Sunday, October 24, 2004

CALMED DOWN STREET PREACHERS: There's an interesting, if hugely depressing, interview with Nicky Wire in Scotland on Sunday, which suggests that the Manics are pretty much a spent force as an intellectual unit today. Talking about the Love of Richard Nixon, Wire attempts to suggest he wasn't all that bad, you know:

"I’ve always been fascinated by him anyway because of his indiscriminate hatred of people," says Wire. "He was paranoid about everyone. It’s purely a love song. Bill Clinton presided over genocide in Rwanda far worse than anything Nixon did, and yet he can have dinner with U2 and everyone thinks he’s great. Some of the things Nixon did, like breaking down barriers with China... He’s going to be tainted forever with Watergate but he did some decent things. I suppose I just feel an empathy with paranoid megalomaniacs."

We'd nod and say that it's about time some perspective came in judging Clinton's record, but it's a little unfair to suggest that Bill "presided" over genocide in Rwanda, as if it was his idea, especially while recording a love song to the American President who carpet-bombed Cambodia because it was next door to Vietnam. It's also unlikely that the Manics of old would have thought that "having dinner with U2" was some sort of mark of acceptance from the moral world anyway.

And if we're talking about supping with a long spoon, what Welsh band visited a country and played a gig for the head of state in a nation which - according to Amnesty International - has several hundred political prisoners, has codified repression of dissent, applies the death penalty "for a large number of offences" and has prisons described - again by AI - "poor and in some cases constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." Or is there some reason why having tea with Castro isn't as bad as having dinner with Clinton, Nicky?

It's something he does address:

"But I don’t feel compromised [by shaking hands with Castro]. I was totally aware of the propaganda angle, but I don’t think we’re important enough to be used for real propaganda. And I think it did us a lot more harm than good, we were ridiculed for shaking hands with Castro. You can shake hands with Bill Clinton while Rwanda went on, but you can’t shake hands with Castro. That’s what I can never reconcile."

I'm not entirely sure Nicky could find a single person who approves of Bono's hanging out with Clinton who objected to the Manics in Havana exercise; he's also sidestepping the whole point that these things are a bi-directional shoring up - the Manics went to see Castro as much to promote themselves as to throw their weight behind the regime (in the same way Bono hangs out at the White House to catch glory for himself in much the same way). And shaking hands with a chap who's throwing people with objections to his politics into jail in the interests of selling a few more records is just totally dubious behaviour, no matter how "aware" you are of the situation.

Of course, there's a plausible reason for the flabby thinking - apparently it's a reaction to "what everyone else is doing":

"I think it’s probably down to Know Your Enemy being so criticised, so ridiculed. For all its faults it was ahead of its time, I guess, but perhaps it was a natural reaction to that. There’s just a lot of love on this album, which is very strange for me. It’s also the Manics thing of doing the opposite to everyone else. I mean, when Chris Martin of Coldplay starts talking politics you just think, ‘Fuck it, why bother?’"

So, let's get this straight - for years the Manics tried to force an agenda and make people think, struggled to get music fans to think about something further than getting drunk, and just as an - albeit fairly weak - sense of a world view starts to reintroduce itself in the entertainment industry, it's become passe? Sure, Chris Martin has barely a proper-formed thought in his head, but if we had a choice between Gallagher's empty drug boasts and Martin's poorly biroed slogans, at least the Coldplay guy has got signs of something to engage with. Wire tries to take it back, though:

"I couldn’t sit there and pretend that by doing a Fair Trade gig that the world is going to be a hugely better place. Everything I say about those people is in jest, because I know they are genuinely trying to do good, they are not doing it to sell records. But I couldn’t go and have a conversation about the philosophy of Antonio Gramsci with any of them, could I?"

... because, of course, talking about Gramsci will reconstruct society, won't it, Nicky? Wire then goes on to admit that he is an intellectual snob, and it suddenly becomes clear - whereas he used to delight in being outrageous, now he's become like one of those terrible old ladies who still use words like "sambo" and then titter and say "Oh, my dear, I'm so terrible, aren't I? You can't say things like that anymore, can you?" There used to at least be a pause between his "outrages" and the "but it was all a joke" defence; now, it's all packaged together. He's turned into a Danny LaRue; a Dick Emery. Only his material isn't quite as good as theirs.


Robin Carmody said...

Wire is merely misinterpreting Socialism in a way he has done throughout his career; rather than seeing it in the true, classical form that its originators envisaged, namely a means of abolishing social class (the frustrating thing is that he still has traces of that, cf his belief in education and the general idea of social and cultural "betterment"), he cannot resist ridiculing people who step outside the constraints of their own social class background in PRECISELY THE SAME WAY THAT HE WAS ENCOURAGED TO DO, IT'S JUST THAT THEY CAME FROM MIDDLE-CLASS BACKGROUNDS INSTEAD. How would he like it if a retired public school headmaster said the same thing to him? My own view is that anyone who criticises Chris Martin's Leftist activism is implicitly defending the former Apartheid regime in South Africa, because CM was educated at Sherborne School which was perfectly happpy to allow all-white SA school rugby teams on its playing fields during the Apartheid-inspired global boycott (as repulsively defended in The Times of 5th December 1986); what kind of Leftist criticises someone who has abandoned a Right-wing family/school/cultural background in favour of something which, however poorly-formed, is at least closer to Wire's own ostensible vision than Oasis (who he repulsively defended with a load of "my social class right or wrong" bullshit in 1996)? The answer is someone who doesn't understand that Socialism is about abolishing social class or it is about nothing, someone who is more Wilson '74 than Wilson '64. And many people I'd like to love, and who are right on many important issues, tragically fall into that category ...

Note that he also gets in an implicit dig at the critical rehabilitation of 70s prog rock. No doubt he thinks all prog bands went to the same sort of school as Genesis - and that Joe Strummer *didn't*. Things aren't that simple.

Part of me still loves the old bastard - it's an adolescent thing I still can't let go, however hard I try - but part of me is infuriated by him. And I certainly don't want to hear a "non-political" Manics album AT THIS TIME, of all times. As you say, there's a point where contrarianism loses its point; Wire has now definitively passed that point, if he hadn't already.

Anonymous said...

His twitterings are also barely a paraphrase of his interview in Word's Word Of Mouth this month. Same incoherence about being attracted to Nixon's paranoia; same lame shot at Chris Martin.

--Alan Connor

Anonymous said...

I've decided I'd rather read Hunter S. Thompson (in Roling Stone) on Nixon any day.

Every GOP administration since 1952 has let the Military-Industrial Complex loot the Treasury and plunge the nation into debt on the excuse of a wartime economic emergency. Richard Nixon comes quickly to mind, along with Ronald Reagan and his ridiculous "trickle-down" theory of U.S. economic policy.--Alan Connor

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