Monday, 30 April 2012
This Is The Modern World?
Paul Weller is a few years older than me, although when I first saw and heard The Jam, in 1977, I thought he was possibly my age (14), and those suits and tough-guy lyrics were the result of a working class precocity not unlike my own. I was reading Camus and he was channeling Ray Davies. I'd become a Clash punk the year before, and wasn't buying into the Pistols' scam, believing that for the first time in my so far short life that there was something happening which had no precedent, was truly 'new' and sounded something like the constant buzz going on in my head. Or at least matched that sound with a fury and attitude which was sorely lacking among my school 'mates', family and teachers.
The Jam's sharp and angry songs were neat, their suits—I hoped—an ironic counter-punk statement, which was OK, if hat's what it was. I remember seeing them in '77 and really enjoying the gig, and realising how much more 'professional' the band were than all of the punk bands I'd been watching. But, at the same time, the Jam gig was disappointing for all that. It felt like a step backwards. The great thing about Punk was that anyone should play it, and whether you knew 1, 2, 3 or more chords you were considered as equal to any other band out there. I learned to play "California Sun" and "I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You" by copying the first Ramones single I bought, but there was no way that I could ever get near being able to play "In The City" or "This Is the Modern World".
Then there was the whole 'Mod' thing. To be honest, having grown up witnessing the original Mods and Rockers battles at the seaside town I was born in, the idea bored me. The tabloid storm that the original, wholly spontaneous rucks sparked was busy being emulated—manufactured—by Talcy Malcy McLaren around his poptastic punk band, the Pistols, and it stank. Disco had provided me with a soundtrack for my early adolescent identity-crisis, along with Glam. Mod wasn't actually 'modern', at all. Punk was—for a while anyway, until I discovered the Stooges, Count 5, Standells and Nuggets compilations.
In truth, the only brush with absolute modernity in music that I'd experienced came in 1974 when I'd been briefly obsessed with Kraftwerk. "Autobahn" sounded unlike anything that I'd ever heard, was absolutely 'new' and 'now'. They were truly 'Mod', if anything was. The recent MOMA retrospective featuring the band's music remind me of exactly how 'Mod' they were back then. In 1981 they managed to spark the hip-hop movement with "Man Machine" (check out "Planet Rock" for proof) and that recording is still being heard on contemporary pop hits — Nicki Minaj's Starship samples it, for instance.
I admit that interest in Kratfwerk lead me to a disastrous dalliance with Tangerine Dream—who were far too hippyish for me—but it also led me to Stockhausen, Ligetti and Steve Reich, for which I will ever be grateful to the Dusseldorfers. Interst in the Jam led me to the Kinks. Today, neither Weller nor Kraftwrk can remotely be considered as 'Mod' in the original sense of the term; it was of course an abbreviation of 'Modern'.
But then, what is 'Mod', these days?