Here’s some music to go with the last blog article. This is from the Manics’ 2001 album Know Your Enemy. When the track ends, it’s worth scrolling forward to 3.40 for their rendition of McCarthy’s ‘We Are All Bourgeois Now’.
Here’s some music to go with the last blog article. This is from the Manics’ 2001 album Know Your Enemy. When the track ends, it’s worth scrolling forward to 3.40 for their rendition of McCarthy’s ‘We Are All Bourgeois Now’.
This video from Frankenstein Sound Lab was posted on the comments thread of my last blog. It’s an excellent example of how culture can be used to address real life issues. This track reminds me of the kind of sounds Cabaret Voltaire were producing in the 70s and 80s.
You can download this and other tracks from the Malice in Sunderland site for free.
It must have been a late Sunday night in 1976 when I first heard the sound of Be-Bop Deluxe (BBD) coming from my wireless. Their album Sunburst Finish was being featured on Sounds Interesting on Radio 3 with Derek Jewell. I’d stumbled on the show entirely by accident while I was looking for something hip (for that read “obscure”) to listen to. It’s more than likely that Radio Caroline was having some maritime issues at the time, which accounts for why I landed on Radio 3. Caroline was the station of my youth – that is, apart from Armed Forces Network (AFN), whose signal would drift in and out, often right in the middle of a song I really, really loved. As for Luxembourg it was Top 10 mush with lots of ads for things I didn’t want to buy. But that isn’t to say that Caroline was free from crap. It was going through its “Loving Awareness” thing. Don’t ask me what it was about, all I know was it sounded a bit quasi-Eastern and they plugged the fuck out of it. Music wasn’t portable as it is now and most of the FM band was a hiss – especially out in the sticks – which meant that most, if not all, stations were on Medium Wave (AM for the Yanks and Canucks reading this) with its crackles, pops, splashes and heterodyne whistles. BBD was, in truth, Bill Nelson’s project and it was he who wrote and sang the songs and played a pretty fine guitar.
The “prog rock” label has been retrospectively attached to BBD for no other reason that the musicianship of the band was superb and Nelson’s songs often used sci-fi imagery, but this is where the association with prog rock ends. The prog rock tag is the mark of the lazy hack. If BBD are prog rock, then so are Roxy Music and David Bowie. Following the release of Axe Victim, their first album, they got tagged with “glam”, due its arrival towards the tail-end of that period. I suspect the reason for this was due to the fact that the band wore make-up, but so did everyone else. Truth be told, they were a little hard to pigeon-hole.
This is “Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus” (a turn on Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars?), a single taken from Axe Victim. it’s a straightforward rock track that owes a lot to Bowie, in terms of its sonics and captures the Zeitgeist of glam.
The line-up that produced this song would be dissolved by the restless Nelson, who felt frustrated with being pigeon-holed by the music press and wanted to take his ideas in a new direction. He recruited Simon Fox on drums, keyboardist Milton Reame-James with Paul Jeffreys completing the line-up on bass but the latter two left the band before an album could be recorded and were replaced by Charlie Tumahai on bass and Andy Clarke on the ivories for the live shows. He would join the band full time for Sunburst Finish a year later.
Here they are playing “Maid in Heaven” from Futurama on the Old Grey Whistle Test.
This song along with “Ships in the Night” and “Bring Back the Spark” would be compiled into the Hot Valves EP. The thing I like about “Ships in the Night” is its reggae vibe but there’s more to it than that. Like the artist he is, Nelson paints a collage of sound: he blends the reggae with the rock and adds some jazz and classic to complete the picture.
Here’s BBD playing “Ships in the Night” on Popquiz.
In 1976, I can remember reading in the NME that Tumahai, a New Zealander, had issues with his work permit, and was told to leave Britain which meant the band’s existence was potentially under threat. Charlie eventually won his case and was permitted to live and work in the UK but this was after a great deal of struggle that saw him having to live in France while the problem was resolved.
In Crying to the Sky, Nelson’s guitar literally weeps (eat your heart out George Harrison!).
The band’s second album of 1976 was Modern Music, which spawned this title track; a most gorgeous suite of songs.
