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Talking to a picture of Green - click opera
February 2010
 
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Wed, Aug. 2nd, 2006 01:23 pm
Talking to a picture of Green

A person I haven't quite met has made a record I haven't quite heard. The person is Green Gartside, and the record is the new Scritti Politti album White Bread, Black Beer. When I was in London six weeks ago somebody gave me some quite detailed instructions on how to bump into Green, but I didn't follow them. Partly because I'd heard that Green might turn around and, without a word, walk away when I was talking to him. That's no good! I might as well talk to a picture! At least it wouldn't walk away!

So, well, if I were talking to a picture of Green, what would I say? First, I'd apologize for not having bought his new album. The picture would say nothing, so I'd continue. I'd ask how the new record fits into the Scritti Politti narrative. I have, after all, heard key tracks, session readings of the new songs on Scritti fansite Bibbly-O-Tek (what a wonderful name!). So I wonder how the Scritti keywords are playing out:

NARCISSISM / SICKNESS / SWEETNESS / EQUALITY

I don't just mean how they're playing out in the lyrics. Music and lyrics and production all hold each other in place in a subtle dynamic. For instance, there's always been a "mirrors and coke" element to Green's work ("I am my own ideal") which he's always offset by mentions of sickness, on the one hand, and political engagement on the other. So does this offsetting still work? Does he "still support the revolution"? Or has that part of the Scritti equation narrowed down to a vague nostalgia for Robin Hood? And if so, is the sweetness / narcissism / sickness part still bearable? Didn't it need to be held in counterbalance with something?

I'm able to ask these quite hard-hitting questions because the picture of Green hasn't talked back, but also hasn't walked away. But it does make them sort of rhetorical questions, like asking the meaning of the word "girl" and not getting any answer except some synthy reggae-chords.

Green's voice hasn't changed at all; what has changed is the way its sweetness was counterbalanced, before, by hardness. The hardness of Mos Def's rapping, on his last record Anomie and Bonhomie, or the hardness of Arif Mardin's Fairlight hits back in the 80s. Sweetness, when it isn't held in place by hardness texturally, gets "cloying". Is your new record cloying, Green?

There's no way the man in the picture hasn't thought about these issues. Any artist has to. And it would be interesting if, for instance, this album won the Mercury Prize, to see whether a decision on Green's part to let a sort of fragmented consumerist narcissism triumph, untempered by the equality and hardness parts he incorporated before, actually got massively endorsed by a fragmented, consumerist-narcissist Britain.

I see others have been talking to pictures of Green too. Simon Reynolds quotes Barney Hoskyns quoting Green in an NME interview back in 1981: "And as regards, say, the "sweetness" of 'The "Sweetest Girl"'... well, I think there is a dirt, a criminality if you like, in sweetness itself".

BOOM! There it is. A beautiful answer to some of my questions. "You don't need to counterbalance sweetness with hardness or dirt, or in fact anything else at all," the picture tells me (without moving its lips), "because sweetness is already taboo!"

You're already being deeply subversive by being sweet, friendly, fey or light. Isn't this close to my ideas for a "friendly album"? My ideas about why Japan is such a joyful society to move through? That gentleness, friendliness and social harmony are the ultimate taboos, the ultimate liberations?

Or is it, in fact, closer to the corrosive idea of "guilty pleasures"? Is Green in fact saying we should embrace sugary chart pop and slurp it up uncritically, unresistingly, building up a guilt which only makes the pleasures more pleasant? And if so, doesn't this simply re-inscribe puritanism, rather than offering us a way out of it?

The picture of Green says nothing, which is bad. But doesn't walk away either, which is good.

42CommentReplyShare


(Anonymous)
Wed, Aug. 2nd, 2006 12:09 pm (UTC)
The greenest girl

For those who would like to listen to something a bit more challenging but haven’t the stomach for it, Green is perfect; he has a veneer of the alternative and the intellectual whilst never straying far from the mainstream. Whether it’s the early squatist skank or the "I'm in love with Derrida" wear my reading on my sleeve phase or the overproduced 80's vacuum-sealed hits there is no substance just a hollow whispring. The idea that he should come back plus beard and be hailed as a prodigal hero just adds insult to injury.


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zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Wed, Aug. 2nd, 2006 12:17 pm (UTC)
This is very Sartrean

<< Partly because I'd heard that Green might turn around and, without a word, walk away when I was talking to him. That's no good! I might as well talk to a picture! At least it wouldn't walk away! >>

Yes but a picture cannot turn away, reconsider, and then turn back around.

Do you really think Green would turn away from you momus? You're being silly. And if he did, so what. He's probably got gas.

I turn around and walk away a lot because I get bored.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Aug. 2nd, 2006 12:27 pm (UTC)
Re: This is very Sartrean

Maybe if I could somehow get to own some trademarks of stuff he was associated with he'd talk to me. Alas, I don't even have the money to own my own trademarks, let alone someone else's.


