Saturday, November 10, 2018

Now that pop music's turning into history it's time for rock's version of the Sealed Knot

Chris Shaw does a podcast called I Am The Egg Pod in which he asks people to talk about a Beatles or Beatles-related record. I was too late for "A Hard Day's Night" because that had already been picked and so I chose "With The Beatles".

I dipped into some of the earlier interviews, which featured the likes of David Quantick and Samira Ahmed, and was frankly a little intimidated by how much people seemed to know about the records they were talking about. I wouldn't say I know a lot about "With The Beatles". However I do know a lot about how it felt to be thirteen-years-old and to get that record for Christmas in the days following the assassination of John Kennedy.

It's struck me while talking about my book "Nothing Is Real" that the Beatles were freshly placed before the public by the Anthology series in the mid-90s; because this happened to be around the time of Britpop, they seem to have emerged from that process for many people as the Godfathers of Blur. Because we can only appreciate things from the past when they appear to confirm our complacency about the present we find it easy to approve of the older, hairier, bitchier version of The Beatles sitting around at Abbey Road knocking out their white album, and we have difficulty relating to their earlier selves who sang thrilling pop songs for thirteen-year-old girls who screamed every time they shook their heads.

Chris asked me what people thought about the Beatles albums at the time they came out. I couldn't answer this properly because I think he was expecting me to describe the kind of considered responses people had in the early 90s to, say, the new U2 album. Was it a step forward or back? Was it a disappointment? In 1963, when we were in the thick of all the excitement, "With The Beatles" was just the big black thing that came between the small black things that were "She Loves You" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand". It was wonderful if you were one of the lucky ones who had it bought for you for Christmas. If you weren't it probably seemed even more wonderful. At the time I remember we just felt blessed.

I suppose it's inevitable that pop history, like the history of World War II, has to pass from direct experience to the history books and henceforth be experienced in perpetuity via Friday evenings on BBC Four. It already seems that pop music is, if anything, more appreciated in retrospect than it is at the time. Last year my son-in-law went to see the Stone Roses at Wembley Stadium. I was surprised they were playing anywhere that big. But they were. Almost thirty years after they were the hot new thing they appeared to be selling out bigger venues than ever, entertaining people who for one reason or another missed them at the time.

All this music may be appreciated more than it was at the time but it can never be felt in the same way. At the time it all happens it's too fast, too vulgar and too controversial to attract a mass audience. The mass audience comes later when everything's settled down and everything has been safely consigned to history and we can all approve of everything. Maybe that's the future of all pop music. Historical re-enactment. Maybe somebody will take a lead from America's Renaissance Fairs and make a fortune staging their own re-run of the NME Poll-Winners Concert of 1966 or the Glastonbury Festival of 1971, with actors playing the musicians, lots of places to charge your mobile and glamping facilities on site. A rock and roll version of the Sealed Knot. That's the way it all seems to be pointing.