Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Strange Days



I've come to the conclusion that the next Tome is going to have to be about The Doors.

It's the connections between the military-industrial complex and popular music that I find fascinating, and Jim Morrison is the most striking example of this. Like everyone, I've always considered music and the military as existing in entirely separate realms, or even as mutual opposites, but actually the connections are profound and intriguing. Much of the infrastructure of popular music is derived from the military - the strategic highways that allowed bands to tour, most of the communications technology, even some of the drugs. Also to an extent rock bands themselves are akin to war machines - their music is loud and violent, there's the rhythmic co-ordination of actions, guitars as substitute guns, the intra-band hierarchies etc.

In many ways The Doors are a minor example of what I would call the marginal utility of the military. By this I mean that there seems to be a point where the military in any society expands to the point that it has a negative social impact. Its defensive purpose is overshadowed by, for example, the sheer economic burden of maintaining it - the Soviet Union being the classic example of this. But the military can also corrode society in a multitude of other ways. Its obsession with secrecy can prompt suspicion and paranoia. The technology it conjures into existence can have huge social effects, even with something as apparently minor as pre-cooked meals. The computer screen you are reading this on is derived from a technology developed by the US military. Spengler called our modern cities, with their apartment blocks and housing estates "barrack cities", and there is a sense that the compactness and orderliness of the military leach into civilian life, making automatons of us all.

And yet popular musicians have traditionally tended to promote peace and love, which indeed find great resonance with the populations of Warfare States such as the USA and Britain. Is there a paradox here, or is it intrinsic to Warfare States that inside their hard, brittle shells the interior is soft and gooey? In hiving off the duties of national defence to a professional caste, held in general contempt by the populace, is it inevitable that the prosecution of war becomes tainted, akin to working in the tannery or down the sewer? There's also the strange and contrary nature of peace protests, which invariably fail to prevent wars. Are they in fact a vital part of the preparation for war, a ritual theatre in which the public can metaphorically wash their hands of the ensuing violence, like in those Mafia films where the mobsters go to confession before they murder their next victims? Is this what "Not In My Name" really means?

And, finally, what are The Doors really about? There's the strange Shaman complex, which, like the military, is much concerned with surprise and deception. There's the Oedipal animus towards parents and authority. But what was ultimately driving this? I have to confess I don't know - The Doors, like so many bands, make little apparent sense when you start to seriously examine them. Don't expect any answers soon, as this will probably be another tortuously long project. All I'm saying is that I'm commencing my investigations.....

Sunday, 14 September 2014

A quite amazing story here detailing the links between the Laurel Canyon hippie music scene and the military-industrial complex. A sample:
"Given that Zappa was, by numerous accounts, a rigidly authoritarian control-freak and a supporter of U.S. military actions in Southeast Asia, it is perhaps not surprising that he would not feel a kinship with the youth movement that he helped nurture. And it is probably safe to say that Frank’s dad also had little regard for the youth culture of the 1960s, given that Francis Zappa was, in case you were wondering, a chemical warfare specialist assigned to – where else? – the Edgewood Arsenal. Edgewood is, of course, the longtime home of America’s chemical warfare program, as well as a facility frequently cited as being deeply enmeshed in MK-ULTRA operations. Curiously enough, Frank Zappa literally grew up at the Edgewood Arsenal, having lived the first seven years of his life in military housing on the grounds of the facility. The family later moved to Lancaster, California, near Edwards Air Force Base, where Francis Zappa continued to busy himself with doing classified work for the military/intelligence complex. His son, meanwhile, prepped himself to become an icon of the peace & love crowd. Again, nothing unusual about that, I suppose.

