A Tale of Two T-shirts
As we hurtle together into a near future where every recorded item of “culture” – from periodicals to pop songs, manuals to maps – is instantly and freely available to anybody in possession of a cheap hand-held device, a future where the concept of “owning a copy” of a work theoretically becomes redundant, there’s been a lot of talk among grey-bearded pop writers about the loss of generational identity that will result. The thinking, if you want to call it that, is that for its first forty or fifty years pop music was driven forward by each “movement”’s rejection of what had come before, and that with everything available all the time this impetus will inevitably be lost.
Presumably, even upholders of this model would admit to its limitations. Good job for them, as the premise here is only marginally less ludicrous than a theory of evolution that has a pair of monitor lizards ponderously getting it on to produce a litter of fluffy mice. The trouble with most professional pop writers is that they hunt in packs, and very quickly they end up writing about what has been written about music rather than the music itself. But even if we allow them their false premise, their conclusion doesn’t follow.
After all, it’s not as if the originators of British punk – the Year Zero against which all others must eternally be measured, if you buy into this Creationist version of pop history – were stymied by exposure to their older brothers’ record collections. In the early 1970s the proto-punks heard Iggy, Roxy and Can; Floyd, Zep and the Eagles, and of the former they thought “Yes!” (not Yes) while of the latter they… didn’t. So they stole what they stole and left the rest behind to be collected at a later date by longhaired nineties “indie” numbskulls. It’s difficult to see how even the exponential increase we see now in the quantity of old stuff available is supposed to significantly affect this simple process.
I suspect that what is confusing to the greybeards is that pop musicians can now unselfconsciously draw on such a broad palette of influences that the notion of “genre” has all but collapsed, and with it will die the tired practice of reviewing a work by simple musical comparison or by inventing some spurious “movement” to tie it to. And about time. You’ll have heard the first Klaxons album, so you’ll know that for an old person like me to point out that he can hear bits of Wire, Liars and Duran Duran in there is as unhelpful, in terms of explaining why the record is so good, and why it made such an impact in 2007, as it was for an old person ten years younger than I to pin the fatuous label “new rave” on the group and its imitators.
All of which is a tortuous way of saying, relax, greybeards. Sure, there were actual living sixteen year-olds in 2007 who hated Klaxons and whose favourite band ever was Oasis, millions of the little fuckers there were, but these kind of clueless squares have always been with us. The smart kids – the ones who will continue to propel pop’s evolution until the very last drop of oil and the very last scrap of dry land have been used up – they know what year it is. Nevertheless, the cultural Big Bang (it’s the unsung counterpart of the uncultured Credit Crunch) allied to what is euphemistically known as “globalisation” does throw up some noteworthy behaviour among the rank and file of the clueless.
The first T-shirt was an immaculate little black number bearing the legend “The Beatles” and clinging to the skinny torso of a young Chinese student. And, I’m sorry, but by any objective criterion he was entirely surreal and ridiculous, cut adrift from time like a man wearing a Cole Porter badge in 1980 but infinitely less cool. If you’re tempted to cast me as the big fat racist at this point, allow me the observation that 99% of Chinese students wouldn’t be seen dead in such a garment and the suggestion that what you were thinking was something along the lines of “well, he’s only Chinese, you couldn’t expect him to have a clue” and that it is in fact you who are the big fat racist.
The other T-shirt was much worse. It was a mass-produced hoodie that read MINOR THREAT, and it Andy Adornoed the more muscular torso of a chisel-jawed white boy with the effortless self-confidence of his class and his ongoing liberal arts education; a boy, in fact, much like many of the protagonists of the DC scene itself. But what a spectacular misunderstanding of… of EVERYTHING… this represents. Ian MacKaye may as well end it all now. Refusing, at the height of its considerable success, to sign Dischord to a major; refusing to take the megabucks Fugazi could have had from selling merchandise on tour – this kid didn’t notice any of that, or if he noticed it he didn’t get it, or if he got it he didn’t care. So he blithely gave his money to some greedy parasite feasting off the sweaty back of MacKaye’s prescience and hard work. But, like, fuck it, because it, like, rocks, and the context is unimportant. What a fucking absolute tool, honestly.