This album was released just as punk was beginning to stir and this prompted a change in Nelson’s musical direction by the time of Drastic Plastic in 1978, but instead of going for three-chord thrash, he makes more use of synths, which most punks rejected, the instrumentation is more understated and Nelson’s use of guitar tends to be modest. It’s around this time that synthesizers are getting smaller and therefore becoming cheaper. Sheffield bands like Cabaret Voltaire and the Human League are also beginning to attract attention. This happened a full two years before Gary Numan’s “Are Friends Electric”?
This is “Electrical Language”, taken from BBD’s final album, Drastic Plastic, released in 1978.
From the same LP, this is “Panic in the World”. It’s proper post-punk…well, maybe New Wave.
At the time of Drastic Plastic’s release, the real prog rock bands were quickly disappearing up their own jacksies. ELP was riding high in the charts with the flabby “Fanfare for the Common Man”, while Yes, who’d welcomed back Rick Wakeman and his collection of capes the year before, released their turgid LP Tormato. They were getting stuck in the past, while Nelson was blazing ahead. In 1978, BBD was dissolved for the last time and Nelson formed Red Noise. With them, he released one album, Sound on Sound, which spawned two singles, “Furniture Music” and “Revolt Into Style”. The groundwork for Sound on Sound had been done with Drastic Plastic, this is “Furniture Music”.
Ever restless, Nelson would dissolve Red Noise and go solo. He continues to perform and holds an annual festival called “Nelsonica”. He also makes 5 albums a year!
For me, this is the anthem of anti-commercialism but it’s a shame that this was used for the X-Box advert. In fact, its use on the advert could be described as the completion of the recuperation process. Dig?
A lot of right libertarians love to talk about freedom. They love to tell us how their ‘libertarianism’ will make us happier. “Greed is natural and greed is good” is the motto by which they live their lives. They also love to talk about how they want to abolish institutions that work to promote greater understanding and equality. The suggestion put forth by the right libertarian is that the ‘invisible hand’ of the ‘free market’ will eliminate racism. It’s not only laughable. It’s a myth. Especially when so many right libertarians harbour deep-seated prejudices.
Scratch the surface of some of these ‘libertarians’ and you’ll often find some questionable attitudes to difference underneath. Their attitudes are almost always shrouded in economic dogma and masked by cold, matter-of-fact business-speak. For example the lunch counter protests in the South were retroactively opposed on the grounds of “trespass”. They also argue that businesses should be permitted to refuse someone on the basis of skin colour. It is for these reasons that soi-disant libertarians claimed to oppose the civil rights movement. Ron Paul, whose soubriquet is “Dr No”, has earned a reputation among right libertarians as “principled”. He is often lauded on The Telegraph’s blogs and hailed elsewhere as a true ‘libertarian’. A commenter on Hannan’s blog says,
Ron Paul seems to be ignored by the British media. In the U.S. he also gets a raw deal. A recent CNN poll had him rated at
0%. It turned out that they had polled just 50 people.
This reads like a lament but the commenter does not connect the lament with lived experience. Furthermore this commenter wilfully ignores Paul’s racist and anti-Semitic remarks. In 2008 CNN reported that,
A series of newsletters in the name of GOP presidential hopeful Ron Paul contain several racist remarks — including one that says order was restored to Los Angeles after the 1992 riots when blacks went “to pick up their welfare checks.”
Hannan is a self-declared admirer of Paul, whom he describes as an “honest principled patriot” (see the comments). There’s no mention of his racism and that is no surprise. It’s much easier to elide something as inconvenient as Paul’s racism and talk movingly about his ‘honesty’. We’ll return to Hannan later. Paul may deny it but there are still many doubts over his protestations of innocence. Is it because he doth protest too much? CNN again,
The controversial newsletters include rants against the Israeli lobby, gays, AIDS victims and Martin Luther King Jr. — described as a “pro-Communist philanderer.” One newsletter, from June 1992, right after the LA riots, says “order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks.”
It’s just a joke… yeah, sure it is.
In May 2011, capitolhillblue wrote,
Twice-failed Presidential wannabe Ron Paul’s racism is never far from the surface and reappeared Friday when he admitted to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that he would not have voted for the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 if he had been in Congress at the time.
