The theorist Mark Fisher, whose death was announced at the weekend, was one of our most original thinkers about how we experienced late 20th century and early 21st century capitalism. He also wrote honestly about his depression, and sometimes one felt that the two were related: that seeing so clearly the confines that late capitalism imposed on its subjects was too much weight for one person to stand. (Guy Debord suffered in a similar way.)
People have been queuing up today to pay tribute to Fisher and his work, and rightly so: Capitalist Realism is one of the essential texts of the last 10 years: so good, in fact, that I realised recently that I’d bought two copies. His style was also singular in its skill in combining the cultural and the political, a reminder that actually the two can never be separated out, as he demonstrated in his more recent book Ghosts of my Life, which I wrote about here.
In an obituary, the music writer Simon Reynolds, a friend of Fisher’s, described his writing like this:
The exciting thing about Mark’s writing – CCRU era, K-punk era, in magazines like FACT and The Wire, the books – was the feeling that he was on a journey: the ideas were going somewhere, a gigantic edifice of thought was in the process of construction. That Mark was thinking big, building a system, always aiming for the largest scale. And finally that this work, rigorous and deeply informed as it was, was not academic, in the sense of being done purely for its own sake: its urgency came from his faith that words really could change things. Reading Mark’s writing made everything feel more meaningful, supercharged with significance. It was a rush. An addiction.
The British Library has a brief pop-up exhibition running at the moment marking the 40th anniversary of the explosion of punk in the UK in 1976, and wandering around it made me realise how much punk was an expression of the political and economic crisis of the 1970s.
I was listening to the radio in 1975, and there was some expert blabbing on about how if things go on as they are there’ll be 800,000 people unemployed by 1979, while another guy was saying if that happened there’d be chaos, there’s be actual — anarchy in the streets. *That* was the root of punk.
In fact, unemployment reached a million by July 1977, at the height of the punk moment.
Obviously, there was something cultural going on as well. The Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm Maclaren, had been running his King’s Road clothers shop with Vivienne Westwood for several years before the oil shock. Popular music was becoming both bloated and sclerotic. The Ramones’ first record also upped the speed of the music, as Tony James of the proto-punk band London SS recalls in in an interview in the exhibition. But it’s hard to believe that the music would have broken through, or perhaps broken out, without the crisis.
I was watchng a documentary about the guitarist and producer Nile Rodgers, who together with his musical collaborator Bernard Edwards had, with Chic and (as producer) Sister Sledge, a golden run of hits in the late 1970s, at the height of the disco boom. And then – after the so-called ‘Disco Demolition Night‘ in 1979’ – neither band had another hit. Without trying to overthink it this was a cultural moment that deserves a little more reflection.
The question of what happens when recorded music becomes more or less valueless is a subject I have mentioned a couple of times before (Tony Wilson and others here, Bill Drummond here) . This is a short post to note that Brian Eno has offered some views on this in a recent edition of Prospect. The answers: live music becomes more valuable, as do the non-digital parts of the recorded music package. A couple of brief extracts below the fold.
There was a moment in the recent Robert Plant and Alison Krauss concert when Krauss sang part of the traditional English song Matty Groves. The band, led by T-Bone Burnett, was from the American South, and it was a reminder of the connections between the English folk song and the musical traditions of the white American south. But it was also a reminder, at a high profile event, that musics which have been marginalised are pushing themselves into the mainstream. This is partly a story a diversity coming full circle. In England, at least, it is also a story about politics.
Guthrie, not Allen. I was listening to his song “Talking Columbia Blues” today, and heard this verse – a future vision from the 1940s of how hydro-electricity would transform America.
I blogged a few weeks ago about the slow death of hard format music, and suggested that the music industry was reverting to an earlier model in which the song was the unit of currency. Radiohead has offered a twist on this by announcing that its new record, In Rainbows, will initially only be available from its site – and fans can pay what they choose for the download. (more…)
There’s so much ‘noise’ coming out of the music industry sector, pun not intended, that it is still hard to discern what the trends are, but one seems to be becoming clearer by the day: the half-century long boom in long-format music, which has made the industry so profitable, is coming to an end. We’re going back to the days of the song.