Sunday, November 13, 2011

Synth Britannia

As I said in the post below I've just finished a novel set in 1981 called The Cold Cold Ground and throughout the book the protagonist of the story, a Detective Sergeant in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, has a few little laments about the state of contemporary music. For him and for me the golden age of pop music was the period from about 1964 - 1980 when rock and roll was diverse and interesting and the great bands were firing on all cylinders. The death of John Bonham and the break up of Led Zeppelin brought to an end the amazing period of heavy metal, John Lennon's murder closed the book on the Beatles and the implosion of the Sex Pistols took much of the momentum from punk rock. 1981 saw the rise of synth pop and this was a music that I hated. Perhaps taking my cue from Britain's vicious music press, the NME, Melody Maker etc. in my 13 year old brain these bands were 'inauthentic' upper class art school boys playing poncy songs on poncy machines. Real men played guitars, basses and drums not synths. In fact as this BBC 4 documentary attempts to show the synth bands were the real outsiders: geeky working class kids heavily into JG Ballard, computers and dystopian sci-fi movies. In other words they were quite a bit like me. "Tout comprendre rend très-indulgent," as Madame de Stael said. Indeed.

40 comments:

John McFetridge said...

So, I guess this means the baby boomers made some good music. I guess it also means the baby boomers made a good audience, willing to try that diverse music.

And then it became corporate. I just read the open letter that Bill Graham published as a full page ad in Billboard magazine in 1970 lamenting the end of music. As he said, you used to make a deal with some musicians to put on a show, then it became a deal with some lawyers who represented musicians.

Maybe it took another ten years for that to filter through.

Michael Stone said...

Albums like Tubeway Army's Replicas and the early OMD albums provided the backdrop to my teenage years. Lonely, cut off, fearful of the future. I seem to remember we grew up scared of The Bomb and the music personified that for me.

As much as I loved the BBC documentary I felt they didn't talk enough about Gary Numan. To me he was the simply the greatest.

BTW, Gerard's emailed to say he has a proof of your Cold Cold Ground for me, so thanks for that. If I get it soon-ish I'll make it the next book I read so I can get an Amazon review ready for its release.

seana said...

So now you're going to catch up on your synth music?

I don't believe that music is anywhere near the end. If the music industry is anything like the book biz, the top is not risk prone, but there are all kinds of interesting smaller channels.

Cary Watson said...

I think one reason synth bands are so poorly regarded is that they came in at the start of the music video era. Their videos were amateurish, the musicians were lousy actors, and the less said about hair and wardrobe the better. Bands from the '60s and '70s weren't on public display in the same way. By the way, just posted my review of Falling Glass at www.JettisonCocoon.com. Great stuff.

adrian mckinty said...

John

And to paraphrase George Burns: if you can fake authenticity you got it made.

adrian mckinty said...

Mike

I thought it was interesting in doc when Numan says that he may actually be a bit autistic. His awkward social skills became an entire style if I recall correctly.

Hope you like The Cold Cold Ground. You may not agree with all Duffy's musical choices...He's harsh on Spandau Ballet.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

I see now that I was mistaken when I was 13. Its still not my favourite type of music but my prejudices were completely off base.

adrian mckinty said...

Cary

Just went over there. You didnt seem that convinced by Killian eh? I suppose its tough to stand in the same frame with Forsythe. Still I'm really glad you liked the ending. That was my favourite part of the book and I got tons of shite about it from many quarters.

Cary Watson said...

It's unfortunate but crime/thriller fiction is one of those genres where a lot of readers don't like to be surprised. They always want the hero standing over the ruined body of the villain on the last page. You'd think people who have read your previous works would be game for a something new.

seana said...

You got a lot of very good reviews for that book too, though.

adrian mckinty said...

Cary

I think a lot of people come to me from Lee Child where things are neater and clearer cut.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Yeah there were nice reviews but as is my wont I remember only the whiny ones.

seana said...

Well, it's everyone's wont, but you got a lot of good ones.

Paul D. Brazill said...

Saw The Human League supporting the Banshees in '78. They were great. Very funny, too.

Phil took off his shirt to reveal pierced nipples. First three rows of hardcore punks(and me and my mates) went 'Eeeew!'

Anonymous said...

What do people think of the Clash - were they at all authentic? I ask because they seemed like smart guys, and I can't help liking their music, but maybe my tastes are suspect.

Anonymous said...

Synth-pop still has a special place in lots of peoples' hearts. Adam Sandler's The Wedding Singer was a nice ode to the era.

Frankie said...

If a novel was set in present time would you still use music references or is it to establish an atmosphere for a particlar era in time? I don't think I like 80's music and what is it with those haircuts? Its like people styled their hair in the mirror and thought, yep I is looking pretty sharp from the front, BIG HAIR and make-up and never actually saw what they looked like from the back. Its so funny.

adrian mckinty said...

