Seeing the Ruins of Brighton

I live in Brighton, which itself is an unusual experience. Being both home to the aristocracy and their rebellious petit-bourgeois offspring it’s rather difficult to account for this non-city of a city. A friend once jokingly referred to it as a ‘town’, pointing out that unlike every great English city it lacks a cathedral. Yet there’s nothing townish about Brighton. For one, it’s too damn busy for a city of only 130,000 people, or 250,000 if you include Hove. That’s another thing: it has a second town off its side, like a resentful yuppie clinging onto their youth (away from the riff-raff). The awfully pebbly beach and its awfully overpriced bars (or do they still count as pubs?) are full on weekends and now most weekdays. Its dreadfully tacky cinema finds its opposite number in an artsy cinema, it has the Lanes – where you can buy antique swords – and the North Laines – where you can buy vegetarian shoes, several kinds of falafel and most ethnicities of food (including Cornish pasties), not to mention ‘the gay area’ of Kemptown, which exudes 1980s more than it smells like bad perfume. From extreme facial tattoos to extreme facial piercings to just flat out weirdness, Brighton is in some sense indefinable. Not as gay as you think, not as white as you think, not as yuppie as you think, but never possibly separable from all these notions.

It’s also a place where you can’t go for a drink without getting asked for money. Not just by our neighbourly charity muggers on the walk up to the station (thankfully fewer than six months ago, perhaps the colder weather got rid of them), but by the homeless and desperate. Every supermarket and nearby ATM has its own few hangers-on, and whether at one of the fancier pubs in the Lanes (where they’ll often come inside to ask) or walking to the next pub in the North Laines, chances are somebody is going to ask for a dime. Sometimes they’re rough. Sometimes they’re good looking. Some have dogs, some have far too many facial piercings to be considered properly employable. Some are in hoodies and approach you, some hang under the awning to yell at you from the darkness. You spend enough time here, you not only recognise the familiar tactics and behavioural patterns, you recognise the damn people.

To speak of poverty amid wealth is hardly a new phenomenon, but one wonders if we are truly entering a qualitatively new world. There are those who live, those who are hanging on and those who just don’t even appear to exist according to any reasonable means of production. Often their only encounter with social institutions is the long arm of the law, chiefly through some bureaucratic cap-wearing projection of state violence who takes it upon themselves to shove aside a man aside because people on the street are the oppressors of society.

If Benjamin talks about seeing ruins before they eventuate, I’m seeing Europe’s right now. What happens here and in America, where major cities such as Detroit now resemble ghost towns, soon flows over to Australia. I’m not looking forward to it.

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Music, Rock, Women

I like rock music. I really like it. I like jazz too, and I like a whole different host of things, but it’s inarguable that I really enjoy rock music. For instance, this (hopefully upcoming) show makes me giggle far too much for my own health.

The opening few seconds are revealing: the explicit connection ‘classic rock’ with testosterone. I know it’s one of those things that are mentioned in SMH or Guardian articles here or there – then to be vociferously denied by rock establishment – but isn’t it amazing just how white and male rock music is?

I know right? 

It’s hardly the first time anybody’s mentioned it, so for a white guy to come along in 2015 and mention it is well, a bit silly to say the least, but it’s one of those things that I think few people who are actually white and male even bother to discuss. ‘Yeah I don’t have many women on my mp3 player but I just don’t listen to that many female artists’ is a sentence that I’ve said unironically. It’s come to that point where I’ve really start to become uncomfortable with what it is I consume, in which bubbles I surround myself. My brother and I in going to metal concerts have always felt slightly strange about the predominance of sub-cultural presence at these events, but I think we should have paid more attention to who else are the fans of all these various musics we listen to.

Take this classic performance of one of Australia’s most famous songs and singers.

I’ll simply quote verbatim the obviously unobjective wikipedia article:

The song features three parts and some critics consider it as one of the most perfect rock n’ roll songs ever,[2] encapsulating the three basic themes of all love songs: (I) Baby it’ll be great once we’re together (Let Your Hair Hang Down), (II) Baby, it’s so great now that we’re together (Oh Evie… I’m nothing without you), (III) Baby, it’s so bad since you left me (I’m Losing You). However, the loss in this case is more tragic than the usual “boy loses girl” scenario – it describes the singer’s emotions following Evie’s death in childbirth.

The fact that Wright singing this looks like the perfect encapsulation of a 1970s Australian man (essentially white with facial hair) is superfluous in confirming who rock is for and what it is about.

There is a sense of universalism in this ‘original’ rock which is hard to deny: how can anybody deny the haunting lyrics of Pink Floyd’s Time?

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say

Save for that second last line of course.

I saw Time being played by what was a very decent covers band (the guitarist was excellent) at a very bloke-heavy craft beer pub in Horsham, a South English town with a considerably conservative bent. They did it very well, and most people there were singing or at least mouthing along to the lyrics. This is a song which naturally appeals to people: many of them age-wise probably grew up with the band themselves.

White men like music made by white men, is this so surprising? Why is this kind of music seen as so essentially universal, particularly given its reliance on technology, relative newness and incredible contingency on capitalist mode of production in terms of creation and distribution.

Of course, this is precisely what has been argued against forever: whatever qualities or attributes that white men have, they are over-represented and their notions of universalism lead to an exclusion of many other peoples’. More than that however, the cultural attachment to such institutions of music may mean surprisingly little: ponderous reflections on Time in a certain musical aesthetic may be startlingly irrelevant to a woman of colour born in the 1990s. There’s a certain level of bullshit that is pervaded by conscientious white men, of which I’ve been greatly guilty myself: ‘I fully sympathise with the struggles of being a black woman in America, but then why do girls take Beyonce as their role model, whose attachment to racial politics is at best marginal?’ Like many of these cases, it’s less the question itself – hell I still think it’s a valid question, that the memeification of Beyonce by liberal media gives her a completely free pass – but rather the subject and object of questioning. Even such language, ‘giving her a free pass’, is nonsense that I would never hold up any white male musician up to.

I think perhaps it is important to refuse the idea of musical commodities being ontologically neutral however: it is noticeable how female musicians tend to be featured mainly as singers, rappers, or at most, pianists or bassists, whereas men are more often featured as musicians, and on the whole as ‘men’, as part of a band that is bigger than the sum of its parts. But where does one go with this? Only listen to women who write their own songs, or perform with other women? It is a dangerous road to go down when we separate good women from bad.

Like most things I write here, any meaningful or substantial conclusion would render this post irrelevant: a blog is hardly for meaningful contributions to the world (so sayeth Jodi Dean, overlord of all).

Seems like I should be listening more things like this though.