Offbeat 13 June 2014
The concept of destruction in the new songs is different now: heavy bass to fuel anger, and the knowledge that the heritage of the songs comes with handguns via the distorted pedigrees of West Coast Rap and Gangsta Rap.
I have a hole in the lapel of my jacket. It’s too big to stitch up and I’m not skilled enough to patch it up without the help of an adult. My simple solution is to go with a button badge bought at the local music store. The one that I wear has a bright Union Jack motif and the word ‘Destroy’, printed on its center. I’m Namibian by birth and by choice, and fairly staid by virtue of of personal values and habituation, but the button is ‘kind of me’, actually ‘very me’.
I started wearing that particular button about two weeks ago, mainly as an emotional connection to my teens and twenties. However the death of comedian Rik Mayall this week made me think of it in a reasoned way, its connection to me decades down the road.
Rik Mayall was wildly funny. Some of you may remember him as Alan B’Stard in ‘The New Statesman’, or as the confused anarchist in ‘The Young Ones’. ‘The Young Ones’ fits perfectly with the ‘Destroy’ badge. It takes anger and fear to make laughter. That was one of the undertones of the show.
There were others with whom the motif fitted. Unfortunately many of them have gone the way of Mayall. Ian Dury died in 2000. Joe Strummer of the Clash went in 2002. Malcolm McLaren, the ringmaster and impresario, passed in 2010. Those are the three I particularly remember. Who does that leave? Vivien Westwood, the fashionista, but I don’t wear women’s clothing. Richard Branson, the entrepreneur, the spirit of adventure and business fun, is still around, but I don’t share his ambition or his entrepreneurial success.
As far as the musicians go, John Lydon, then known as Johnny Rotten, is still alive. He tours with the Pistols, even though they now come across like aging corporate rockers. I hope he looks after his health. After he goes, the major representatives of those times are gone, leaving the ‘Destroy’ motif on the lapels of young mummers with colourful Mohican haircuts, who probably don’t have a clue what that type of destruction was all about.
I associate the word ‘Destroy’, in the context of those times, with something other than violence. Perhaps some of you remember a laconic line ‘Rip it all up and start all over again’ from the Clash song ‘Wrong ‘em Boyo’. ‘Destroy’ was a spark. Sometimes things need to be removed to make way for other things.
The thing that had to be removed, was the callous approach that limited social justice. The anger brought about change particularly in the UK. It also reached into the hearts of some of us in Namibia. Listening to the Pistols and The Clash was one of the few rebellious acts open to some of us.
Greil Marcus’ book ‘Lipstick Traces’ correlates the political events to the empowerment of the music in laborious detail. For me, it leads back to emotional empowerment for the anti-Apartheid movement as well as the UK protests against Poll Tax, a sickeningly cynical tax on human existence.
Fortunately those times and events are no longer with us. Unfortunately the spirit of those times is no longer with us. Social justice now equates to wealth and bling. Musicians pose with shows of wealth. Their anger expresses arrogant, malevolent challenge. “Look what I have seized. Look how I raise myself above you.”
The concept of destruction in the new songs is different now: heavy bass to fuel anger, and the knowledge that the heritage of the songs comes with handguns via the distorted pedigrees of West Coast Rap and Gangsta Rap. It lacks any concept of social justice or social equity. It brings across a sense of undeserved entitlement.
I need new idols and role models, not the kind who exist in a testosterone haze, but I can’t think who they might be.
The sense of nostalgia is troubling. It makes me feel older than I am, and invalidated in many ways. Perhaps I should just settle back into ennui and disinterest, but I don’t particularly want to put away this badge yet. There is still callousness out there, more corporate than anything now, and things that need to change.