Thursday, April 10, 2008

Layer 6 Media Matters - Spin, Music and the Spirit of '68

Even a humble sports page can be stimulating when it’s well-written, and the Guardian’s Richard Williams is a master. This week he wrote scathingly about Avram Grant’s pathetic attempts at PR under the guidance of his new personal media advisor, a former tabloid editor. It seems he invited three journos to lunch at a ‘swanky London joint not normally within the social or economic range of mere scribblers’.

“The result was a series of pieces in which Grant talked about his family's terrible experiences during the Holocaust and his own teenaged military service in the Yom Kippur war, in which his best friend was killed.”

As Williams says, “What a bizarre exploitation of genuine suffering. Can anyone remember a previous occasion on which the memory of the Nazis' persecution of Europe's Jews was used to refurbish the image of a public figure? The additional detail of his 19-year-old pal's death was, in the circumstances, almost equally distasteful. Grant is clearly a clever man, but one can't believe that he was fully aware of what he was doing when he opened his mouth on these subjects. It was, surely, a spin doctor's prescription, the product of a mind-set in which image is the only reality.”

Williams is clearly a writer who’s interested in integrity, character and honesty, versus spin, image and bullshit. It’s the spirit of sport and sportspeople that ultimately matters. He expresses dismay that even the ‘celebrities’ who took part in the parading of the Olympic flame last weekend weren’t trusted to speak candidly to the press, and were rounded up by the PR company working for London 2012 and issued with ‘an appropriate statement to utter in the event of questioning by the media’.

Williams goes on to say, “That was the truly refreshing thing about the world track cycling championships in Manchester last month. The winners of Britain's nine gold medals spoke with intelligence, good humour and self-knowledge. No one had told them what to say.”

People he admires are ‘people of substance in thought and deed’. Also ‘figures of stature and unquestioned authority, who do not waste words’. He also praises managers ‘whose efficient, undemonstrative handling of the media’s requirements help to create a stress-free environment for the coaches and players’.

Williams even has kind words to say about Kevin Keegan and calls him ‘eternally modest’, which to me smacks a little of ‘The Quiet Man’, IDS, being described as having plenty to be quiet about. But he’s right, King Kev is very modest about his achievements, especially when you compare him with players who are far less accomplished and have far more ego and self-regard.,,2271770,00.html

“1968: It’s Not Just About The Music”. BBC Radio 4 today.

“Joe Queenan looks back at 40 years of Rolling Stone magazine. Founded by college drop-out Jan Wenner, who still remains the driving force behind it, the publication became the voice of its generation and has retained its iconic status with later generations.”

Jan Wenner is 62 and still going strong. 1968 still seems like last week in some respects. Jan makes the basic point that in ’68 politics and music were indivisible.

I guess they still are, insofar as ‘popular’ music is again like it was pre-‘60s - conservative, unchallenging, lacking wit and vision, romantic, dull, formulaic, - and reflects a political consciousness that’s principally conservative, unchallenging, witless, middle of the road, self-regarding, dull, complacent, lacking in vision and totally dishonest. And it seems to have been like this since the beginning of the ‘70’s, if you discount the anarchistic tendencies of punk, and the black consciousness of reggae, which only very briefly popped into the pop charts.

These days you can still enjoy brilliant new music from the likes of Dylan, Springsteen, Cohen and others, but it’s not exactly shaking the world, and it’s not exactly representative of a radical mass consciousness or setting out to seriously challenge the prevailing consciousness or the political system, which is what we felt was happening in ’68. It speaks to the spirit and the heart, but makes no direct challenge to anyone’s understanding of why the world is as it is - in terms of power and economics and political systems.

I still have a stash of those early Rolling Stone mags, somewhere in my cellar. Probably under piles of old Private Eyes, old ‘60’s stacked heel boots and not quite thrown-away jeans, combat jackets, etc - my unvisited and unvalued cultural archives.

It was the perfect magazine for its time - as Jan says, a mix of music and culture, plus very serious heavyweight politics - “recondite aspects of political theory and The Shirelles”.
According to the programme, Baby Boomers have now ‘made their peace with society’, and are happy to live quietly and comfortably. However, I’ve a theory that the world hasn’t heard the last of us. Some of us are just taking our time, clearing our heads in retirement after a lifetime in the public service, etc. We’re still angry, still unhappy with the state of the world, and still itching to join forces and support the war on complacency, greed and stupidity, whenever it flares up in skirmishes here and there.

It’s true that many Baby Boomers were only ever bystanders and ignorant and completely uninterested in politics and changing the world for the benefit of all, rather than some. Lots of seemingly radical students and Rolling Stone readers were just along for the ride, swimming with the tide, happy to be washed ashore in some safe and prosperous haven as soon as the tide ebbed or the weather got too rough, or they got bored or rich and fat.

But as Arthur Smith said on R4 yesterday, in The Music Group - everything’s political in some way or other. (see below) By dropping out of the counterculture and opting into the apolitical mainstream those people made a very clear political statement.


There are so many treasures on the BBC, especially Radio 4. Trawling around on their website today I came across -

The Music Group

Lynn Barber, Benjamin Zephaniah and Arthur Smith play each other a record and talk about why they like it. Very simple formula, but so interesting when the guests are well chosen.

I really like Lynn Barber. She chose Jarvis Cocker’s “Common People”, and spoke with incredible enthusiasm about Jarvis - his lack of butchness, his take on manhood, his anger. It’s a great song too. “I want to sleep with common people - like you.”

You will never understand
How it feels to live your life
With no meaning or control
And with nowhere else to go
You are amazed that they exist
And they burn so bright
Whilst you can only wonder why.

You'll never live like common people
You'll never do what common people do
You'll never fail like common people
You'll never watch your life slide out of view
And then dance, and drink, and screw
Because there's nothing else to do.

Benjamin Z made an interesting comment about culture tourists such as middle class white women he’s slept with who say to him - “I wish I were black - I want to feel your suffering.” Brilliant.

He chose a punk track - Babylon’s Burning - by The Ruts. Talked about music and musicians with confrontational attitudes. Punks and Rastas. How they often gravitated together and supported one another back in the day. Also he talked about poets and songwriters using their art for political expression.

Good old Arfur - he chose a track by the brilliant Charles Trenet - “Boum”. It was interesting that Lynn didn’t like it, didn’t get it, in spite of her being the oldest of the three by some distance. And yet she loved the Pulp and the Ruts. Weird.

You can listen to “Boum”, and also Trenet’s sublime “La Mer”, here -!

This site will also let you listen to tracks and videos by Jacques Brel, Georges Brassens, Charles Aznavour, Serge Gainsbourg, Edith Piaf, and others. Listen to these and love the emotional heart and soul of France.

At the end of the Music Group discussion there was more talk about and admiration for two great English songwriters/artists/social commentators, Ian Dury and Ray Davis, whom I’ll write about elsewhere.

And then for no particular reason the programme ended with What's The Use Of Getting Sober (When You Gonna Get Drunk Again?) by Louis Jordan. Another master songwriter and musician, whom I’ve also written about elsewhere. In many respects my all-time favourite.

By coincidence Joe Jackson was on TV last night talking about his musical influences and the songs in his life - including Louis Jordan, and it was thanks to Joe Jackson that I started to be properly aware of Louis Jordan and his genius.!

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