Wednesday, 18 July 2012

London Calling. In nine parts. Parts seven to nine

7. London calling, see we ain't got no swing
'Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing

Awkward English but a good rhyme — and image of swinging, ringing truncheons. An apt metaphor for London in 1979. Three examples . . .

a) On Monday, April 23 (St George's Day, Shakespeare's birthday), at an Anti-Nazi League demonstration in Southall (west London suburb, capital of south Asian Europe) Blair Peach (New Zealander, Trotskyist, former president of the National Union of Teachers) died from blows inflicted by the SPG (Metropolitan Police's Special Patrol Group, neo-military, armed with baseball bats, crowbars and sledgehammers) .

b) On Friday May 4, Margaret Thatcher was elected. Her first cabinet meeting agreed spending cuts of £4 billion and set in train the sale of nationalised industries. Income tax was cut by 3p. Council house sales began. (Also, exchange controls were lifted: for the first time since Hitler invaded Poland, UK residents were free to take as much money as they liked out of the country.)

c) On September 11, one of Thatcher's senior ministers, Jim Prior told journalist Hugo Young: 'We are sober people who can see real collapse staring this country in the face.' 

8. The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin

It’s true that apocalypse was in the air. See above. (Coppola’s Apocalypse Now arrived in time for Christmas.) And that oil prices doubled over the course of the year.

Joe Strummer, June 1979, NME interview: 'There's only 10,000 days of oil left. It's finite.' That's, roughly, twenty-seven years and four months. Say, mid-to-late November 2006.

7. Nuclear error, but I have no fear
London is drowning
And I live by the river . . .

The reference to a nuclear error is to the US where Three Mile Island nuclear power plant sprang a leak. Apocalyptic as the idea that London was drowning might sound, catastrophic flood was a real threat in 1979. Hence the defining major public building project of the period: the Thames Barrier, a dozen or so miles downstream on the far side of the city, that had been under construction since 1974 and wouldn't be finished for another five years.

So, all in all, a song for its times? Whether it’s one for our times, though, is a different matter.

Suitable for a British Airways promo? Well, actually, yes. Anyone who comes to London expecting Beefeaters etc already knows what they’re in for. But this taps another market. I guess it’s aimed to attract the kind of people who were drawn to New York by the lure of the Velvet Underground’s drug anthem Waiting For The Man. People like me, that is. Still, I’m not sure that’s the biggest of markets . . .

Some fun? Dolly Parton undergoes sex change

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

London Calling. In nine parts. Parts two to six

2. Now that war is declared and battle come down

Okay, I can see the Olympic struggle and war/battle equivalency thing but, still a bit extreme — if amusingly so. The original song is referencing the travails of the year in which it was made, 1979. Such as? Such as . . .

There was a revolution in Iran. The Sandanistas took power in Nicaragua. White rule was swept away in Rhodesia. The Camp David peace deal was struck between Israel and Egypt. In Pakistan, shariah law was imposed and President Bhutto hanged, handcuffed and hooded, in secret at 2am in a regional jail. In Kabul, the US ambassador was kidnapped and killed. Shi'ite gunmen seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca: false rumours that the attackers were Americans led to assaults on the US embassies in Pakistan and Libya. Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq. Vietnam invaded Cambodia, uncovering Pol Pot's mass graves. China invaded Vietnam. Russia invaded Afghanistan.

3. London calling to the underworld

Well, that same year, a movie was made, set mostly in East London. It was about a gangster trying to get out of the underworld by doing a deal with the US mafia over plans to redevelop the newly emptied docklands area for . . . the Olympics. Things go wrong, though, for the crim and he ends up being kidnapped by terrorists. If you haven’t seen Long Good Friday, do. (PS Pedants, yes, I know it came out in 1980 but it was made in 1979.)

4. Come out of the cupboard, all you boys and girls

I assume that the original intention was to anglicise the then-fairly new concept of coming out of the closet. So: a plea to be open about homosexuality, both male and female.

5. London calling, now don't look at us

No, I never really got that line, either — though it does kind of link to the next one . . .

6. All that phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust

I suppose I thought of this as a follow-up to Joe Strummer’s 1977 line about a future free of the Beatles, Elvis and the Rolling Stones.
Next up Parts 7 to 9

Monday, 16 July 2012

London Calling. In nine parts. Part one

Now, I do have a long-standing interest in (and knowledge about) The Clash’s London Calling. As some of you know, it was my mobile ringtone for a long time — causing very loud smiles when it went off in public meetings etc.

But, really, British Airways? What do you think you are on about?  Using it as a promo teaser for Olympics time?

Let me parse the lyrics line by line, one line at a time over the next few days . . . .

1. London Calling to the faraway towns

Okay, nothing too controversial there. Just a take on the original BBC call sign. (Actually, it wasn’t the BBC. It was its predecessor but I won’t bother you with the technicalities right now. Nor will I introduce essential elements of that story — such as Noel Coward, ‘the girl with the silver syringe’ and the oddly quiet funeral of the Duke of Kent, after his death in a plane crash, in which he had a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist.)

Sunday, 15 July 2012

It's Wiggo go-go time again . . .

Everyone's favourite mod is at it again. He even manages to get swearing into an apologia pro vita sua in the Guardian. 

July 14, 2012

He is explaining why he didn't believe in taking performance-enhancing drugs. (What? Call yourself a mod, mate? Not even a black bomber or two?)

I would not want to end up sitting in a room with all that hanging on me, thinking: 'Shit, I don't want anyone to find out.'

Next up The mystery of the British Airways London Calling ad