Losing My Cool

I struggled to stop smoking for a long time, falling in and out of the habit for years before finally quitting. Obviously I was addicted, but almost as strong as that — and my worry about dying a premature death from cancer — was the feeling that without cigarettes I’d just be some safe and boring middle-aged bloke. I know it sounds stupid, but smoking meant being a nonconformist rebel and sticking two fingers up at society with it’s smug health and fitness obsession (you can’t even smoke at a concert anymore, how rock and roll is that?) Most of all, a cigarette went with being young, drinking too much, clubbing till late, living on the edge, being cool. It was hard to let go of that, without it I might as well start wearing comfy shoes and listening to Coldplay.

We like to say that one of the best things about getting old is not actually caring about being cool anymore which is true to a certain extent, but no one wants to be un-cool, do they? The worst thing is that feeling you aren’t where it’s at anymore, the culture has moved on and replaced you with annoying young people — and young people are always annoying when you’re not one. Just to rub salt in the wound, a lot of these kids are into the same bands you were at their age so it’s like the little buggers are parasites living off your past coolness.

A while ago I was on the bus and there was some kid wearing a Clash t-shirt with their first album cover on it. I became very aware that, while he was in his cool Punk Rock shirt, I was sitting there with my reading glasses and hair greying at the temples, so to this kid I’m just some old fart with a boring life. He probably didn’t even notice me but inside I wanted to shout at him “I SAW THE CLASH BEFORE YOU WERE FUCKING BORN! I TOOK DRUGS! I USED TO BE COOL!”

Maybe I should have just lit up a fag on the bus, that would’ve shown him what a rebel I was.

As I was writing this post I realized I might as well have just posted this record and left it at that.

Download: Losing My Edge – LCD Soundsystem (mp3)

Commercial Break

This ad from 1981 is one of those rare occasions when advertising is touched with genius.

The Speed of Pop

The movie American Grafitti, an ode to teenage life in 1962, was released in 1973 only 11 years after the year it is so nostalgic about. But even though it was such a short space of time it looked like a different world and sounded like it too, the gulf between Chuck Berry and David Bowie was just enormous — and you could say roughly the same about a movie made in 1983 about music in 1972. Today the equivalent would be a movie set in 2004 that got all misty-eyed about listening to “Hey Ya!” and “Milkshake” on an iPod Mini. While I’m sure there are people with reasons to be nostalgic for that time and those records, the musical gulf between then and now doesn’t seem nearly so wide. They certainly don’t sound over a decade old, a time-span which used to be an eternity in pop music years.

So is pop music not changing as fast as it used to, or am I just a clueless and out-of-touch old fart?

The 1960s were obviously a time of rapid upheaval, but the following 20-plus years didn’t exactly stand still either, giving us (off the top of my head) Prog, Metal, Reggae, Glam, Disco, Punk, Post-Punk, Hip-Hop, Synthpop, Shoegaze, Techno, and House. Pop used to change clothes as often as Cher playing a show in Vegas but I just don’t hear that quick turnover of ideas and styles anymore.

If I’m not imagining things and there is a notable down-shifting now, it could be due to music-biz economics and the internet. Downloading and streaming has destroyed the old business model and bands make more money from concerts than records now, so they spend longer on tour and try to milk an album as much as possible before moving on to the next one.

It used to be standard for an act to put out an album every year – or even two a year in some cases — but now two years is the minimum a major artist takes between long-players, often longer. Coldplay have made six albums in 15 years, if The Beatles had put them out at that rate Rubber Soul would have been released in 1978. The lifecycle of pop has gone from being like a Mayfly — cramming a lot into a very short time — to more like an elephant. 

I loves me some Charli, Taylor, and even Miley, so I don’t have a huge beef with modern mainstream pop. But I do want pop music to be constantly zooming forward and discarding old ideas the way it used to. Maybe I should just be grateful that Coldplay have only made six albums.

Download: We Live So Fast (Extended Mix) – Heaven 17 (mp3)

Kids Today

When you get older it’s common to start thinking that modern pop music is rubbish and the younger generation are more stupid, superficial, and self-absorbed than you were at their age.

I try to avoid doing that because I know every generation thinks the ones after it likes crap music and are a sign that the world is going to hell.

But has the thought ever crossed your mind that for once, maybe, it could be true?

Download: Blank Generation – Richard Hell & The Voidoids

Back in The Day

I always get a little annoyed when I hear kids use the phrase “back in the day” when referring to the past. I’ve heard it used in so many contexts that apparently all of human history more than, say, 10 years ago — the 1980s, the 1960s, World War II, the 19th century, the Renaissance, and probably even the invention of fire — took place in some vague time called “the day” as if it’s all just one big mass of old stuff (and there’s so much of it!) More accurately, what it really means is “before I was born when movies were in black and white, had terrible special effects, and you couldn’t watch them on your phone”. I mean, OMG WTF? Right?

I know kids are supposed to be annoying, but would it kill them to at least make a stab at the decade, or even the century? Or am I just peeved that my own youth was apparently so long ago it doesn’t even merit the naming of a decade anymore, but just happened “back in the day”? Probably. Little bastards.

This record is from so far back in the day I wasn’t even born when it came out.

Download: Johnny Remember Me – John Leyton (mp3)

Hooked On Classics

I saw this young kid wearing a Dark Side of The Moon t-shirt the other day, he was probably only about 15 or 16 years old which made me sort of sad for him. Not for his poor taste in music (well, some) but that he was proclaiming his love for an album that came out 20 years before he was even born. I wanted to grab him, give him a slap, and yell “It’s 2012! You’re a teenager! Wake up!”

I know it’s stupid to be bothered by what some spotty youth listens to but I see a lot of kids wearing t-shirts that celebrate dinosaur bands like Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin (and sometimes Joy Division and The Clash), and it upsets my silly romantic notion that being young should be all about living for the now and having a riot of your own. I feel like they’re breaking some long-standing pact between the generations: they’re supposed to think our music is rubbish and vice versa. What’s worse is I often read comments on vintage YouTube clips from youngsters lamenting the fact that they hadn’t grown up in the 60s and 70s “when music was good” which I find just incredibly depressing. What a dreadful waste of your youth to go through it wishing it had happened 40 years before.

Obviously this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, I had a mate at school who was madly into Jimi Hendrix and there were nostalgic cults like Teddy Boys and Mods, but these were just niche obsessions, the past seems to cast a bigger and more influential shadow now. When I was a teenager in the 70s (you know, when music was good!) rock and roll had only been around for 20 years, but now it’s nearly 60 and has it’s own museum and an established canon of classic works that are as imposing in reputation as War and Peace and Moby Dick. The very term “Classic Rock” implies that there was some point in the past when music reached a peak of perfection, a Platonic ideal of what great rock/pop music should be like and everything since pales into comparison.

So come on kids, don’t buy in to that propaganda from the oldsters, the Golden Age of music should always be when you are 16, not when your parents were 16.

Download: Nostalgia – Buzzcocks (mp3)

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com