News One, a black website tells us that Paul is closely associated with the extreme right-wing John Birch Society,
Despite its nefarious history, Ron Paul has been a longtime supporter and friend of the John Birch Society, speaking as they keynote speaker at their 50th anniversary and holding rallies with them. Like The John Birch society, Paul has become a magnet for Neo-Nazis who support him online on sites like Stormfront. Paul even has a picture with the Internets most notorious Neo-Nazis, Don Black and his son Derrek, the founders of Stormfront. Paul also famously refused to give back a donation from Don Black.
In fact, here is Paul addressing the John Birch Society in August 2009.
Outside the Beltway attempts to defend Paul and, by extension, the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
Much of the piece is guilt by association. Kirchick notes Paul’s long association with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a respected libertarian think tank, and points out that other people associated with the organization are Confederate sympathizers and the like.
The Ludwig von Mises Institute is at the intellectual forefront of the neo-Confederate movement. It produces reams of libertarian justifications for slavery, while also perpetuating the myth of the Southern states-as-victim. The Civil War, they argue had nothing to do with slavery. It was all about states rights. In other words, and in the mind of the neo-Confederate, the war was about the right for individual states to continue the practice of slavery as well as “tariffs”. In essence, the LvMI rewrites history to suit a particular ideological agenda. Their neo-Misean narrative is intended to lend intellectual gravitas to what is, actually, a Dixiecratic vision. This article is fairly typical.
Immediately following that clause in the Confederate Constitution is a clause that has no parallel in the U.S. Constitution. It affirms strong support for free trade and opposition to protectionism: “but no bounties shall be granted from the Treasury; nor shall any duties or taxes on importation from foreign nations be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry.”
The LvMI believes its strict economic discourse is unassailable. The suggestion is that economics is a neutral ‘science’ that speaks for itself. LvMI’s ‘scholar’ Thomas Di Lorenzo is part of the vanguard in the historical revisionism of the Confederate States of America. Here he says,
Legal scholar Gene Healy has made a powerful argument in favor of abolishing the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. When a fair vote was taken on it in 1865, in the aftermath of the War for Southern Independence, it was rejected by the Southern states and all the border states. Failing to secure the necessary three-fourths of the states, the Republican party, which controlled Congress, passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867 which placed the entire South under military rule
The Fourteenth Amendment is the one that contains what is known as the Citizen Clause. This granted all persons born or naturalized in the United States, regardless of their skin colour, the right to citizenship (The Indians were mysteriously excluded). Prior to this, black people – free and slave – were not considered to be citizens. The amendment is referred to as a “Reconstruction” amendment and was enacted partly in response to the Black Codes of the southern states, which were passed in the wake of the Thirteenth Amendment – which ended slavery – and forbade blacks from voting and holding public office. In this article, Di Lorenzo muddies the waters by introducing the straw man of northern racism. He splits hairs over the Constitution which is, in the mind of the neo-Confederate, an evil document that stole their freedoms away.
The Fourteenth Amendment has had precisely the effect that its nineteenth-century Republican party supporters intended it to have: it has greatly centralized power in Washington, D.C., and has subjected Americans to the kind of judicial tyranny that Thomas Jefferson warned about when he described federal judges as those who would be “constantly working underground to undermine the foundations of our confederated fabric.” It’s time for all Americans to reexamine the official history of the “Civil War” and its aftermath as taught by paid government propagandists in the “public” schools for the past 135 years.
Di Lorenzo presents what appears prima facie to be a reasonable request to examine the history of the Civil War in new light but why stop there? Why not re-examine the Civil War against the backdrop of the entire history of the United States as Howard Zinn has done with The People’s History of the United States? The answer to that question is because Di Lorenzo and the LvMI have a vested interest in isolating the Civil War from the rest of US history. But notice how he uses quotation marks around the words “Civil War”.
