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Heartbreakers and Cruel Cuts May 24, 2010

Posted by markswill in Media, Politics, Schmolitics, That's Entertainment.

Three recent t.v. documentaries and a party on Saturday night celebrating the life of a friend who succumbed to cancer some years ago inevitably casts a skein of nostalgia over this morning’s scrawl. The docs all dealt with rock bands, or rather two bands and a trio of, erm, ‘sound artists’ – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Stones and Heaven 17, the first two still robustly extant after several decades and still looking and largely behaving like bad boys of pop, the latter now fat, balding, soberly attired and mighty full of themselves.

The Petty/Heartbreakers film, directed by Peter Bogdanovitch no less (Mighty. Fallen. Oh. Etc) was a fascinating account of their ups, downs and the enduring appeal of their music and as someone who championed them in the face of the punk movement in their early days – my Melody Maker front cover feature briefly appeared on the screen – I felt proudly vindicated by footage of their recent performances which, if anything, were far more rock’n’roll than those of the Stones. The making of Exile of Main Street, a somewhat Babylonian affair at Keef’s South of France villa offered little insight as to their enduring appeal but said a lot about the excesses of the times which by the vaguest of associations, some of us aging farts remember fondly.

The same couldn’t be said of the H-17, or the portentiously known British Electric Foundation which spawned them (and Human League, whose once foppish singer Phil Oakey now looks like a bald bank clerk – most unsettling). Produced to celebrate the (almost, but not quite) 30th anniversary of their “groundbreaking” and “hit-laden” Penthouse to Pavement album and (two-thirds of) the group’s first ever live staging of the entire album earlier this year, I watched it after returning somewhat glum after Saturday night’s celebration and needing some diversion. What I got was an unrecognisable Glenn Gregory and Martin Ware poncing gratuitously around Sheffield where BEF began – and they’ve long since abandoned – and waxing daft about a record that only went to #14 in the charts and dumped just two singles into the lower end of the Top Forty.

By way of contrast, Petty & Co and most of the Stones still look, talk and perform like rockstars and give some of us hope for a future without stairlifts and Zimmer frames, which brings me to the meat of this piece. As the world eddies even further into uncharted economic disaster, I sense that we are all quietly yearning for the certainties of  the ‘70s and ‘80s as a sop to the spiritual fear and loathing that increasingly seem just around the corner.

This rash of t.v. docs, the popularity of period drama on both the small and large screen and both fiction and non-fiction books supports this contention, as does the buoyant market for classic cars and bikes and modern cars and bikes that look like them. (As a huge fan of the original, I’m rather hoping that Lockheed will start re-manufacturing their L-1049 Super Constellation airliner whose turbo-compound piston engines would be conveniently untroubled by volcanic ash).

My friend Terry Kreuger, ex-bike journo colleague and now vicious critic of Obamarama, just sent me a link to a New York Times article headlined ‘Payback Time: Europeans Fear Crisis Threatens Liberal Benefits’ which cogently summarised what drives this nostalgia and began by rather dismissively referring to the Euro-zone as the “lifestyle superpower” and noting that “The deficit crisis that threatens the euro has also undermined the sustainability of the European standard of social welfare, built by left-leaning governments since the end of World War II.”

It then adds that “With low growth, low birthrates and longer life expectancies, Europe can no longer afford its comfortable lifestyle, at least not without a period of austerity and significant changes. The countries are trying to reassure investors by cutting salaries, raising legal retirement ages, increasing work hours and reducing health benefits and pensions.”

All of which is true, if not now, then very shortly. Some months ago I predicted that the banking crises, or rather its consequences, could prompt violent social unrest and what we have already seen in Greece is exactly that. Whether or not it will migrate here, I’m not sure but unions are already flexing muscles that will bulge with fiery veins once public sector jobs cuts runs into the tens of thousands as well they might, and arguably should. (At least if you read some of the stats recorded in my last blog).

