"That's not the way we fight," shouts Marco as he whips the everpresen
insane folk/brass band into a righteous frenzy. The music sounds like an Eastern European version of Mandinngo's Headhunter played at pure Gabba Gabba Hey / gabber gibberish speed with more berserk percussion than anything ever to emerge from Latin America. Marco adjusts his tie and wades in to assist his partner (in the Yugoslavian communist underground resistance) Blackie who is dealing with a few traitors in a very inimitable fashion. It should be mentioned that Marco and Blackie are a couple of very cool original gangsters, red Robin Hoods, intent on ridding their country of fascist scum during the WW2 Nazi occupation, and that is more or less the way that UNDERGROUND starts. Emir Kusturica's award wining film is arrogantly inventive and disturbingly funny. Underground makes you feel like dancing in the aisles while kicking over the statues. So what do we get? Just cries of Britain's where it's at.
I think that it was in an old Saint Etienne fan club magazine where some bright eyed pop kid had written in griping about how the Etienne and all their contemporaries had oh so highly recommended the classics like Gram Parsons and the Beach Boys, so he had dutifully gone out and bought those immortal artefacts only to discover a load of old country whinging and archaic good time pop. Now that really amused me. It's great when the classics are questioned. I suppose that is why it is so sad that Oasis and their fans and families are all sitting around with their Beatles and their Stones rather than rejecting everything. Anyway in some ways I am with the Etienne kid on this one. So many times I have been caught out in exactly the same way, while somehow finding hidden treasures in places that I am not supposed to be even searching. Actually it is not just music I'm talking about here: all the supposed classic books like Last Exit To Brooklyn, Basketball Diaries (despite its Phil Ochs dedication), Naked Lunch, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; all those films like Rumblefish, Withnail and I. (I would probably include Tarantino here, but I have never seen any of his films.) All those films and all those books that are supposedly so mad and classic, but are simply as dull as ditchwater. Films and books which are mainly memorable for the sensational, excessive, explicit, controversial connotations.
I do not want to believe stories that I have heard about authors and scriptwriters being told by publishers and agents to go away and put another 127 'fucks' into the text, but I suspect that is the way it goes. Take Rumblefish: I've heard students bemoan the fact that life's hard when hardly anyone else in their Halls of Residence knows about great films like Rumblefish (which proves a point?). Probably several more know the book, or do they? S E Hintons beautiful text is so unlike the film, and yet, because it's so brief and free from profanity, it's considered to be a childrens' classic, rather than a Cert18 shocker like the film. I know which I consider to be the most subversive, and anyway, Mickey Rourke as the Motorcycle Boy is in no way capable of living up S E Hinton's words: 'Your mother is not crazy. Neither, contrary to popular opinion, is your brother. He is merely miscast in a play. He would have made a perfect Knight, in a different century, or a very good pagan prince in a time of heroes. He was born in the wrong era, on the wrong side of the river, with the ability to do anything and finding nothing he wants to do.Ó
Consider an old quote of S E Hinton's: 'I never set out to be a ground breaker or to be controversial. I just wanted to tell the truth about teenage life and to tell it the way it really is. Most adults don't remember the emotional intensity and the idealism of being a teenager.Ó Which reminds me, you can just picture the scene, all over the land, in every student bedsit, well-thumbed copies of Trainspotting strewn around. 'Oh yeah, I read it a couple of years back, well before the film. Absolutely brilliant. There but for the grace of god, mate.Ó
Sure, I read it a couple of years ago too. Everyone seemed to be raving about it - no pun intended. So, as ever, I got carried along with the crowd, and was left with that old familiar feeling. 'Is that all there is, my friend?Ó Yeah, sure, very harrowing and humorous, and yes, real life, but thankfully not mine. I have actually been far more interested in the reason for Trainspotting's success.
Time for a spot of Holmes-style pondering? Some conclusions? Consider this: Maybe MR Welsh has been there, done that, read the book, seen the film and bought the t-shirt, and maybe he loves living life to the full, but for most punters perusing the book, Trainspotting is
a cheap holiday in other peoples' misery, and let's hope it stays that way. Trainspotting, for a variety of reasons, is fashionable, and thankfully that will pass. Tracing it all back, the seeds of Trainspotting's success were sewn in London media circles. That's where the buzz began.
No doubt they could not believe their luck. Someone had actually written their fantasy youth faction, a new Scotland yardie. A luvverly chance for vicarious thrills. Let's be blunt: Trainspotting would never have seen the light of day if it were set in a South East London suburban estate.
Back in the '70s, a media study group at, I believe, Glasgow University presented a work called Hard News, based on years of study of news coverage on TV, radio and in the daily papers. Their original conclusions and questionings on the way the news is presented, the people involved and in control, the imagery and language used, the priorities etc, still make fascinating reading. I mean, how do separate channels present almost identical news bulletins, simultaneously, time after time, without any collaboration?
Anyway, a few years back, I heard one of the original investigators (coincidentally, once Bill Oddie's wife) speak about the changes in news coverage fifteen years on. One of her points was about the move away from stereotypical BBC English presenters, and the embracing of regional accents. She stressed that only some were acceptable, and that Scottish tones were by far the most recognised. Something I'm sure Irvine Welsh has reaped the benefits of. Something I'm sure Robert Elms' classic In Search of the Crack fell foul of. Authentic,
articulate London boy? No chance.
Still, there is no doubt that Welsh's time is now, and he is making the most if it, and I don't blame him, with his column in Loaded and short stories in The Face. He's got plenty of hip credentials, and he's mates with the Scream Team. Incidentally, I love the idea of Bobbie being involved with something called Trainspotting. Bless 'im. I do resent the idea that we should embrace Welsh because he manages to mention techno and Iggy. It's always a tricky time when authors drop musical reference points. I'm a massive fan of Peter Benson's novels, but the recent Riptide, despite featuring one of the most joyous sex scenes ever, rather jarred on account of the constant Waterboys' references. Conversely, Shena Mackay's exquisitely observant Dunedin was enhanced by one solitary mention of The Clean.
Going back to Underground, and it's the music that fuels the madness and sadness. An original, commissioned soundtrack as opposed to a Trainspotting-style cynical round-up of marketable names. It's interesting that Trainspotting's so-called strength is the ability to make humour out of misery. Big deal: You ought to go see this troy of the former Yugoslavia with all its allegories and sub-plots, brawls and sprawls.
Why mention all this? Well, despite winning the Palme D'Or for Best Film at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, Underground has not exactly been the talk of the town. So, maybe that's because it's in Serbo-Croat, but there are enough footballers over here from the former Yugoslavia, lighting up the Premier League, to suggest there is more going on there than meets the eye. So, am I trying to create a Trainspotting vs Underground scenario? You must be joking. Comparing Trainspotting to Underground is rather like trying to compare the Bluetones to the Wu Tang Clan. There's a world out there to explore. A pox on parochialism.
Kevin Pearce. 1995