Saturday, April 13, 2013

Stand Down Margaret

Between the years 1979 and 1982 I absorbed every word of every issue of the NME. In those days the NME was not just about music. It introduced me to the films I needed to know about (but at that point in my life would have no hope of ever seeing), the writers who would mean the most to me for a very long time (Amis, McEwan). One other thing I absorbed from its pages was a kind of long-distance hatred of Margaret Thatcher. "Thatcher" was more of a name and a concept to me than a flesh and blood human being (although she did appear with some regularity on the ABC News), but I was able to grasp what she stood for and I had some sympathy for the victims of her "reforms", at least as they were conveyed in the pages of Britain's premier music weekly. (I also came to understand, somehow, through those same printed pages that it was best pronounced "Fatcha".) In fact, I think it is probably fair to say that my political belief structure was framed more by my vicarious involvement in the anti-Thatcher campaign waged by the NME than by anything that was happening in my own country. There is probably something fundamentally wrong with that, now that I think of it. But what can you do?

Much has been written over the last few days of Thatcher's impact on the UK music scene of the time. There's not much more to say, really. If you followed it at the time, you already know. If you didn't, it's not really going to mean that much to you in this day and age. I'm not, and never have been, a fan of overly political songs and/or "statements", but I also don't think Thatcher's influence was limited to knee-jerk reactions or musical middle-finger gestures. Put it this way: I don't think the fact that an enormous (new) wave of exciting, original music came out of Britain during the Thatcher years, particularly the early years, was mere coincidence.

But that's a university thesis for someone else to write. For now, here are a couple of songs that took a slightly different tack: neither is overtly "political", but in turning her voice, and her words, into part of the fabric of the song they found a way to let the Iron Lady speak for herself, and for all time. (And it don't 'alf set yer teeth on edge, innit?)

"No Alternative (But To Fight)", by Dub Syndicate featuring Doctor Pablo:

"Maggie's Last Party", by V.I.M.:

I particularly like this last one, as it has a timeless absurdist streak to it that would have appealed to, for example, the Bonzo Dog Band back in the pre-punk era, or even the Dada collagists (like I would know). It also reminds me of this fine piece of, um, "art" that fell out of the pages of RAW Magazine, which utilises, in a not sympathetic but also not polemical way, the spoken words of her old friend Ron: