Monday, September 04, 2006

Maximumrocknroll #273 February 2006

I began 2005 at a party in Glasgow. The party was in a bar/restaurant that's been around in one incarnation or another for many years, and has been a backbone of the music scene the whole time. I went to the party with my wife and a couple of old friends but I also ran into a bunch of people I used to be fairly close with but had lost touch with over the years. The party was crowded and a little bit boring, even though my friends' band played, but it was good to reconnect with some people I shared fun memories with. One acquaintance that happens to sing in an extremely famous band was there and he was asked about his New Years Eve in the morning paper. My wee brother thought it was impressive that even in our advanced years we were still cool enough to be at a party that was mentioned in The Sun the next day. It hadn't really felt that glamorous at the time but I don't suppose the parties that get written about in the papers probably ever do.
I thought of that particular venue because I found myself back there again in October. (You know, the trip where I broke my elbow. By the way, thanks for all the get-well-soon messages that flooded my MRR mailbox after that – NOT! And I thought you cared…) The occasion was John Peel Day, a national day of mourning the loss of the world's greatest broadcaster a year earlier, and a celebration of his legacy. BBC Radio and MTV (UK) dedicated the day to Peel, playing songs and videos associated with him all day. I saw many videos on MTV that day that I didn't know existed, videos that probably have never been aired and probably will never be aired again, except maybe next John Peel Day… CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, CAN, THE FALL, THE WEDDING PRESENT, to name just a few. It was pretty surreal to sit there and see video after video of bands you didn't realize actually even made videos. Some really low-budget stuff, but still miles better than the five videos they still show on MTV these days. It gave you an idea of what music television could actually be like if it wasn't just a twenty-four hour commercial for the most generic, commercial, soul-destroying aspects of mainstream 'culture' imaginable.
Anyway, I digress. Just about every music venue in the country was promoting a special John Peel tribute night. The one I went to featured some non-MRR approved bands, but they're bands I quite like anyway. It was especially thrilling to see MOGWAI play to less than 200 people, since they normally play stadiums and the like now I think. I'd never seen them live and probably never will again. Though I'm not a huge fan, I like their music okay, but they have this one song called Christmas Steps that just crushes. It follows the quiet-loud template of most of their stuff but for some reason it stands out for me. I first heard it on a mix CD that my cousin made for me and I'd say it's now one of my all-time favorite songs by any band. Luckily they played it that night, which is why I now no longer need to ever see them again. That particular Peel Day party was broadcast live on Radio 1, so my wee brother could sit at home and listen, and marvel that his ancient older brother is cool enough to be at a party that's on the radio. Again, it didn't feel that glamorous, especially since I had my arm in a cast and sling.
It was a bit odd to see the mainstream media of the UK embracing all things Peel for a day, especially since most of those outlets seem to spend the other 364 days of the year actively trying to suppress anything that doesn't fit the mainstream model of ambition and success. Even then, most of them missed the point by trying to define Peel in their terms – claiming that his importance stemmed from all the successful bands and artists that he 'discovered', from PINK FLOYD, TYRANNOSAURUS REX, and DAVID BOWIE to THE SEX PISTOLS, NIRVANA, and THE WHITE STRIPES. Journalists tripped over each other to prove how cool and with it they were, and betrayed their age when they let us know just exactly when they'd been turned on to their favorite band by Peel late in the night, almost without fail tuned in on a little transistor radio under the bedclothes. I'd bet none of these wankers (speaking of late-night under-the-bedclothes activities) had listened to John Peel since they'd got out of college, and they probably now think that COLDPLAY is the cutting edge of underground rock. There was no mention of the fact that Peel had told his friend and BBC Radio colleague Andy Kershaw that he felt marginalized and underappreciated at the BBC after they'd moved his show from 10pm to 11pm. The sycophantic backslapping and self-congratulation that marked John Peel Day only served to make it even more apparent that the void left by his death will never be filled.
The last day of my trip home was spent walking around Glasgow with an old friend with whom I am, thankfully, in fairly regular contact with. (Recent conversations with this friend had prompted the column on violence I submitted a couple of months ago). Our walk took in, among other things, an abandoned, derelict Charles Rennie Macintosh building hidden down an alley slap bang in the center of town, and the monument to the soldiers of the Spanish Civil War down by the river that I'd walked and ridden my bike past many times over the years but hadn't realized was there. The subject of violence came up again as we contemplated the monument. We agreed that there could be different kinds of violence, that the violence of an imperialistic crusade on foreign soil wasn't necessarily the same as a violent reaction to oppression, and this set my mind at ease a little on the questions that had been plaguing me.
My friend, a native of Glasgow, had recently moved back there after a few years away, and was trying to adjust to the changing city while at the same time trying to avoid falling into the rut of slipping back into the same patterns and routines that he was getting away from when he left. Looking at the city for a moment through his eyes emphasized the changes that had occurred since I'd been gone. I had to rethink my opinion of the place and the homesickness that is always at the back of my mind, tugging at me to return one day. It's a fact that I subconsciously deny, that the Glasgow I left twelve years ago is actually no longer there. There's still plenty of exciting stuff to discover, like ignored architectural gems down forgotten alleyways, but for how long?

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