Saturday, December 29, 2007

today : the erosion of culture.

J'accuse Simon Cowell. I don't care about his talent shows, record labels, Rolls Royces or even his trousers. In fact if he has found a way to be rich and successful then in many ways good luck to him.

What I care about is the fact that he has cynically stolen a little piece of my childhood.

In days past the Christmas number one WAS special. Okay, not as earth shattering as Santa Claus forgetting your house but as part of the cultural traditions of Christmas it was fun. People would release songs to try and get to be the Christmas Number One. Radio stations and TV would speculate on which song would make it and children like me would enjoy the slight excitement of it all.

Some of the blame does not lie at Mr Cowell's door. 20 years ago the Christmas Number One was special because it was number one for two whole weeks, due to the fact that the people who counted the chart returns were on holiday. After computerised counting came along, this was all done automatically and the week long gap in counting disappeared.

But still there was a race to be Number One at Christmas. And somehow reaching that goal inferred a kind of pop immortality on the artist that achieved it. For anyone who enjoys and follows pop music this created a national narrative that everyone could join in with.

But Cowell has destroyed that. We know now that the Christmas no.1 will always be a reality TV star winner singing the kind of bland schlocky megaballad that people like Celine Dion churn out.

This cynical corporatisation of culture is emblematic. Everyone who grew up eating Opal Fruits or Marathon Bars, using Oil of Ulay or Jif cleaner has suffered the same erosion of their traditions by the money-makers. Everyone who can no longer shop at a local greengrocer, milliner or one-town department store suffers too. These are, in themselves, microscopic changes, but important. They eat away at the individual nature of culture and memory, gradual corporatising and homogenising the world at the behest of profit.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

today : Chris de Booooooom!

Even the most anti-nuke, pacifist, anti-neocon, regime-appeasing liberal will be thrown into a dilemma with the news that Chris De Burgh is to perform a concert in Tehran. If you knew that the pudding bowl haired overly-sentimental but slightly creepy crooner was to be in an appointed place at an appointed time, would you not be tempted to press the button that sent heavily armed nuclear missiles towards the venue, collaterally vapourising a problematic regime?

Friday, December 07, 2007

today : a lost art

A tiny moment of sweetness echoed through time and landed in my lap today. On opening an old (1957) book I acquired, a letter fell out. it was typed on tissue thin paper through a fading ribbon. Here's what it said. They don't write 'em like this any more.

Sunday May 29th 1960 7.30 a.m.

Dearest beloved Dormouse,

So very good to hear your darling voice again - you always sound like liquid sunshine, and hearing you makes the whole world better for me. Feeling down in the mouth because of this damned cold and 'flu'; and also mainly because of what I think you meant to convey to me about yourself. Never mind, my love, and I'm truly sorry . Don't worry about anything; leave me to worry hard enough for both of us.

This has to be very brief because I must drive quickly to City Square to catch the Saturday post if not already gone (today's Sunday) More tomorrow.

Lots of Love. See you soon my love.

Yours loving old


Monday, December 03, 2007

today : Rock the Bells

Last December I wrote about how it's such a shame that Fairytale of New York is designated a Christmas song and more or less ignored as one of the greatest songs of any season. I heard it for the first time today, because December 1st in shoppingworld means that it's Christmas and everyones' lives must be soundtracked by an endless and tedious loop of the same twenty or thirty pop songs featuring mainly bells. Carols don't even make an appearance any more. It has to be Now That's What I Call Xmas Tunes (on triple CD).

My impatience with the contemporary Christmas soundtrack is based on two things:

Firstly, many of the songs aren't even Christmas songs. Since when is A Spaceman Came Travelling by Chris De Burgh a Christmnas song? David Essex's A Winter's Tale, Never Do A Tango With an Eskimo by Alma Cogan. What do Eskimos have to do with Christmas? Baby It's Cold Outside - nothing to do with Christmas, Frankie Goes to Hollywood - The Power of Love, Aled Jones singing Walking in the Air.? Happy New Year by Abba (although I would probably include this because the Abba girls harmonies have a quality that conjures the feeling of melancholy and wistful regret that I feel each time I attend a New Years party)

Perhaps the least Christmassy song of all time is Last Christmas by Wham. Apart from the title, which is occasionally repeated there is nothing in there related to Christmas. It's just a fluffy break up song - probably Wham's worst. The same goes for Stay Another Day by East 17 (whose lead singer Brian Harvey became famous for running himself over with his own car and blaming it on a jacket potato)

It's a pretty repetitive and rather boring song that incidentally features bells. At least Modern Romance released a Christmassy version of their pop salsa hit Best Years of Our Lives in 1982 which featured a sleighbell intro. Somehow they never make it onto compilations.

But here is the problem. Bells and sleigh bells do not make a song into a Christmas song. That would give New York Minute by Don Henley the status of an almost-carol (Come to think of it Someone's going to emergency, someone's going to jail might describe Christmas Eve in some places I know). On the principles involved by the boffins that choose what is a Christmas song for inclusion on a triple CD set, any song that has bells or mentions sleighs, snow, ice, and winter is allowed in the category. So Winter in July by Bomb the Bass, Nantucket Sleighride by Mountain (Which famously was Weekend World with Brian Walden theme tune), Informer by Snow, Ice Ice baby, Cold as Ice, anything by Snow Patrol, Immigrant Song, Hazy Shade of Winter, Black Sabbath's Snowblind, Life in A Northern Town, Winter in America by Gil Scott Heron, Walking on Thin Ice, anything by The Icicle Works, Winterlong by Neil Young, Walk Out To Winter by Aztec Camera, Nine While Nine by the Sisters of Mercy (it mentions Ice on the windowpane), anything by the Drifters, about half of Dead Can Dance's album tracks, Rock The Bells (also Jinglin Baby) by LLCoolJ, Anything by Belle and Sebastian or The Belle Stars. But none of them ever are.

Secondly, we have Slade. Because in Britain at least I wonder why anyone tries to write a Christmas pop song when Slade made the perfect one. Their Merry Xmas Everybody is pretty much the only song you need. It covers all the bases, being a nostalgic paen to Christmasses past for the adults, a checklist of Christmas activities for children and a raucous singalong. It is set in both the real and fantasy world; in fact it is a kitchen sink Cristmas sons without peer, portraying a fantasy of reality ecompassing what Cristmas actually means to normal people (i.e. little or no mention of religion in the lyrics). In the middle eight Momma kissing Santa Claus section it even contains a poignant touch of melancholy - acknowledging in the minor chord sequence the fact that Christmas is the time of year that sometimes triggers family breakdown, relationship difficulties and suicide.

Everything that came after was fake and rather pointless, a bit like someone saying "Y'know, I like what that guy Schubert did but I think I'll come up with a new tune for Ave Maria"