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February 2010
Thu, Apr. 26th, 2007 12:00 am
Who am I and what do I do?


Thu, Apr. 26th, 2007 01:04 pm (UTC)

On the accents thing, I notice that in the UK there's basically just been a switch. BBC announcers now speak with provincial accents, but black and Asian Britons often adopt quite a posh accent. It's all part of a rush to eradicate the anxiety of difference, a rush to the middle. If you're poor, you try to sound posh and pronounce your Ps properly, if you're posh (hello Damon Albarn!) you do glottal stops. And actually, of those two categories, my parents are more like the black/Asian immigrant groups than Damon Albarn. They deliberately lost their local accents, so I lost mine. Unlike Damon (or my cousin Justin), I never affected a mannered pseudo-prole accent, partly because I married into exactly the sort of upwardly mobile black British culture I'm describing, or dated foreigners who needed clear English. So I never slummed it. That definitely hurt my music career in Britain. My press file is full of references to my accent being too posh, but I actually liked to counterbalance that with filthy lyrics -- it generated a nice tension.

While I do believe the children of the 60's and 70's helped create the liberal climate we enjoy today, I believe a hell of lot of it was all a lot of posing and talk about politics, when all they were really interested in was doing drugs, playing music, wearing weird clothes and generally indulging in hedonism... "counter culture" was an excuse for that.

But if you're talking about culture, surely you are talking about what people consume, what they wear, and how they live? Those are the legitimate components of culture, and changing the world is all about changing those things, that habitus. The failure of the 60s counterculture is simply the inevitable failure of success -- that you have to drop the "counter" bit and abandon the avant garde pretensions. You're not the future, you're the present. You're not the bohemians, you're the bourgeois. The same thing goes for punk, which I think is the UK's last subculture, and which now sits respectably "in the throne of Apollo".

Japan at least has a freaky otaku subculture which is only now entering respectability. It's a more recent accommodation than anything we can point to in the UK.

As for how I'm personally perceived in the US or Japan (supervillain, emotionally constipated academic, effete eccentric, ha!), it matters less to me than it ever did. I think ten years ago I had an interest in posing as a poisonous dandy on the stage of the Fez Club in New York, or pretending to be Alexis de Tocqueville, the European who explains Americans. Now I just feel we're all part of the same glocal soup. I don't bother to personify the exotic other to anyone. I like cultures which offer me work, though. I'm grateful to Tokyo for getting me involved with Kahimi, to San Francisco for giving me a column to write for Wired, to French curators and New York gallerists for roping me into the art world, or to French publishers for trying to get me to write a novel. None of this stuff comes from the UK, but I guess I had my UK breaks in the 80s in the form of relationships with indie labels. The UK and I have drifted apart. But I think we were always apart, because my 80s UK albums are full of satire and poison.

I do think that sense of alienation from (particularly English) UK culture is because of an unusually large gap between my values and the mainstream values of the English. It's a gap that doesn't exist in other countries, partly of course because I like being lost, and I tend to exoticize difference. (In other words, it's a "minor differences are the most murderous" type of thing.) Geodemographics puts me in my place still has a lot to say about this stuff. It really pins down what a tiny minority of the English population shares my values, and why I'm not, as a direct result, going to have a successful music career there, or be offered a column in a UK newspaper, or get UK publishers knocking at my door. So it goes -- and so I go! It's fine -- it's a joy to travel, precisely because of the possibility that you'll find you have elective affinities with people who don't share your nationality. Maybe you've already discovered that with Japan!

ReplyThread Parent

Thu, Apr. 26th, 2007 03:46 pm (UTC)

I think ten years ago I had an interest in posing as a poisonous dandy on the stage of the Fez Club in New York, or pretending to be Alexis de Tocqueville, the European who explains Americans. Now I just feel we're all part of the same glocal soup. I don't bother to personify the exotic other to anyone.

Down with the masks... so you've done with your Thin White Dukes and your Aladdin Sanes, and you're about to enter your Bowie-in-the-eighties phase?

ReplyThread Parent
Thu, Apr. 26th, 2007 04:03 pm (UTC)

There are some frightening similarities. Didn't he spend the 80s learning to swim? That's pretty much what I'm doing now. Next ring of hell stop: a Tin Machine / Grinderman "back to basics" grunge four piece.

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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 26th, 2007 05:59 pm (UTC)

just like all the other artists who quietly do what they do. thats all that matters

I'll settle for that!

I have a french magazine here from April 1971. It's called Réalités. There's an article in it I think it would be difficult to imagine being written today. The article, by Alain Schifres, is headed "The big pop party, does it have a meaning?"

Intro: "Beyond the surprising and sometimes shocking demonstrations, it's a certain attitude to life which the pop movement pedals. You can understand the dynamic of it when you know the roots, the paths and the metamorphoses better."

Above a photo of Woodstock, there's a subheading in red: "A music which takes on a political dimension... The phenomenon quickly took on a political tone, that's to say one of revolt against a certain way of governing society."

The article tells us that pop music has existed for ten years now, and uses commercial channels to reproduce itself. The privileged field of action, says Schifres, is advanced capitalist countries like the US, Britain, Western Europe and Japan. "Pop music defines itself as an instinctive, sensual, proliferating reaction to these stifling technocratic societies." Most adults associate pop music with long hair, hippies, drugs and leftism, we learn. The music is the sign of a profound division in our societies. Its future, above all in France, shouldn't just be measured on the musical level.

The article ends with a quote from Jean-Francois Bizot (a man I've met -- he founded Actuel and Nova magazine in Paris): "The future of pop? We're at a crossroads. Look at the Beatles, the group has split and its members are now at the four cardinal points the wind of pop music whistles to. George has recentred himself in Hinduism. Ringo lives like a bourgeois, collecting porcelain. John speaks of nothing but political action. Paul has married a rich American hieress."

"The future of pop," concludes Alain Schifres, "is a fable we could call 'The Guru, the Petit Bourgeois, the Militant and the Financier. The moral of the tale isn't really clear. Because the four Beatles still have something in common: they all make money."

ReplyThread Parent
Thu, Apr. 26th, 2007 08:10 pm (UTC)

Someone once said they knew what pop and the seventies was going to be like when Mungo Jerry came onstage at the Isle Of Wight festival and played In The Summertime.

I remember as a kid Ringo on some chat show on TV talking about designing furniture!

ReplyThread Parent
Fri, Apr. 27th, 2007 04:02 am (UTC)
I lost my accent in 1979

I was a freshman at Smith College (western Mass), and in over my head, with nothing more to show than a Kentucky public school education. I realized that when I raised my hand and spoke, at Smith, no one heard what I had to say; they heard a southern (U.S.) accent. So I began to speak differently, so people would hear me, and not the redneck trailer trash associated with my cadences (redneck trailer trash being my best cousins, actually)

What ever happened to Esperanto? I studied it once but it seemed too abstract to me

ReplyThread Parent
Thu, Apr. 26th, 2007 07:15 pm (UTC)

<< ... pretending to be Alexis de Tocqueville, the European who explains Americans >>

I discovered a neat trick in college, that if I opened a paper with a quote from de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, the professors loved it! I don't care if I was writing a paper for a statistics class, throwing in de Tocqueville got me lots of points. I wonder if some day students will start their papers with Momus quotes?

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