Monday, 23 July 2007

Losing My Religion

You know how something only becomes apparent years later in retrospect? Usually, these sorts of moments occur long after the event and it takes a catalytic jerk to slot all the pieces together in your brain.

It happened to me recently when I was forced into thinking about my school years following a meeting with an old schoolfriend – someone I hadn’t seen for over 30 years. This meeting was the catalyst that suddenly jolted me into the realisation that I had actually witnessed the end of the hippy dream, in real time, as it were.

It was about 1970 and I was sitting at my school desk paying my usual non-attention in a class designed to impart religious instruction. Following a prolonged bout of window gazing, I had tuned in just long enough to hear the teacher say, “I just don’t know about John Lennon any more…once it was ‘All You Need is Love’, but now…”

And she trailed off into a sort of melancholic reverie for a few moments during which there was total silence in the class. I think we all realised that this was a moment of discovery for her, but it is only now that I can appreciate what it was. It was the catastrophic awakening to the fact that hippydom had failed and the real world had re-invaded our consciousness.

1970 was certainly a defining year. It marked the end of those years with a ‘6’ in them, the Beatles were no more and suddenly reality was as grim as it had ever been. The Vietnam war raged, the UK began its slide into industrial unrest with strikes and the three day week only years away. For my teacher, who clearly saw the future in that far off instant, it must have been a crushing blow after the na├»ve optimism of the late 60s.

Funnily enough, John Lennon and religion always seem to be linked. I once swapped my copy of ‘Imagine’ for the Who’s ‘Who’s Next’ with a member of the God Squad at University. Clearly he thought that Lennon was more likely to redeem his soul than Pete Townshend. And who’s to say he was not wrong. After all, Lennon had once claimed that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus so perhaps he had a point.

But Lennon alone was not enough to save the world from the 1970s and by the middle of the decade, not only was the UK in turmoil but pop music was on its knees waiting for the deathblow of punk to re-start the circle of raw development that had originally occurred in the 1950s. Nevertheless, I didn’t really expect to witness the end of an era in last period before break.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Corporate Rock Rules OK

You know how it is; there are just some things that start to niggle away at you. Not so long ago, there were two such incidents that started the red lights flashing in my consciousness.
A) Amber warning – the debut of a new musical based on the classical Shakespearean story of Romeo and Juliet, set to the music of Boney M (no, I’m not joking).
B) Red warning – a business corporate event was to be held whereby clients would be entertained at a Madonna concert.

The growing implication here is that the world of rock ‘n’ roll, once the preserve of the young, is now firmly in the grip of the establishment. In the first example, a well known story is dumbed down by the addition of music produced by one of the most cringeworthy bands of all time and in the second, a pop event is hijacked by people who are less interested in pop music and more interested in furthering their own business interests. Let’s leave aside Madonna’s credentials as corporate entertainment for the moment, especially after the monstrosity that was Live Earth.

The effect of such events is to raise entry prices by increasing demand backed by corporate expense accounts, at the cost of the true fan, who is priced out of the market.

Of course, this sort of thing has been going on in the field of sport for years. In the 1980s, I attended the Formula 1 British Grand Prix at Silverstone only to find that whilst I was squashed in to a small area with countless others, there was a large area of the trackside roped off for corporate entertainment. The enclosure was empty as all the invitees were drinking themselves stupid in a tent some distance from the track.

But to find this sort of thing happening to rock music is somehow profoundly depressing. I look forward to a time when great swathes of auditoriums worldwide are permanently vacant whilst us true fans fight for a view of our heroes from the ‘restricted view’ areas. And all for a month’s pay per ticket. My feeling is that it won’t be long.

Somehow, I can’t imagine watching the Who circa 1966 or the Clash circa 1977 under these conditions and it just seems to underline how the insidious creep of corporatisation has affected the music industry without anybody really noticing.