Monday, December 14, 2009

Thinking out loud, one.

Interesting comparison between Nick Cave and David Thomas over at K-Punk. I have to confess that any overlap between the two of them, or influence of one on the other, had never really occurred to me, but of course once the comparison is made suddenly a whole universe of relations and inter-relations spins into being. This is the beauty of the off the cuff observation in some ways, it’s germinal, generative. I’ll get back to that one shortly.

The same goes for Reynold’s recent aside on Hauntology, which sets me off thinking and prompts me to make a few equally off the cuff remarks about, errr, the failure of the Utopian promise of hyper-capital, i.e. the post-modern pro-Capitalist Utopianism of the Thatcher years on to Blair (Modern at last!). Older commentators have a (lived) before on which to Hauntologically fixate, I suppose, so it might make sense to talk about Hauntologies, the Ghost Box stuff expressing an obvious mourning for/recuperation of the public service and post war consensus and another, possibly, antagonistic Hauntology standing in for the lost euphoria/ promise of the Neo-Liberal programme. Certainly the Neo-Liberal project is repeatedly beaten with the stick of Utopianism by precisely those Leftists who used to be accused of it themselves and now relish the opportunity to attack back in the same terms: I’m not sure this dialectical reversal does the Left any favours as it continues to make Utopianism a dirty word, when, y’know, it might actually be the failure of just such an element in the Left that has stymied it

There is a clear Utopianism in Neo-Liberalism and this is basically what makes it exciting: it is oriented to the future and it does promise transformation: you can understand why people are/have been enthusiastic about it, and many newly returned to the Left will certainly have gone through a period of being entranced by Neo-Liberalism’s promise*, only to find that another revolution has failed. The question might well be where rave nostalgia stands in relation to this: doesn’t mourning the death of rave equate to a mourning of a failed post-modern Utopianism in which all the arborescent structures are ripped up once and for all no genders, no classes, no bosses and workers, no State, everybody reaching for the lazers in placeless PleasureDrome. Isn’t the problem with Capital’s ceaseless revolution that it isn’t really revolutionary enough, it promises the New but isn’t transformative on a deep level: the class structure remains intact? Just a bit of sleight of hand to keep your head spinning?

So what is to Post Modernism as Ghost Box is to Modernism seems to be the question Reynold’s aside is asking? Does some of the contention around Burial express the tensions of his being competed for by two different generations? There might be a weird parallax around Burial in that he’s being claimed for an older Hauntology when he’s expressive of a newer one, i.e. is Rave the last gasp of modernism or the first, quickly extinguished flaring of the promise of Post Modernism? The revolutionary spirit of Po-Mo naively expressing itself only to encounter the real of police crackdowns and integration into the pleasure-economy. Are two different phenomenon, the Utopian spirits on either side of a rupture being shoehorned into a continuum? I don’t know if we can say with any honesty that even if we’re now disillusioned there wasn’t a time when Post Modernism filled us with excitement and hope.

I know The Foam has recently been arguing against thinking of Burial in these terms, and I’m not going to suggest that he MUST only be thought of in this way (after all, it’s not my theory on him), except that doing so may take us off somewhere interesting.

*One of the great things about Zizek is that he makes the Left almost as exciting as Capitalism (“First as tragedy” is a barnstormer!) I confess that I’m a regular reader of The Economist, it’s so exciting, I want to BELIEVE!!!!!


Rossikovskiy said...

K-punk is only good for one thing - and that's missing the point. It's amazing (yet predictable) that he misses the point of The Birthday Party - that they were nothing more than The Stranglers that it was OK (as far Jon Savage and Barney Hoskyns were concerned) to like.

i.e. they explored exactly the same territory that Hugh Cornwell and JJ Burnel had previously made their own (much to the faux shock-horror of the right-on post-punkers), but with more diluted rape-allusions and much more ham-fisted murder allegories than the more sophisticated efforts of the originators.

Nick Cave did nothing more than identify a space that was vacated the moment that The Stranglers started to back up their rhetoric with real force (i.e. by actually beating up journalists and therefore locating themselves way beyond the critical pale to a space beyond even that occupied by Ned's Atomic Dustbin) in the most morbidly literal way.

Quite simply, Cave's one stroke of luck was pretty much that Hugh Cornwell's inflated sense of self-esteem enabled him to fail where his mediocre imitators could take advantage.

Well done Nick. Bad Luck Hugh. But how anybody can actually celebrate this travesty is way beyond my comprehension.

Anonymous said...

dont the boys next door/birthday party and the stranglers stem from two different sets of influences though.. ie beefheart's take on blues/ an agressive expansion/reduction on doctor feelgood's pub-rock? or am i cleaving to too simple a set of orthodoxies?

i'm having trouble conceiving the BP as the Stranglers lite seem to be on a walk-it-like-you-talk-it tip, BP as dandy goth dilettentes/poseurs versus the Stranglers thuggish 4-real praxis..

although i have to confess i haven't really thought about (or listened to) the stranglers in years...i'll get back to you on this!!!

rossikovskiy said...

Actually I was being deliberately provocative on this in that

a) objectively I think it's obvious that The Stranglers were waaaay better than Joy Division/Birthday Party/Wire/ Talking Heads etc. etc. and

b) nobody seems to like them much nowadays.

which is

c) crazy.

My take on The Stranglers is basically that they were pioneering the post-punk sound (i.e. bass as lead instrument, guitar as spidery ambience, drums as hesitant space-creation) long before Siouxsie and PiL ("Black and White" was released before the first PiL album or "The Scream")

You know it really is the case that the space that post-punk lived in was only there because a handful of cultural curators carefully moved The Stranglers out of the way.

Obviously that was good for all of us, but it's about time we all (those of us who are 40+) showed a bit of humility and admitted that it was The Stranglers and not PiL or Bowie or Siouxsie who opened up the sonic space in which all the bands we like most flourish.

Unfortunately, as you suggest, their walk-it-as-you-talk-it tip tended to work against them rather than for them.

That said, if you can find any post-punk bassline deeper and more graunchy than "Nice'n'Sleezy" I'd be grateful if you could post me a link:

Rossikovskiy said...

Actually, I should apologise for being disparaging about Mr. Fisher (in my frustration) - I have the utmost regard for the gentleman.

But clarifying what I think is the relationship between the Stranglers and the Birthday Party (somebody stop me if I'm just banging on) is that they both explored territory that was somewhat non grata for post-punk (misogyny and sexual violence basically), but BP more obviously flagged up what they were doing as "drama" (or psychodrama). I think their adoption of a fictive backwoods Americana acted as a huge pair of quotation marks, as though to say "this isn't really us".

The Stranglers were of course no less acting out dramas, but they were less interested in providing a clear seperation between themselves and their song-characters, as they basically saw no need to explain themselves to others. Sadly, that was used against them.

As to sonics, I think there is a relationship between the more grotesque end of the Stranglers and BP. e.g. "Ugly" could easily be a BP song (minus keyboards natch.)

Anonymous said...

by all means keep going.... comments boxes are public spaces,

i'm just off to download some stuff by them....

Rossikovsky said...

Well, just enjoy what you download. The Stranglers are pretty much one of the great Rock guilty pleasures, providing grinding arse-quaking graunch ("Do you wanna", "Nice and Sleazy", "Enough Time") and delicate poignancy ("La Folie", "Strange Little Girl", "Outside Tokyo") simultaneously.

In a better world, we'd all be primarily Stranglers fans, and take a rather choosy attitude to the output of everyone else.