Paul

I thought it was telling in the doc that Wings were playing the same night as Kraftwerk. The interesting people were in the empty hall watching Kraftwerk.

adrian mckinty said...

Anon

Well Joe Strummer faked/embellished his working class credentials thats for sure. But I quite liked The Clash.

adrian mckinty said...

Frankie

Of course. Music is the soundtrack of our lives...or something.

Paul D. Brazill said...

'Who are Wings? Only the band The Beatles COULD have been.'

adrian mckinty said...

Paul

A-ha!

Anonymous said...

I didn't take punk seriously 'til I watched the Clash perform Straight to Hell on Saturday Night Live.

Simon LeBon, of all people, cited Patti Smith as an influence. That's a point in synth's favor.

Seems like pop's the one place where guys can wear their hearts on their sleeves; maybe that's a synth legacy. But women pop stars have to keep their cool. I mean, if there's a female equivalent to Brandon Flowers or Ray LaMontagne, I'd really like to hear her.

adrian mckinty said...

Anon

A female Brandon Flowers?

Marie Osmond?

Anonymous said...

Jesus, Adrian! Guess I was wrong about the heart-on-the-sleeve thing. I just love the guy's voice; he's unafraid to wear fur epaulets in a video; he asks the big questions - "Are we human? Or are we dancers?" - and he's got Lou Reed's seal of approval, believe it or not.
And I wouldn't underestimate Marie Osmond, either.

seana said...

Again, I'm just really not getting where the 'guys shouldn't sing' opinion fits into all of this.

seana said...

Not that I was ever convinced by it.

seana said...

I know, I know--too many posts in a row for me, but I just ran across this while looking for something completely different in the Paris Review and couldn't resist mentioning it in this context:

Amid the impeccably constructed drama of the last of John Updike's Rabbit novels, Rabbit at Rest, sits an unforgettable line about how popular culture produces and reproduces itself, one generation after another: “They lead us down the garden path, the music manufacturers, then turn around and lead the next generation down with a slightly different flavor of glop.” —Rosalind Parry

Anonymous said...

Seana

What's it mean? I was really hoping Amy Winehouse would be the next Sarah Vaughan, and neither one of them ever sounded gloppy to me.

I like it when the guys sing. It's interesting hearing them take the emotional risks women singers still aren't encouraged to take.

seana said...

I think it means that we can't always hear the gloppiness of our own era. I wouldn't say it's all gloppy. I guess most of us are very imitative creatures and often driven by market forces that we are unconscious of. I was actually thinking this last night in relation to movies when I watched Dressed to Kill. It has not aged well. On the other hand, Kiss Me Deadly, which was from 25 years earlier is still a beauty. Although the ending is ridiculous.

I'm afraid that Adrian is not going to be too pleased at you talking about women being unable to take emotional risks in singing, anon. There may be examples, not to say reprisals. It's probably good that you kept your true identity under wraps.

Anonymous said...

Seana

Well, it was only a matter of time before I said something stupid. I mean really, really stupid. (I still stand by Brandon Flowers.)I'm just saying I don't think there have ever been enough women singers who were emotionally unguarded, unconventionally feminine, and challenging. Patti Smith is the only one I can think of. I wish I could take her as a role model.

seana said...

Nah, not stupid. You gotta stick your neck out in the blogosphere from time to time. You're entitled to your opinion.

adrian mckinty said...

Anon

I was kidding. Marie Osmond was the only Mormon singer I could think of off the top of my head.

Flowers got the Rufus Wainwright seal of approval so that works for me.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

How does it fit in with the women's voices post? I dont know that it does. Again I hurl my Ralph Waldo Emerson consistency defence at you.

Anonymous said...

Adrian

Oh, I knew you were kidding. I even laughed. But you might be surprised by Marie Osmond's ability to recite Dadaist poetry; she did it on the Donnie and Marie Show, and she was almost as good as Tom Waits. And I can't come up with the female equivalent of Tom Waits.

seana said...

I guess I will take your earlier argument as just a mood then.

Good thing Tom Waits wasn't lurking around here that day.

adrian mckinty said...

This is low on the comment thread and not relevant at all but I just become aware of Desmond Warzel's fiction piece Wikihistory. Its a really nice bit of work that you can read here:

http://www.abyssandapex.com/200710-wikihistory.html

seana said...

Funny story. You'd have to be a stickler about history to write it, let alone be a character in it.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Ricki Lee Jones looked like she was going to be the female Tom Waits for about ten mintues.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Or maybe Eliza Carthy from The Imagined Village

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QC2av7-_Ik