1980s >> 1986 >> no-980-april-1986

Observations: Pop goes Norman

The British Record industry Awards (BBC 1, 10 February) consisted of the usual vacuous ego-tripping and facetious speeches from such useful members of society as the pop group Tears for Fears. The recipients of the awards were the same kind of safe, tedious performers as last year, and the year before, and so on. Phil Collins, the Eurythmics, Huey Lewis and the News, Bruce Springsteen — the list of commercially successful and artistically irrelevant “stars” is endless. Of course, there was the patronising “special award” to Bob Geldof and Live Aid but in general these awards showed that Nothing Had Changed. (Although, in the spirit of tokenism for which the BBC is famous, we even had a Best Classical Recording award.)


However, this award ceremony was special, because the guest of honour was none other than our old friend Norman Tebbit. The emptiness of the speech he was to make was presaged by Noel Edmonds’ blatant appeal to naked emotion when he introduced Tebbit as “a man who has recently returned to public life after a long spell in hospital” — or words to that effect: Tebbit began by saying that he didn’t know much about pop music (neither does Noel Edmonds, so he was in good company) and then sallied forth into a series of facts and figures showing that pop music was an extremely high-earning export (and therefore ideologically sound as far as Norm was concerned). He praised its “competitiveness” and the fact that it gives pleasure to so many people and went on to praise Live Aid for “helping people less fortunate than ourselves”. An analysis of why they are “less fortunate” was too much to hope for, but the hypocrisy of first praising competition and then shedding crocodile tears for the inevitable results of the competitive system was blatant even for Tebbit.


But the awards only served to confirm what Tebbit said — those who are most easily marketable take the awards. Of course, in this twisted society it makes more sense to waste time and effort marketing the garbled vocals of Bruce Springsteen than to ensure the free distribution of resources which would ensure that disasters like the Ethiopian famine can never be repeated.


Socialism will be a world wide society of free access, in which everyone’s needs are met. Then there will be no need for faded pop stars to organise fund-raising concerts; no need for hypocritical politicians to congratulate them for doing so and no need for ceremonies in which the musically illiterate are presented with awards for selling more records than their equally illiterate competitors. Pop music will no longer be a commodity to be bought and sold — it will simply not matter whether or not a record is Number One. Maybe music will then give real pleasure rather than a temporary respite from the misery of life under capitalism.


God spot
“Gawd”, you mutter, as our Brian, busily buttering up his latest Establishment worthy, rolls over invitingly to have his belly scratched. “What about some genuinely aggressive questioning for a change?” But Scargill’s out in the cold these days; Brenda Dean’s dangerously popular, and Hughie (“terrible twin”) Scanlon s sleeping it off in the Lords alongside Joe (Lord) Gormley. We’ll just have to wait until there’s a nice juicy striking bus-driver for him to sink his teeth into.


But what’s this? Thought for the Day. Aarrgh! Here it comes again! You’ll know the sort of thing. Some vicar, attired in the gear of an archangel, arrives at the studio clutching a couple of frying-pans, a brace of walking-sticks. and a chalice of font-water. Like as not he’ll be sporting six yards of striped woollen scarf (run up, hell confide unctuously. in celebration of advent) and a crash-helmet. In true evangelical style he’s off to Killamey to skid down the Paps while singing the Greater Doxology to the tune of the well-known popular ditty, My Old Man’s A Dustman.


“Heavens”, observes Master Redhead. “Precisely”, murmurs our impassioned divine. You haven’t even a free hand to turn the damn thing off as you mop the blood from your lacerated face, or as you scrape the porridge from the kitchen floor. You may remind yourself that, after all, it’s only three minutes. But then, it’s three minutes every morning. There you are. struggling to interpret the customary BBC Newspeak, fuming, perhaps, at yet another gratuitous assault on yet another group of disaffected trade unionists when — Wham! — you’re suffocating in yet another nebulous cloud of sanctimonious codswallop.
They’ve mugged you again. (This time it’s a holy cook who manages to punctuate his pietistic diatribe with entirely disgusting recipes for goatsmeat stew.) But they won’t catch you next time — will they?


The great and the good

“I have built many roads and sewers in my time”
(Employment Secretary. Lord Young, on BBC Radio 4. 20 February)

My, my! How about that, then? Of course, Lord Young is not exactly unique in his truly prodigious endeavours, is he? Take the Great Wall of China. You may have heard a broadcasting hack assert (Radio 2, 26 February) that this mighty rampart — all 1500 miles of it — was built by one Shih Hwang-ti. the first of the “universal emperors’. Swiftly on to 5th century Athens BC. Phidias builds the Parthenon. Admittedly, he enjoyed a little help from Ictinus and Callicrates, but it was a brave effort for all that. North-Westward to Rome and the Colosseum. The Emperor Vespasian rolled his sleeves up for this one. Unfortunately he was “summoned by the Gods” before he could complete it — overwork, no doubt — and his successor. Titus, to the cheers of his admiring people, finished the job — all on his own.


But what about the home scene? There have been many instances of selfless hard work and heroic devotion to duty. One in particular springs to mind: the example of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Brunei built anything and everything bridges, railways, ships, canals . . . One very fine example of his handiwork is his tunnel at Box. on the old Great Western line from London to Bristol. Imagine, if you will, all those spotless navvies and their wenches, sitting round their roaring fires, tankards of foaming porter clutched in their soft white hands, howling encouragement to Isambard as, shovel in one grimy fist, pick in the other, he hacks his way through miles of rock and clay. A heartening sight indeed!
Or — and here you rub your eyes — can it be possible that the nearest Lord Young of Graffham ever got to building sewers was when he presented his aristocratic backside to them?