Terry, who in his e-mails contends that the Tea Party Movement that has emerged in response to what they see as some of the Obama administration’s unconstitutional manoeuvers, is “Contrary to the media bullshit, composed of middle-class people of all races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds.  An amazing groundswell of voters with no real leadership.  The media should remember they are named after the Boston Tea Party and you know what that did to the (then) existing government.”

Indeed. It will therefore be interesting if not instructive to see whether the fall-out from the budget cuts the Cleggerons are about to dole out (sic) spawns a similar grass-roots opposition because No Labour, under whichever mendacious journeyman – or woman – eventually leads them, should have the gall to oppose remedies to a plague largely of their making.

And if the consequence of that is a clawing back of the wilder excesses of welfare state and over-arching quangocracy we’ve become inured to in the last 30 years as the fiscal muzak to our escalating, uncaring affluence, maybe that’s no bad thing.  And as Micky The Jaguar crooned on Exile’s standout track, it’s probably time to Rip This Joint.

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1. Neil Murray - May 24, 2010

Another aircraft pedant writes: Erm, the Lockheed L-1011 was the jet-powered Tristar wide-body. But I too carry a torch for the Super Connie which was, no argument, one of the two most beautiful piston-engined airlines ever built.

The other? Why, pre-war the De Havilland Albatross, of course.

markswill - May 24, 2010

Oh shit, but thank god for pedantry. Of course I meant the L-1049.

2. Ian Marchant - May 24, 2010

We thank you for your championing of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, though we slightly preferred Johnny Thunder’s version at the time. We concur with your dissing of BEF; ABC were the gratest Sheffield band between early Joe Cocker and mid-period Pulp.
As for the cuts…. Woolton Pie, anybody?

3. Pete - May 24, 2010

Whilst not pointing a finger at you Mark, in a period of uncertainty I find it interesting how quickly people lean to the right, and how the champions of the right enjoy propagating insecurity amongst others. Thatcherism had no part to play in the rise of the quangos and the increasing polarisation of rich and poor over your 30 year time span, I suppose?

Despite its nostalgic moniker the Tea Party is firmly rooted in fear and the me-first selfishness of those elements of US society intent on personal comfort at all cost and sod the rest – the sort of navel gazing politics that has given the US a poor name throughout the contemporary world, sadly. We are in the middle of global convulsions and worldwide societies are struggling to regain their balance and it seems to me we need to modify our collective and individual expectations, which since the 60s have become increasingly complacent. Groundswells of people trying to put the clock back to the mythic good times will only serve to bog down progress and divert attention from the realigning of expectation that needs to happen.

markswill - May 24, 2010

Well actually Pete (and others who’ve e-mailed me privately), I think my latest DOES suggest a certain right-wing tendency, but in truth and as recent blogs should confirm, these days I regard ALL politicos as duplicitous, self-serving scum. To which I might now add ‘impotent’ because I think the economic rot is so extensive and deep-seated that it will take much more than hasty legislation and fiscal policy juggling to sort it. Mentioning the Tea Party and the NYT piece was a somewhat mischievous effort to add a different, if foreign perspective for which I don’t apologise.

As far as the socio-economic expediencies which define in their different ways the policies of ALL political parties are concerned, I’d like to think that we should all revert to a more caring, socially aware way of life and a more labour intensive industrial and agricultural economy than we now have. But given the abiding qualities of greed, selfishness and un-won sense of entitlement to a greater, consumerist affluence that successive governments have encouraged in their countrymen these past 30-odd years, I fear that’s unlikely.

4. WTK - May 24, 2010

Dear Blogger,
No one is attempting to regress and put the clock back to “mythic times” (whenever that time existed), but trying to move the clock and politicians forward to deal effectively with the current issues, largely of a social and economic nature. Politicians cover their eyes when contronted with the results of over-taxation, government deficit spending, and ridiculous currency policies.

The fact that third world economies are replacing the Old Stalwarts is causing racism to become overt. No where is this more evident than with the Climate Czars—just look at the country-by-country future allowable emissions levels.