Di Lorenzo’s main body of work orbits the dead star of Abraham Lincoln, whom he and the LvMI regards as a tyrant and a bully. Those of us who are familiar with a broader sweep of history already understand how historical figures are cosmetically-enhanced to offer a media-friendly image of flawed men and women. It happened then and is happening now. Lincoln is not unique. Yet Di Lorenzo labours under the illusion that he and the neo-Confederate movement are the only people to possess such knowledge. And Jefferson Davis? Not a word about him and his poor grasp of military tactics or his slipshod presidency. The Claremont Institute produced a review of Di Lorenzo’s The Real Lincoln in which it says,
As the title suggests, The Real Lincoln purports to go beyond the mountains of revisionist historiography to reveal Lincoln’s genuine principles and purposes. According to DiLorenzo, these had nothing to do with the perpetuation of free government and the problem of slavery: The “real” Lincoln did not care a whit about the “peculiar institution.” At the core of the “real” Lincoln’s ambition was an unqualified and unwavering commitment to mercantilism, or socialism as DiLorenzo sometimes intimates. Lincoln would stop at nothing to impose the “Whig economic system” upon America, and any opinion he voiced regarding slavery was merely instrumental in advancing this end. Lincoln’s “cause,” in the words of DiLorenzo, was “centralized government and the pursuit of empire.” According to DiLorenzo, Lincoln said this “over and over again,” although DiLorenzo does not trouble himself to produce a shred of evidence for this assertion.
If the “real” Lincoln needed to resort to war to advance his cause, he was happy to do it: “Lincoln decided that he had to wage war on the South,” because only military might would destroy “the constitutional logjam behind which the old Whig economic policy agenda had languished.” In the end, writes DiLorenzo, “[Lincoln] wanted war” and “was not about to let the Constitution stand in his way.” Lincoln was devoted to undermining the Constitution in the name of tariffs and internal improvement schemes. In its place Lincoln hoped to build a centralized mercantilist-socialist state, with himself at the helm.
The League of the South recently published its “Declaration of Cultural Secession” advocating a society that advances what it calls the virtues of “Celtic culture,” defined on its Web site as “the permanent things that order and sustain life: faith, family, tradition, community, and private property; loyalty, courage, and honour.” The SPLC lied about and defamed the League of the South by spreading the falsehood on its own Web site that by “Celtic culture” the League of the South means, and I quote, “white people.” Apparently the SPLC believes that only white people embrace family, tradition, community, private property, courage, etc.
Notice the wilful misrepresentation at the end of the paragraph. Di Lorenzo, who is supposed to be some sort of academic, writes in a prose style that’s reminiscent of a petulant correspondent who writes regular letters of complaint to local newspapers. Here he writes of Obama,
It only took the Obama administration a couple of weeks to prove that the national leadership of the Democratic Party is guided by totalitarian-minded socialists who seek to create an omnipotent government. The U.S. government is now controlled by people who have been dreaming of living out their utopian socialist fantasies ever since the fantasies were brought to their attention in college decades ago by their Mao/Castro/Che Guevara poster-hanging, capitalism-hating, communistic professors.
Right libertarians will often use words like “socialist” , “totalitarian” or “America-hating” to describe Obama. Some will question his birth (see the amusingly self-styled ‘Birther’ movement) and claim that he wasn’t born in the US. It’s merely a way of transferring one’s racism over to a narrative about ‘patriotism’.
Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs also identifies herself as a ‘libertarian’ but her website tells us an altogether different story. Atlas Shrugs is often cited by the Islamophobes of the EDL and Stop the Islamisation of Europe. Even the mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, cited it. Geller even wrote a few apologies for Breivik’s actions. She described the summer camp on the island of Utoya as an “indoctrination center” that was full of “jihadists”. She even tried to claim that those who had attended the summer camp weren’t “pure Norwegian”. Recently, she edited her blog to remove a blatantly racist caption.
Writing for the Mellon-Scaife WorldNetDaily, she wrote of Barack Obama,
After reading Barack Obama’s speech at the 100th anniversary of the founding of the NAACP Thursday, there is no getting around it: The man is a racist. He is not a unifier, a healer, or a leader – he divides, incites, destroys. He foments animus and anger. The speech proves, yet again, that he does not (nor does he want to) represent all Americans. He is the most racist, divisive official we have ever elected to any high office, let alone the most powerful office in the world.
