The World We Live In
Recent Reading December 2005 
Regular readers will know I have bought all the Da Capo Best Music Writing volumes, and that the 2004 volume was disappointing. This yearís volume seems a slimmer one than normal, but I think itís just a change in paper. Itís guest editor J.T. Leroy is an unknown name to me, and when I started reading I have to admit I thought the book was going to be a righteous gathering of black polemic: Leroyís Introduction starts ĎI am a fuckiní lemmingÖí and the volume seemed at first glance full of rap and hiphop, and other things I have little interest in.

How wrong I was [again]. The book kicks off with a conversation between Ingrid Sischy [no idea so donít ask] and Camille Paglia [yes you should know; look her up], gathers pace with an intriguing heavyweight discussion of Postmodern Minstrelsy studies [!], and rolls on into a wide-ranging array of stuff, including Sasha Freer-Jones on postpunk in 1979 and a delightfully paranoid exposition of shortwave radio signals. The American take on things is interesting and sometimes annoying, especially when it comes to Nirvana and punk, or taking AOR a little bit seriously, but pieces like The Onionís skit on a country ballad halting the trucking industry is spot on.

So full marks to the young T.J. Leroy, and letís look forward to the next installment, with ≠ as ever ≠ a plea for a little more digging and searching among the internet zines and indie journals, not just the mainstream and established alternative press.

Dave Haslam has been high profile since his days DJ-ing at The Hacienda, although I seem to remember in the early 80s he ran a fanzine I used to buy when visiting Manchester (that would be Debris - ed). In Not Abba he sets out to tell The Real Story of the 1970s, and does a pretty good job of it. If it seems a little Northern-centric, thatís because thatís what he knows; itís good to have some discussion of the strikes, political violence and alternatives that happened way back then. Itís this contextualisation that sets the book apart, I guess ≠ I mean thereís been a whole spate recently of post-punk discussion and alternative versions of the music, but putting the fashion and music back into the real world of politics and society is an interesting process for the reader [this one, anyway].
If at times the local is then extrapolated into a national generalisation, at the risk of ignoring differences between Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and London, and if at times I simply lose interest in discussions of Northern Soul, Reggae or Glam Rock, I guess itís good to be reminded of all the stuff that was going on away from the charts and pages of NME. Good too that these other cities do at least get a look in ≠ I mean postpunk wasnít just a Notting Hill phenomena! As ever, there is a bias against progrock and, more unusually, punk gets short shrift here, as Haslam seems to agree with some of the people he interviews, that it was simply an extension of pub rock that then got marketed by the music industry. I think it went deeper than that myself, but there you go; itís his book, not mine. And I think his chapter about Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League is fantastic.

But I would like to point out that Autobahn wasnít Kraftwerkís first album, and that the Nashville didnít have steps to fall down ≠ it was a pub venue at street level. Whenever I notice things like this, I wonder what else has gone unchecked. I also dislike the fact that Haslam re-cycles paragraphs, snippets of information, a couple of times over, sometime to reintroduce a topic, sometimes to remind the reader whatís already been said ≠ either way itís bloody annoying.

The recent Re:Search volume, J.G. Ballard: Conversations ≠ a follow up to their Quotes volume, also has some repetitions in, but itís ok in the context of a wide-ranging set of interviews from the last 30 years. Even when asked the same questions Ballard is engaging, witty and perceptive, proffering comment and analysis on wide-ranging topics, from science to science fiction, psychology and sociology to madness and mindlessness. The bookís psychedelic front cover sits uneasily with the much cooler design inside ≠ strange black & white photos, generous clear text ≠ but itís a real insight into both Ballard and the world we live in.

© 2005 Rupert Loydell

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