Here's another bit....
In his cameo in “Trainspotting”* Irvine Welsh is wearing an Exploited t-shirt, but despite this seeming advocacy the band are noticeably missing from the film’s soundtrack, which is comprised of “cutting edge” Britpop tracks by the likes of Blur and Sleeper, a smattering of techno and some middle-brow classics by Iggy and Eno. The lumpen antagonism of The Exploited is too alienating and alienated, too politicized, to soundtrack the onscreen hi-jinks and bright-eyed enthusiasm for heroin addiction. Nonetheless, Welsh feels the need to wear it, a pennant of his deathless allegiance to/knowledge of a punk underground nowhere else glimpsed in the film.
A part of the Exploited’s micro-mystique is that they were one of the bands, along with Conflict, Discharge and the Subhumans who took punk in a different direction, away from its co-option by the mainstream, into a subaltern world of anarchist commitment. They weren’t fashionable, they weren’t post-punk in any of its currently understood senses, there were very few major labels sniffing round them, and besides, a part of their commitment demanded that they would tell them to fuck off. The Exploited signify a kind of anti-plastic-punk Real.
Yet in an essay Welsh published at the time, reprinted as part of the ten year anniversary DVD of Trainspotting, in which among other things he defends the decision to shoot Trainspotting in a non-realist fashion (about which more presently) he can name someone like Liam Gallagher as a working class hero.
Liam is a working class hero, not because he has directly done anything for/with the working class but precisely because he’s got away from them, he represents the working class not through any specific set of political positions, class politics having been, after all, relegated to the dustbin of history, but through his “attitude”, his mad-for-it hedonism, his straight talking, his punch ups, his mocking sarcasm, all nicely combined with his reverence for an unthreatening resurgent strand of contemporary Heritage culture, namely The Beatles.
Heroism, you would think, entailed some potential danger to or sacrifice on the part of the putative hero, some risk-taking: where is the heroism in getting rich and buying a mansion on the basis of a few mild epaterings of the bourgeoisie plus Trad-rock? Indeed, generally, shock was a sure career path in all forms of culture throughout the Nineties: in the newly tolerant Third way, it was a virtual demand of the system. Neo-Liberalism can’t prove its Neo or its Liberalism without it. Capitalism without conservatism is effectively that having your cake and eating it Welsh identifies in the essay, and for which the Novel’s most effective advocate is Sick Boy, in his rejection of the attachments and allegiances of old Labour and the Victorian stridency of Thatcherism.
“The socialists go on about your comrades, your class, your union and society. Fuck all that shite. The Tories go on about your employer, your country, your family. Fuck that even mair. It’s me, me, fucking me..”*
Working class heroism is Liam Gallagher’s heroism, as opposed to the evident non-heroism of defeated, uncool relics of the past like Scargill. With Trainspotting Welsh in no way changes the world he writes about but somehow, heroically reporting on it, representing it, raising it from invisibility into consciousness, better still into “coolness”, he has fulfilled a duty. In a post-Historical scenario in which the conservative notion of recognition rather than any dangerously disruptive notions of equality are in the ascendant then coolness is perhaps the greatest, if not only, gift to be bestowed upon the subaltern classes.
Welsh might read at the Edinburgh festival his character’s despise, he might appear in cameos in hip movies made of his work, he might amass a small fortune and own homes here, there and everywhere, sensibly choosing Life in its any-colour-so-long-as-it’s-Neo-Liberal variety but he will wear his Exploited t-shirt at all times as an authenticator of his attitude, of who he is inside. Having his cake and eating it, moneyed, comfortable but still underground and cool, still real.
They can’t buy your soul, man, and I’ve got a T-shirt that proves it.
* Ironically it’s exactly Welsh’s non-pretty boy panicked grimness of face and figure that punctures Trainspotting’s diegesis. Who’s this ugly bloke and what the fuck is he doing in this promo video for smack use? He appears to have wandered in from an entirely other dimension. Aha! Must be the writer!
**In the film, Sick Boy, played by the handsome Johnny Lee Miller wears a really rather nice suit and has a funky, Beckham-style haircut, somewhat unlike that of the average Edinburgh junkie circa 1986, but very post Reservoir Dogs and Three Lions friendly. He’s a more minor character than Renton who is less attractive, more uncertain, who admits finally to being a bad person but who finally gets out. Renton has, at least, the politesse to confess to his imperfections. Sick Boy is too nakedly, gloatingly avaricious and cynical to be the perfect proxy, there must be some dissembling show of humility as you rip off your friends. I am bad person, but you know, to be a winner, sometimes you have to be…..