Zappa’s manager, by the way, is a shadowy character by the name of Herb Cohen, who had come out to L.A. from the Bronx with his brother Mutt just before the music and club scene began heating up. Cohen, a former U.S. Marine, had spent a few years traveling the world before his arrival on the Laurel Canyon scene. Those travels, curiously, had taken him to the Congo in 1961, at the very time that leftist Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was being tortured and killed by our very own CIA. Not to worry though; according to one of Zappa’s biographers, Cohen wasn’t in the Congo on some kind of nefarious intelligence mission. No, he was there, believe it or not, to supply arms to Lumumba “in defiance of the CIA.” Because, you know, that is the kind of thing that globetrotting ex-Marines did in those days (as we’ll see soon enough when we take a look at another Laurel Canyon luminary)".
Jim Morrison, Robbie Kreiger, Grace Slick, Stephen Stills, Mike Nesmith, David Crosby, Jackson Browne, Gram Parsons, to name but a few, all came from wealthy, well-connected military families. I'm not sure that I share the conspiratorial slant of the author though. What I think these connections reveal is just how vast the US military-industrial complex was (and no doubt still is) and how deeply the American middle class, and the media that provided them with entertainment, were socially embedded within it. What is revealed here is not that the counterculture was some indoctrination programme enacted upon American youth, but that the USA was/is a Warfare State, and so even its culture of internal dissent will be reflective of this.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Eventually got round to checking out Kevin Coyne, without a great deal of enthusiasm, just for the sake of completeness and everything.

Turns out he's fantastic:

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Rote Approval

Simon follows up his previous post on the critical revival of Kate Bush with another that seeks to explain how certain once none-more-prestigious artists seem to sink out of critical discourse. He terms this the "drops away syndrome", and gives some interesting examples - Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Graham Parker, Elvis Costello and Nick Cave. It's worth noting that these are all white male heterosexuals, and that gives a clue as to why their critical status may have attenuated. You see, I don't think it's the case that their stock has declined, it's that most of these artists received an initial critical investment that was far beyond their worth. So it's not so much that they've dropped out of artistic fashion as found their correct level.

But why were they so overrated in the first place? I think Elvis Costello is the shining example here. There's no doubt in my mind that "This Year's Model" is an absolutely fantastic record, and I can fully understand why the young Elvis attracted so much critical expectation, but I think there's also not much doubt that he'd already shot his artistic bolt after the following year's "Armed Forces". And the public recognised this too - the only (minor) hit singles he tended to have after "New Amsterdam" were cover versions, a sure sign of premature exhaustion. I remember buying "The King Of America" in, wot, 1986? and being aghast at how empty it was. And, yet, the critical consensus was that his genius was still in full flower. "Blood & Chocolate" was a bit better, but Declan was straining every sinew to create something that was a fraction as good as TYM. When "Spike" received blanket good reviews, I started to wonder what on Earth was going on with the robotised praise for whatever he produced, and I realised that once an artist garners a certain status, they start to receive what I call "rote approval". This is rubber-stamp acclaim - as long as an artist doesn't do something obviously outlandish (for example Neil Young's "Landing On Water"), and sticks broadly to their oeuvre, then no critic is going to risk their own reputation, and the years of steady work by other critics in building up the artist's standing, by pointing out that what the artist is basically doing is not very good.

After all, in the Eighties, Costello was a characterful presence. He gave erudite interviews, made trenchant critiques of Thatcher, and entertainingly pretended to reinvent himself while basically remaining the same. He had what I would call good diplomatic skills - he knew how to charm the press, how to appear enigmatic, how to give the impression that he was vital - and this is what sustained his public profile. The music press would have been cutting their own throats if they'd admitted that, actually, he was already a spent force. Nick Cave is very similar. I think the Birthday Party were a fairly good band, but they were also the classic example of what I would call a "pseudo" version of The Stranglers (a band that had no diplomatic skills). They had the corrosive bass sound, the misogyny, the Gnosticism, with the added bonus that potential interviewers could rest assured that they weren't going to be knocked unconscious, or stripped naked, or have a banana inserted in their rectums. Cave was another character, another vital presence, a person who looked great on magazine covers, but his records with The Bad Seeds were as dull as ditchwater. It used to amaze me, and I mean AMAZE me, that a person who earned their living as a songwriter seemed to be incapable of producing a single even vaguely memorable melody. But that didn't matter, because as long as he stuck to his moody furrow, and ensured that all his signifiers were correct, the critical rubber stamp was assured.

