On Paid Cluelessness
I was in my local HMV the other day, poring over items I couldn’t afford and didn’t really need, when this sad, still, fragile flower of a song came over the PA. I’d heard the song a few times on the radio at work, and it must have been earworming its way into my lumpy cortex, because this was the occasion where it hit upon an I Want One Of Those node, lighting up my inner consumer like fruit machine Christmas.
The song, I later discovered, was Helicopter by Deerhunter. It’s the true story of a Russian boy called Dima who fell into bad company, ending up gang-raped by crime bosses before being thrown from a helicopter over remote forest. Allegedly, I should add here: unsurprisingly, the case has not been proven. "Now they are through with me," the song repeats towards its end, bleakly. It’s no Una Paloma Blanca. It won’t do with spit.
But I ramble. The song came on, Pavlov yawned and stretched, and I was ready there and then to part with fictitious money I don’t even fictitiously own just in order to be able to listen to the beautiful, horrible thing again, "on demand" as they say. So I approached the counter. By the time my number came up the song had been superseded by some or other crunchy fodder. "Erm… who was that last track, please?" The girl looked at the place where they display the cases of the five CDs currently in the player. She looked at me. "The Manics."
I thought about what I now know to be the voice of Mr Bradford Cox. I thought about the awful strangulations of the diminutive J.D. Bradfield. I looked at the girl. "No, it definitely wasn’t the Manics."
The girl looked at the boy. The boy looked at the place where they display, then at me. "Jimmy Eat World." Now, at this point I’ d never knowingly heard Jimmy Eat World. But… but… if the bland, Which?-type music journalism that became dominant in the 1990s deserves to exist at all it’s precisely for this reason: to save everybody who isn’t partial to a spot of post-post-hardcore prog-pop angst (on reflection, that could be the greatest genre ever) the trouble of listening to Jimmy Eat World. So – unless Jimmy Eat World had pulled a six-legged, English-speaking rabbit out of their collective hoodie, which possibility I'd hope never entirely to dismiss for any act except the Pigeon Detectives – there was no way on Earth that the increasingly elusive song was one of theirs. (I’ve heard Jimmy Eat World now, of course. Had to. Just in case. More often than not they sound a bit like R.E.M., which in 2010 is considerably more than a decade down the road from being a compliment.)
"No, it wasn’t Jimmy Eat World."
Bad move. The boy looked back at the place, then at the CD player. "It’s disc four and that’s Jimmy Eat World." He sounded a bit cross. You stupid old fool. Oh, OK.
Call me a silly idealist. It’s been done. But. Crap syllogism ahoy. One: unemployment is high and rising just now upon Airstrip One. Not by any means as high as our new S&M masters would like it, but give them time. Work in progress. Big pool already. Two: when I call in to Chain Pharmacy Inc. for a product that will turn my hair the loveliest shade of chestnut I can reasonably expect that the assistant won’t wander aimlessly up and down the aisle for a bit before confidently handing me a king-size tube of Anusol.
So (three) the Airstrip would be a better place for its employers (HMV would have sold the product), for its manufacturers (4AD would have sold the product), for its punters (I’d have gone home with the Deerhunter record) and for its workers (the boy would be free to find his true vocation in a career not involving the use of ears, drilling holes in the road perhaps, or as a G.P.) if its one remaining chain music retailer would employ people who could give a rat’s fuck about popular music.