote I’ve been meaning to work into a post, mainly because it describes something I’ve also found myself doing lately.

What can I say? Great minds think alike:

“I'm also using that thing on TV where you can get subtitles so you can read the band's lyrics. That's always a good laugh. Some of the lyrics they come out with are quite absurd. You get this really heavy guitar music, the band going DA-DA-DA, really loud and the words are just like, 'You passed me in the street. You said hello. I said no. We went up the hill. Then we went down the hill.' You would think from the music that they're saying something really profound.”

It's called "closed captioning," Mark. Just FYI.


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