The Tea Party is no friend of the right or left as seen by their collectivism voting out several conservative candidates this past week. Summarising a movement that is more concerned with policy rather than ideaology in such a way is similar to dismissing the Labor Party as a bunch of oil-stained coveralls and academic elitists demanding ‘something for nothing’. Hardly accurate.

Mark’s response was thoughtful and accurate. Lastly, I’m not a fan of Repubs, Dems, or the Tea Party. I am socially very liberal and fiscally very conservative—now just where does that fit in the array of UK or US political parties? Or doesn’t it lend itself to sloganeering and sound bites?

Pete - May 24, 2010

Well, WTK, I presume this is aimed at me (lack of my name or direct reply intentionally blunt/rude?) and in case you were wondering my remarks weren’t aimed particularly at you. I’d say I was largely in agreement with Mark’s wishes for the future and similarly resigned to the likely realities that lie ahead. Your estimation of yourself sounds very like my American bro-in-law but he’s a dyed in the wool Republican – so being cautious that would probably put you to the right of centre at the least? Then again, maybe we have more in common on the liberal side than at first might be apparent? Or maybe not.

The Tea Party may not align itself to any current party but from what I read, and apart from its stoutly anti-Obama position, stands for the repeal of most recent attempts at reform with a broad wish to protect the status quo and wealth structures within the US. It is fearful and inward looking, as far as I can see. You’ll probably disagree. I’m not sure where the dividing line is between policy and ideology with the TP but if there isn’t ideology now there surely will be, and perhaps the ousting of some conservative candidates already indicates that some sort of idealogical transgression has taken place that prevents their continuing presence.

I can’t agree that no one is looking backwards – there is a great deal of nostalgic harkening back to at the very least a pre last Labour government in this country as if Labour was the source of all evil. The musical movements/groups that Mark alluded to are symbols of those times that many hearken back to as some golden age. For example, the music of the 80s was often crap but now there is a gloss of “wasn’t it great” esp among the generation who lived it as youths and twenty-somethings and a good many, unwilling to listen to or uncomprehending of new musical developments, are feeling left behind as middle age advances. So they organise 80s/70s/60s discos. Which could be an analogy for some schools of political thought too, perhaps?


markswill - May 24, 2010

Pete, to your last rhetoric question the answer may well be ‘yes’. But I wasn’t really watching those rock docs through rose-tinted specs, merely alluding to the fact that they were/are symptomatic of a faux nostalgia it’s tempting to hook up with, ostrich-like, in the face of hideous economic realities. Your point about a generation who ‘missed out’ on those supposedly halcyon days is well put, though.

5. Ian Powis - May 24, 2010

Just like to point out that I used to work for Zimmer and they never made a Zimmer frame! All that publicity for the name but they didn’t attempt to cash in on it. Too grand for that, Zimmer specialised in replacement hips, knees and other orthopaedic surgical instrumentation and spare parts, and were (are?) based in Warsaw, Indiana. The story I heard was that the walking frame was developed by the UK importer for Zimmer who sold it using the Zimmer name until stopped by the company, but by then the name had stuck.

Incidentally, the orthopaedic replacement hip was another entry on the long list of British inventions subsequently developed and marketed better in other countries.

markswill - May 24, 2010

How long will it be then before we are importing replacement hips from China, I wonder?

6. R. - May 24, 2010

So neoliberal economics fails miserably and the answer is even harsher neoliberal economics and another savage assault on its victims, and the blaming of those against neoliberal economics for the failures. Is this the most evil villain humanity has ever had?

markswill - May 24, 2010


7. Terry the Wall Street Pig - May 30, 2010

Naw, Pete, not towards you. Just comments on the contemporary media that can’t comprehend anything beyond the duality of St. Augustine’s thinking. Black or white. Up or down. Left or right. I summed it up with ‘fiscally conservative and socially liberal”. Without capital there are no social programs, or if there are, they are short-lived. The social engineering programs in the US are all bankrupt; social securtity, MediCare, MediCaid, Welfare, ADC, Food Stamps, Unemployment—all bankfupt and living on as a dream. An overwhelming sadness that politicians shun reality. We probably do have allot in common, Pete.

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