Of course, no Obama speech would be complete without the advancement of Islamic supremacism. He got applause for claiming that “Muslim Americans [are] viewed with suspicion simply because they kneel down to pray to their God.” He made no mention of public Christian prayer (which can get you fired these days).
Every single headline calls Terreblanche a “white supremacist,” alluding to his position in the waning days of the apartheid government, thirty-odd years ago. But the real story here is not that Terreblanche was a “white supremacist” — if he really was (and I know how the left loves to throw around those labels). Whether he was or not, the man was brutally murdered, and I had to go through ten newspaper accounts to find out how he was murdered. The liberal media had to dehumanize him first. And not one newspaper account speaks of Black supremacism — yet that is the really important story in South Africa today. All I see in South Africa is Black supremacism. Terreblanche may have been a white supremacist, but he’s the dead one.
The genocide of Boers taking place in South Africa is never spoken of
In Britain, right libertarians also offer lip service to anti-racism. I say “lip service” because while they claim to be against racism, they will call for certain institutions to be abolished and will excuse an employer’s racism by declaring it a matter of ‘business’.
Barack Obama has an exotic background, and it would be odd if some people weren’t unsettled by it. During the campaign, he made a virtue of his unusual upbringing. He was at once from the middle of the country (Kansas) and from its remotest edge (Hawaii). He was both black and white. He was a Protestant brought up among Muslims. He seemed to have family on every continent. Like St Paul, he made a virtue of being all things to all men.
Was he playing to his gallery of US right libertarians? No doubt about it.
They complain that he has no mandate for the policy of tax, spend and borrow. And they’re right. Look, I supported the fellow, and I still wish him well. But to seek to close down debate with the racism card is pretty low.
Well, I hardly think anyone is “playing the racism card” and even if they are, then they may actually have a valid point. Indeed, it’s easy for someone who isn’t black to make excuses for the tone of language used by Obama’s right wing critics. Like many so-called libertarians, Hannan swats aside any idea that racism may be lurking behind the rhetoric used by the likes of the ‘Birthers’ for example. Incidentally, Hannan later wrote that he was “wrong” about Obama.
Now, I am not accusing Hannan of being a racist. He may be many things but I don’t think he’s necessarily a racist. However his use of the word “exotic” when describing Obama was wrong-headed. The word “exotic” is often applied without much thought and is used to describe someone of a different skin tone. My own background, for instance, is probably more mixed than Obama’s. But why has Hannan overlooked Ron Paul’s racist outbursts? Because he has the right credentials: he’s a small stater. But what Hannan fails to mention is Paul’s love of conspiracy theories. Paul has appeared on Alex Jones radio show to talk about the ‘New World Order’ and the 9/11 ‘Truth’ movement. When people speak about such things, you can’t guarantee that anti-Semitism and racism are following closely behind. The libertarian right are rather fond of conspiracy theories.
Hannan is a member of The Freedom Association, a right wing pressure group that was founded by Ross and Norris McWhirter, who had previously been involved in the Economic League, which worked to blacklist trade unionists and others whom it deemed to be subversive. The McWhirters were also associated with Lady Jane Birdwood, an eccentric right-winger who was closely associated with Britain’s fascists in the 1980’s.
The McWhirters were close personal and political friends. In the mid-1970s she joined forces with Ross McWhirter to produce the far-right magazine Majority. But it was to be a short-lived venture as the project was terminated after Ross McWhirter was killed by the IRA in 1975. Although she fought bitterly to keep the publication going, the trustees opposed such a move.
TFA’s darkest hour came when it supported the rebel English cricket tour of apartheid South Africa. In 1976, upset at the deselection of turncoat Reg Prentice, TFA secretly funded Julian Lewis (now Conservative MP for The New Forest) to pose as a Labour moderate in order for him to take control of the Newham North East constituency Labour Party . Prentice later joined the Tories and became their MP for Daventry. He was elevated to the House of Lords in 1992.