The problem with rote approval, though, is that while it can artificially sustain an artist's status, it can't actually improve their music, and the public, who include the artists of tomorrow, invariably vote with their own listening inclinations. We've all got "classic" records in our collections that we're never minded to listen to, and the chances are that they were made by those same white male heterosexual artists, usually solo artists, who promised so much at the start of their careers, and established such a charismatic presence, that nobody could bring themselves to admit, or point out to others, that they had in fact faltered so early.

Anyway, here's a great record by Scott Walker:

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Sensation

"A regime professing Sensate ideals will approve anything that increases the sum total of Sensate enjoyment; and that leads to man's control over nature and over other men, as the means of satisfying ever-expanding needs. Of a special importance in such a state of society is the search for material objects which under the circumstances are particularly efficient in bringing satisfaction. As one of the most efficient means has always been material wealth, in a Sensate society it is the Alpha and Omega of comfort, of the satisfaction of all desires, of power, prestige, fame, happiness. With it everything can be bought, everything can be sold, and everything can be gratified.

Therefore it can be comprehensible that the striving for wealth is inevitably one of the main acivities of such a culture, that wealth is the standard by which almost all other values are judged, that it is, in fact, the supreme value of values. Pecuniary value thus becomes the measuring stick of scientific, artistic, moral, and other values. Those who are wealthy are its aristocracy. They are simultaneously public leaders, high priests, moral examples, kings who ennoble others, the Four Hundred which is envied, if not deeply esteemed. Under these conditions, writers, artists, scientists, ministers, public officials, and men of the professional classes hope and act mainly to write a "best seller", to obtain the best-paying position, to have the highest scale of remuneration, and so on. If arms and force, not money, are the means to maximum happiness, then these instruments are the supreme arbiters of value, instead of money."

- Pitirim Sorokin, "Social & Cultural Dynamics"

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Method To Their Madness

One of the unremarked aspects of Nigel Farage is just how many of the clips available of him on Youtube are from Russia Today:



The Russians seem to love Nigel. And why not? He is well known to be an admirer of Vladimir Putin. And as they both share a deep antipathy to the EU, it's no surprise that UKIP representatives should be expressing vocal scepticism about the Coalition's current policy towards the Ukraine, for example here and here.

So what's going on here? Well, there are two major regions of the world that you can source oil from - Russia, or the Arabian Gulf. Since the Second World War, the dominant paradigm of Western politics has been to source oil from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, and not from Russia. This is the paradigm that all of the major British political parties unquestioningly buy into. It's also the paradigm that all Western European states share, as does the EU. They do this mostly due to the influence of the USA, which has always wanted to limit the geopolitical influence of Russia.

This sourcing of oil from the Arabian Gulf has always carried a high political price tag. For a start, most of the Western interventions of the last 30 years can be best understood not as imperialist projects, but as favours granted to the theocracies of the Gulf. For example the Gulf War liberated Kuwait. The Iraq War, the Libyan intervention and the pressure to intervene in Syria were all campaigns to unseat secular leaders (Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, Assad) whose power centres rivalled those of the Gulf. Shi'ite Iran has likewise been isolated and subjected to sanctions. Afghanistan was invaded in order to destroy the network of a dangerous Saudi dissident, Osama Bin Laden. Even the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, to protect their Muslim populations, can be understood as being in concert with the policies of the Gulf States, who have sought to introduce more radical strains of Islam into the region. Most unmentionable of all has been the Saudi influence and sponsorship of radicalising groups within Britain itself - a fact so embarrassing, and potentially dangerous, that the political class will do anything to overlook it, as they also do the intricate web of links between global terrorism and the Gulf States.

Like most people, I had written off Farage and UKIP as irretrievably daft, but I'm starting to see what they might ultimately be about. The break up of the EU would be merely the first stage of a historical realignment away from the USA and the oil of the Gulf, and towards an emerging Russia.
The Seventies return with a vengeance here.

Note the hilarious bleatings of denial in the comments. All those people who think that we can sustain our current lifestyles on "unconventional oil" and "renewables" are going to be amazed that, actually, their grandchildren are going to become more familiar with mules, oxen and pack horses.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Parish Notice #4

Lend your Betamax and VHS alms to this worthy cause.

Actually, probably DVD's would be better.