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rhodri
rhodri
Rhodri Marsden
Wed, Aug. 2nd, 2006 12:27 pm (UTC)

Well, I'm lucky enough to play keyboards in the current incarnation of SP, as you know. Personally I think the sweetness on the new record is counterbalanced by things like odd song-structures (where tunes suddenly end just as they're getting going) and certain elements of the production (such as leaving in the groans of annoyance when he hits the wrong chords.) And of course, when we're playing the stuff live, there's all those rough edges playing against his voice, which seems to be working really well...

Oh, and I don't think he'd walk away. Maybe just look around the room :)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Aug. 2nd, 2006 12:31 pm (UTC)

Yes, live music is always "gritty", even when it's syrupy.

I agree with you about the odd song structures and chords and things. In fact, I much prefer the demo version of "Wood Beez" to the shiny hit version, because, although it's quieter and more gentle, it has some very weird harmonization going on. The backing vocals on the chorus, for instance, are beautifully weird, and that got lost in Arif Mardin's version, with all its batter and splash.


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mandyrose
mandyrose
Wed, Aug. 2nd, 2006 12:41 pm (UTC)
Sweetness...

In the five-element cycle of some Asian philosophies, the flavor or sensation of sweetness is directly associated with earth (dirt), which is exactly in the middle of everything, perfectly centered and healthy. This is not associated with any particular season, but with the week or two BETWEEN the seasons when there is a refreshing, wistful feeling of change in the air. This feeling would be hard to reproduce in, say, the dead of summer-- when it might seem cloying. The fleeting quality of the sweetness is what makes it "not cloying"?

Gentleness, friendliness, and social harmony certainly have the same "breath of fresh air" feeling these days--- and they don't feel cloying at all-- they are a subtle yin retaliation to all the intense, rampant yang going on all over the place. Recentering things back to a homeostatic point. The US, in particular, could be seen as having a lot of explosive yang growth, with nothing to support it-- sort of like the US is the world's drunk, abusive husband (shades of Mel Gibson, sugartits?) Yes, I know you can't get more "New Age" than that... is that cloying?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Aug. 2nd, 2006 12:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Sweetness...

is that cloying?

Not at all, but it doesn't explain why the Chinese love sweet-sour sauce.


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Re: Sweetness... - (Anonymous) Expand


(Anonymous)
Wed, Aug. 2nd, 2006 02:30 pm (UTC)

What kind of vile pig would come up with a line like:

"Each night I go to bed I pray like Aretha Franklin."


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Aug. 2nd, 2006 03:11 pm (UTC)

>What kind of vile pig would come up with a line like:
>"Each night I go to bed I pray like Aretha Franklin."

Sorry, but WHY is that an offensive line? Or am I just too startlingly secular a pop lover to have grasped the (apparently) obvious?!

alex


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Songs To Forget - (Anonymous) Expand














niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Wed, Aug. 2nd, 2006 07:54 pm (UTC)

this so reminded me of one of those Paul Morley interviews in the early 80s..in fact, was it?
Morley had this "series" if i remember correctly of subversive popstars
Green was one, Billy Mackenzie may have been one..
oh he lusted after David Sylvian's "mirrors and coke" one week..
there may have been another pale Scotsman in the mix..

so long ago and yet...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Aug. 2nd, 2006 08:10 pm (UTC)

You know, you're absolutely right! It was completely subliminal, but I have in fact made a complete parody of Paul Morley's style!

It's a much better parody than if I'd been trying consciously to do it, because I was never once tempted to say "Green Gartside: the missing link between Antonio Gramsci and Lady Di" or "Green Gartside: the missing link between Michael Jackson and Jackson Pollock".


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zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Thu, Aug. 3rd, 2006 12:44 am (UTC)
When I connect to LiveJournal

I don't even bother with my own blog. I go straight to imomus. Then stanleylieber, that rascal, then cocobourgeouis sp? next nhennies.

What does it mean that my own blog is less interesting than every one else's?


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zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Thu, Aug. 3rd, 2006 12:46 am (UTC)
Re: When I connect to LiveJournal

by the way, m., I know I promised not to speak of the dark material, but I, uh, captured Green.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Aug. 3rd, 2006 08:59 am (UTC)

My two children (5 & 8) love listening to Snow In Sun - they'll repeat it five times in a row on the CD. They seem to treat the whole song as a mere prelude to the reggae outro. As soon as the pizzicato keyboards come in they run round the room sqwawking chicken impersonations.

I love the album. As others have noted, there are some excellent "wrong" notes, excellent "wrong" song structures. Guilty pleasure - no I don't feel guilty about pleasure! "There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law." (Debussy).


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