The recent riots in England have sent the right libertarians scurrying to pen articles attacking black youths, whom have been variously described as “feral”. There is an implication here that black people are genetically pre-disposed to criminality. When television historian and Tudorist, David Starkey blamed the riots on the way people spoke, he unwittingly cast himself in the role of a rather posh Alf Garnett. He deliberately inflamed the situation by quoting Enoch Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech. Yet, the Telegraph’s arch-libertarians were quick to defend Starkey claiming that he wasn’t “a racist” and that he was right to single out black youths because of the way they spoke and the music they listened to. They also defended his weird thesis that “whites have become black”.
Toby Young (known as Hon Tobes on this blog) produced this apology, while hiding behind the Oxford Dictionary definition of racism.
To begin with, Starkey wasn’t talking about black culture in general, but, as he was anxious to point out, a “particular form” of black culture, i.e. “the violent, destructive, nihilistic, gangster culture” associated with Jamaican gangs and American rap music. Had he been talking about these qualities as if they were synonymous with African-Caribbean culture per se, or condemning that culture in its totality, then he would have been guilty of racism. But he wasn’t. He was quite specifically condemning a sub-culture associated with a small minority of people of African-Caribbean heritage. (Admittedly, he could have made this clearer.) Rather than being racist, he was merely trotting out the conventional wisdom of the hour, namely, that gang culture is to blame for the riots. The Prime Minister made the same point in the House of Commons on Thursday. (I wrote a blog post on Thursday in which I pointed out the shortcomings of this analysis.)
He then went on to make an almost equally controversial observation about the Labour MP for Tottenham. “Listen to David Lammy, an archetypical successful black man,” he said. “If you turned the screen off so you were listening to him on radio you’d think he was white.”
Owen Jones leapt on this: “You said David Lammy when you heard him sounded white and what you meant by that is that white people equals respectable.”
But I don’t think that is what Starkey meant. Rather, he was simply reiterating the point that he wasn’t condemning African-Caribbean men per se. On the contrary, he was condemning a particular sub-culture, one that may have originated in parts of the African-Caribbean community, but which has now been taken up by some white people as well. Condemning a sub-culture that’s associated with certain people of a particular race, but is embraced by blacks and whites, may be provocative, but it isn’t racist.
But would Hon Tobes be able to identify racism without the aid of the OED? Unlikely. He adds this,
No doubt there’ll be people who take issue with this analysis.
The only problem for Tobes is that his use of the word ‘analysis’ is misleading. This is an apology and a very poor one at that.
Delingpole tried to claim that if “Starkey is racist, then so is everyone else”. But that doesn’t let him off the hook.
The part of the programme which seems to have most got the Left’s goat is the one where David Starkey says that “the whites have become black.” But again, the cultural point he is making is indisputable. Listen to how many white kids (and Asian kids) choose to speak in black street patois; note the extent to which hip hop and grime garage and their offshoots have penetrated the white mainstream; check out how many white kids like to roll like pimps or perps with their Calvins pulled up to their midriffs and their jean waistbands sagging below their buttocks.
This is a posh, middle-class white man speaking in an RP accent. Remember, Delingpole is not only a self-styled climate change sceptic, he’s a batshit mad libertarian who rejects peer-reviewed evidence. Like others of his ilk, he clings fast to conspiracy theories. But people like Young and Delingpole can only see culture in one-dimensional terms. For them, there is a ‘black’ culture as well as a ‘white’ culture. One culture contains an aberrant popular form and the other doesn’t. It’s simple. The cultural cross-fertilization that occurred as a result of immigration is neither here nor there. In fact, it is seen as a corrupting influence and there is no evidence to the contrary that can change their views. After all, wasn’t Grand Theft Auto accused of encouraging people to commit the crimes depicted in the game?
Right libertarians prefer to see things in black and white. The world is a complicated place that is full of complex issues. Yet, these people only want easy answers – hence their love of conspiracy theories. The racists among them lack the honesty to admit to their prejudices. For them, it’s simply a matter of individual rights and if those individual rights include the right to discriminate on the basis of skin colour then it’s simply a matter of ‘business’ and not racism.
The line here seems to be “I’m not a racist, but…”
In the aftermath of the worst rioting in England for over 100 years, it was inevitable that the usual chorus of right wing voices would point the finger of blame at ‘blacks’. Even when it was demonstrated that people of all ethnicities participated in the four days of rioting and looting, they refused to listen (have a look at some of the comments on Telegraph blogs). The chorus then nominally shifted its emphasis from skin colour to the musical sub-genre of ‘gangsta rap’ . Some, like the reactionary imperialist and romantic Tudor historian, David Starkey, even went so far as to blame the way black people spoke as a factor.
