Sunday, November 19, 2006

Punk music, and the continuing longest long decade

“Long” is the in-phrase of the moment. For commodified creative content sold on the net, the “long tail” backlist supposedly gives bestsellers/frontlists a run for their money. And one of the handful of commentariat writers I find genuinely stimulating (his savaging of 1980s-to-present boomer-ocracy, including the supposed culture wars, is without peer), Michael Lind, refers to the 1990s zeitgeist as only ending about now (September 11 was thus not a particular watershed).

For long decades, though, I’d like to trump Lind, and suggest that popular culture is still much stuck in the 1970s – now that’s a long decade.

Warwick McFadyen gets things upside down here:

Which isn't to say the Sex Pistols did not make an impact a generation ago. They did . . . Does that make them heroes? Actually, some may say it does, given the banal radio fodder of the time (Journey, Kansas, Reo Speedway [sic], Toto, etc).

I know nothing of the first two mentioned "banal radio fodder" bands – other than a single morbid encounter with “Kansas” at my Year 10 formal – but McFadyen is being grossly unfair to Toto, at least. Toto’s best years – from “Hold the Line” (1978) to “Africa” (1982) – postdate the Sex Pistols’ last ever gig, in mid-January 1978. (Yes Virginia, the Pistols really were only a one year (or so) wonder). Plus, for a middle-of-the-road, or prog rock, band of the time, Toto at least seem absent from Patrick Bateman’s record collection, which prominently features two excrescences of the early 1980s: Genesis (/Phil Collins) and Huey Lewis & the News.

Here’s an edit of Bateman’s seminal Phil Collins monologue:

Do you like Phil Collins? I've been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. Before that, I really didn't understand any of their work. Too artsy, too intellectual. It was on Duke where, uh, Phil Collins' presence became more apparent. I think “Invisible Touch” was the group's undisputed masterpiece . . . “In Too Deep” is the most moving pop song of the 1980s, about monogamy and commitment . . . Phil Collins' solo career seems to be more commercial and therefore more satisfying, in a narrower way. Especially songs like “In the Air Tonight” and, uh, “Against All Odds” . . . But I also think Phil Collins works best within the confines of the group, than as a solo artist, and I stress the word artist. This is “Sussudio”, a great, great song, a personal favorite.

Patrick Bateman is, of course, a baby boomer – albeit a late, late one (born October 1962; penultimate URL). Equally inevitably, Patrick Bateman’s genius creator, Brett Easton Ellis is an Xer, born chronologically close to Bateman (in 1964, like me), but a lifetime apart in most other ways.

Coming back to the longest decade, and the persistence of 1970s popular culture, my point is that Patrick Bateman was decidedly untroubled by punk (1976-77) and post-punk (1978 -) music. To achieve this, he not only needed to follow middle-of-the-road music down its most stagnant backwaters well into the 1980s, he also needed an originating cusp, a time before which his current tastes need not look back over in too much detail – Bateman’s “Year Zero” here is 1980.

Meanwhile real baby boomers, unlike Patrick Bateman’s subversive caricature, are yet to admit to a Year Zero, as a marker of the end of punk and post-punk music and a resetter for a replacement regime. Warwick McFadyen says that the Sex Pistols were of “a generation ago”. I only wish this were so. "Banal radio fodder" vs punk is in 2006, a dichotomy manque - as illusory and pointless as the present-day culture wars, between boomer-Left Tweedledum and boomer-Right Tweedledee. The 1970s are over, boomers. In the words of Toto: It's gonna take a lot to drag [them] away from you . . . Gonna take some time to do the things we never had.

Interesting blog post. I'm personally not so sure about the point concerning Bateman's relationship to pop music being representative of baby boomers attitudes to 70s/early 80s punk music. I'm a fan of the book, and I think that if Ellis had made the Bateman character relate to punk music, it would have reduced the dramatic impact of the 'pyschotic yuppie' on the reader. Note that the Bateman character only dwells upon contemporary pop music, other genre's simply don't come into the equation.

I realise this is not your main argument, but I thought this was a interesting point nonetheless (given time, I could have expanded a bit more on what I exactly mean, but I better get some work done!).
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