Thursday, 14 June 2012

A place of memory and desire, part one . . .

One of pop’s small but consistent pleasures is the way intellectual/academic concepts have been grist for its self-regard mill.

The Rolling Stones recasting Bulgakov’s Master & Margarita. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark flipping David Watkin’s 1977 book Morality & Architecture for the title of their second album. Just about anything Green did for/with Scritti Politti — starting with nicking the band name from the collected writings of the Italian neo-Marxist Gramsci.

Or the NME right through the 1980s when it was a rare article that didn’t quote some French structuralist thinker or other. Honestly, there was often as much about Derrida or Kristeva as there was about, say, the Smiths. Now I am far from being an expert on such philosophising but on the few occasions when I did know of what they were writing about, they generally got it somewhat — to drop into technical language, for a moment — arse about face.

Some, therefore, might call these intellectual references as specious or pretentious even. I wouldn’t, though. To me, they were as much a part of the pop game as, say, gold lamé jackets. Not dissimilar, either, in a way. It was a showing-off thing, a peacock display. And all the more wonderful for it. Pop without dumb display would be . . . well, it wouldn’t be pop.

The fact that it was almost invariably done by young men who hadn’t actually done any formal or thorough study of these matters only added to the piquancy of their appropriations. Building songs on a fine-grained appreciation of, say, Lacan’s mirror stage would, frankly, have a limited audience. However, saying that’s what you were doing but — because you’ve never actually really, like, you know, read more than a page or two of Lacan — then just writing a song about your ex-girlfriend and how she liked to look in the mirror, well, that makes sense.

Fine artists get away with that kind of stuff all the time. Read their notes on their shows. It’s like they’ve eaten an intellectual text then regurgitated and put the upthrowings down on paper. Again, I wholeheartedly approve. Just because a joke is on its cracker doesn’t mean it’s not genuinely funny.

Which is all by way of saying that I miss these intellectual sprayings on pop’s simple self. And also by way of justifying the heading for this posting.

I know it’s a misappropriation of something said by Bion — British psychoanalyst who first learned his trade as a WW1 tank officer and went a little Kalifornia kookie in the 1960s. I also know he got it from TS Eliot: ‘April is the cruellest month, breeding. Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing. Memory and desire, stirring . . .’

I also know that it has a history of popular appropriation. Stephen Duffy — once known as Tin Tin, now resident of Falmouth — called his (kind of) greatest hits collection Memory and Desire: Thirty Years in the Wilderness. (Duffy’s band, Lilac Time, didn’t, it seems take their name from that Eliot fragment but from a phrase in Nick Drake’s River Man — though it’s also possible that Drake was himself referencing Eliot.)

Which is . . . pretty much the introduction to my introduction. That’s what happens when I don’t post too often. It’s all too easy to write too much.

Next (and soon) The actual introduction to this posting, followed by the posting itself. And what’s that about? A new record by the Radiators. Come back tomorrow.

1 comment:

Lo Jardinier said...

The Stones and Master and Margarita? You're joking. Other than Sympathy for the Devil?
This is a book I would take to a desert island. Otherwise, yes, the more gold lame the better.