A few months ago, I reported on Douglas Murray’s appearance on Question Time, in which he demanded a British monocultural response to what he called the “creeping Islamization” of this country. He proposed something that he described as “leitkultur“. But he failed to tell us what this leitkultur would look like and who would be responsible for constructing it – since it doesn’t actually exist in the first place.
Starkey and Murray like to give the impression that they understand the meaning of the word culture but like many people they haven’t got a clue. Raymond Williams describes culture as the “one or two most complicated words of the English language”. He also notes that in the nascent German Empire of the 1840’s that culture was used in much the same way as the word “civilization’. It was Otto von Bismarck who proposed the kulturkampf or “cultural struggle” against the influence of Catholics on the Prussian state. Catholic clergymen who resisted Bismarck were arrested or removed from their positions.
As I mentioned earlier, it is gangsta rap that has come in for a lot of the recent criticism of the riots. It has been singled out as the primary suspect in the crime of polluting the minds of our youths. But this way of thinking is not new. It happened in 1950’s America with R&B music, which was dubbed “race music” by the white cultural establishment. Such music, it was feared, would have a deleterious effect on the nation as a whole and it was kept largely separate from so-called white music.
An example of this ‘dangerous’ music is this song by Wynonie Harris, a blues shouter.
The phrase “rock n roll” was African-American slang for sex. It isn’t hard to work out what Harris means when he sings “All she wants to do is rock. Rock n roll all night long”. For the racists, this was a vindication of their belief that black people were essentially bestial.
By the 1960’s the conservative establishment had largely given up on black music and, instead, turned their attentions to white musicians who demanded an end to Jim Crow laws in the South and opposed the escalating war in Vietnam.
Barry McGuire a folk singer and contemporary of the Mamas and Papas, had a popular but unexpected hit single with The Eve of Destruction. It became a favourite with young conscripts in Vietnam. Here is McGuire appearing on The Jerry Lewis Show.
As the decade progressed, the dominant culture accused the bands and the hippies who listened to them of contributing to the moral decay of the nation. Like R&B earlier, it was seen as ‘dangerous’ and ‘subversive’. Like the drugs they took, the music, it was argued, would pollute the minds of the impressionable and convince them to grow their hair long and go on protest marches.
In 1975 the first punks arrived on Britain’s urban streets. Fleet Street greeted their appearance with a mix of fear and suspicion. Punks spat and swore and they fashioned clothing from bin liners. The most notorious band, in the eyes of the British cultural establishment, was the Sex Pistols, whose single God Save the Queen was banned from airplay. It is hard to determine which offended the British cultural establishment the most: the music or the defaced image of the Queen on the record’s sleeve. Despite it being banned from the airwaves, God Save the Queen became a number one hit single.
Causing further controversy was The Clash’s single Bankrobber, which the media described as “glorifying bank robbery” and called for it to be banned. In any case, the single was not banned and the numbers of bank robberies did not increase.
Though it was released in August 1980, Bankrobber remained in the charts until December.
Usually it is authoritarians who call for the banning of certain cultural products. Hitler and Stalin both did this and both for different reasons. Hitler saw jazz, in particular, as the music of an inferior people and Stalin considered western popular music to be decadent and bourgeois.
Those who demand some form of cultural cordon sanitaire should ask themselves deep and searching questions about what it is they’re calling for. Popular culture does not exist in isolation, it is influenced by a range of other cultural factors. Skiffle, for instance, would not have existed were it not for rock n roll, country or R&B music being imported into this country. Indeed British popular culture would look very different today if certain types ofmusic had been banned. In fact culture would cease to be a living organic entity and would become more of a cultural relic (it is no accident that Thatcher named her Culture Ministry the Ministry for National Heritage). The most vibrant cultures are organic and are created from ‘below’ by groups of people or communities. The leitkultur that Murray proposes will only stifle us creatively and turn us all into cultural zombies.