Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Long Goodbye

It was in 1995 that I first heard Wonderwall by Oasis. It was a Rock and Roll road to Damascus moment. I grew up with English pop music, despite growing up 7,000 miles from Albion. My sisters owned (and I inherited) records by New Order, Madness, Depeche Mode, the Smiths. However, as much as I loved those bands, and many others, they always inhabited a place of latent nostalgia and disconnection; what pop music could be, once was, somewhere far away.

Wonderwall was now. Britpop was now. My friend Ryan and I mined the record stores for all the latest imports. Pulp, Blur, Elastica, Suede. The new crop of British bands traded on their quintessential “Englishness,” sometimes with self-conscious derision, often with unabashed cheek. I’m not sure what attracted me to Britpop. Probably no single thing, but I always felt as if American music at the time lacked humor, wit and irony. Nirvana, and grunge generally, was far too solipsistic in its dour lamenting. Britpop exploded with a compelling alchemy of optimism and self-parody, and opened up avenues for the exploration of sexuality, class, and the possibilities of the coming millennium.

There were reasons to be optimistic. The guy in the White House played the sax, and this thing called the internet promised to connect everyone in the great global village. Rave culture was emerging and promised love and spirituality for any who could hitch out to the desert and drop ecstasy. And for the first time in my life, I found a politician to believe in.

Tony Blair was young, dynamic, and seemed to embody the enthusiasm and hope that accelerated “Cool Britannia” into the global mainstream. I knew fuck all about British politics, but who cares? Blair made it a point to bring his Fender to Number 10, and even invited Noel Gallagher to Downing Street for champagne. A strange feeling of excitement and confrontation surrounded the whole thing. Maybe there was nothing left to rebel against, maybe the world was moving in the right direction, and maybe England was at the forefront.

In 1998, Pulp released This is Hardcore. Something had changed. things got darker. I had become immersed in drum and bass, as well as the Bristol sound, Tricky, Massive Attack. As the world moved closer to the millennium, the optimism started to wane. Oasis declared victory in the battle of English rock supremacy, and the lads had triumphed. The music of the Rave culture both in the States and the UK increasingly reflected the darker side of heavy drug use and ill directed liberation. This is Hardcore spoke of regrets, of pain and the attempt to heal while simultaneously facing the possibility of “growing up.” Twilight had arrived. The reign of Cool Britannia passed with a whimper.

America’s first great act of the 21st century was to elect George W. Bush as President. It was clear to me even then, that the dark days were upon us. Of course, I held out some hope - as misguided and unfounded as it may be - in Tony Blair. Britpop had passed into the annals of pop history, but Blair and New Labour remained.

The deathblow came in 2003, when the United States attacked and occupied Iraq, with the Prime Minister standing shoulder to shoulder with our chicken hawk President. I was definitely upset by my country’s decision to go to war, but I also harbored a strangely particular feeling of betrayal and disappointment. Blair? Really? How did this come to pass?

Its seven years on, and today Gordon Brown has resigned the premiership, effectively ending the era of New Labour. Damon Albarn finally crashed America, albeit as a cartoon character, and I can’t imagine David Cameron inviting him to cocktails at Number 10. Britpop occupies that place of nostalgia and disconnection that reminds me of the good old days, and I am still contemplating “growing up.”

I wonder if Nick Clegg ever played the guitar during his University days?

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