Wednesday, April 10, 2013

1985: Ich bin ein Britischer

I am 15 and my world is expanding.

This isn't going to be a Video Affects post, nor a Manic Street Preachers one, although the video below is useful for more than just illustration. In my mid-teens my musical tastes went Northward, to the United Kingdom. Obviously, thanks to the Summer of Pop and the early Eighties British Pop Invasion the presence of a wide range of popular music from the Mother Country on New Zealand radios would have led to a lot of young teens such as myself building a music collection which had a particular geographical bias. Thanks to that, and after a brief dalliance with West Coast US rock, through an even briefer interest in NWOBHM, I settled on following British music almost exclusively - Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Duran Duran, The Police and Sting, U2, and eventually The Skids, The Clash, and The Smiths. For a while I could see no point to the sunshine and sweetness of American pop, and resisted the likes of Madonna and Prince to follow acts which I thought, in my tender years, spoke to me more about how the world really was. Goodbye California Girls, hello Eton Rifles.

Quite silly, of course, and by the time I'd left home a good few months of university life fixed such notions and I was adding The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth to a palette that even at high school couldn't quite manage resisting College-radio era REM. But enough listmaking, it's making me feel all weird and old.

The thing about following British culture, as I did in my teens, was that half a world away it seemed to require an additional investment in background cultural accumulation. Reading comics (Eagle, 2000AD) that over ten years would move from nodding at contemporary novelty newspaper headlines and TV ads through to actually quoting Morrissey lyrics; following TV series (The Young Ones, Spitting Image, Black Adder, any number of Comic Strip specials, New Statesman, Red Dwarf) that were the product of a new wave of politicised young comedians - all of this demanded some sort of context to it, and working out the relevance of terms like Special Patrol Group, or names like Scargill, Tebbit, Lawson... Thatcher.

At least the last name needed little introduction. Margaret Thatcher's political career spanned many more years than my teens, but her eleven years as British PM overlapped them neatly enough, and culturally she was everywhere, perhaps more than any other Prime Minister since Churchill. Looking back it seemed the political landscape of Cold War Eighties was dominated by these huge and polarising world leaders - Thatcher, Reagan, a succession of doomed Soviet Presidents culminating in Gorbachev, the formidable Bob Hawke, and here the outwardly sharp-witted David Lange, an orator king who'd thrust our defining foreign policy riposte into international waters - out Anti-Nuclear stance. This seemed like a brilliant burst of desperate hope compared to the grim picture painted by the songs, programmes and stories I'd read and watch and listen to. Polarising leaders inspire entire cultural movements in revolt, and so my music collection also acquired tones of political protest - The Specials, Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello and The Proclaimers. Only  my following all of this seems now more than a little disingenuous - a combination of good tunes and unfocused adolescent fervour. A far cry from those early Eagle magazines and their Falklands-themed pull-out posters of Harrier jump jets and MIG Foxbats. Culturally as well as politically the Thatcher years as I experienced them as a teenager still resonate in the movements and phases that followed - angry small press-inspired comic titles like Deadline and Revolver, Britpop's courtship and rejection of Tony Blair's New Labour, the stories of Ian Banks and Irvine Welsh, and even the shape of modern Doctor Who. Thatcher's death this week is a strange thing for me to mark then, her past career seemingly forming the bedrock of an artistic reaction that I could only really experience vicariously. It all seems so distant, geographically and chronologically; and as I type this with Tramp the Dirt Down playing in the background I feel I'm no closer now to the heart of it than I was at fifteen, seventeen or twenty.

No comments:

Post a Comment