Reading….the verb, not the town….

I do enjoy reading, but I don’t really get to do it that often; between working, making music, my regularly aborted attempts at visual art and just trying to get on with life; I find little time or inclination. However, since I got my iPad, I’m doing a lot more reading: on the train, sitting in a cafe, in bed, etc.

I particularly like the writing of Simon Reynolds, a music uber-journalist who created the book “Rip It Up And Start Again: Post-Punk 1978-1984”. This book has become an almost annual read for me….a bible of sorts…for me. It covers a period of music which I lived through and which I had/have a deep interest in, a passion almost. I loved the music then, still do, but it’s the ideas and ethos I’m more interested in now. Ideas of disruption, genre-bending, independence and of empowerment.

In the book’s ‘sequel’, “Totally Wired: Post-Punk Interviews and Overviews”, Reynolds compiles the major interviews which were used in “Rip It Up…” and publishes them in full, along with associated articles and historical interviews. In an interview with himself, Reynolds states:

“Perhaps the best way to think of post-punk is not as a genre but as a space of possibility…”

Later in the same interview, he compares the situation that punk and post-punk arose from with that of young creative people now:

“…if punk was a destructive response to boredom, you could say that post-punk was a constructive response: it was literally about making up a whole bunch of reasons to be excited, a mesh of fevered activity and discussion that made the world seem more interesting and life seem more urgent….

…boredom is a great motivator. A vista of emptiness is something you want to fill. It was a different kind of boredom in those days to the kind you get nowadays, which I think of as this sated, distracted-to-death boredom, the problem of having too many options. We didn’t have that problem in the seventies. As a kid at that time, there were big stretches of time where the sensation of boredom was so gnawingly intense it was almost spiritual….

…Kids today living in small towns probably suffer from not having much to do, but they still have infinitely more in terms of stimulation and distraction that they can siphon into their computer or mobile phone. They can download music and get what they want instantly, legally or illegally. But during post-punk days the avenues that existed for accessing cutting-edge music were the local record store, John Peel’s radio show, a couple of TV shows that might occasionally have something left-field on, and the music press.”

This got me thinking: I work with young people from all different backgrounds, I teach and mentor would-be visual artists and some musicians as part of my job. It’s a part of the job I really enjoy. And rather than being totally ‘distracted’, ‘bored’ or whatever; there are some, as in general society, who are immensely creative and full of ideas. Technology and the ‘instant’ nature of tech and communication has led to an ability to give immediate vent to their creative impulses….and it often does exactly that, through photography, film, text and music. The main issue with this is not the ability or desire (or supposed lack of) to be creative and actually get it ‘out there’; it’s more to do with the ideal, the belief, the manifesto, if you will. This is virtually non-existent.

Reynolds is partly cultural historian, partly analyst, but also partly enthusiast; and this can lead to a “good ol’ days” view (I won’t say ‘sentimentality’ as Reynolds does manage to keep some critical distance). The boredom and frustration of the late-70s/early-80s came mainly from the austerity of the time, the political malaise which saw conservatism with both a small and a large ‘c’ take over the UK. One would hope that the current climate which partly echoes that time will have a similar effect on the young creatives of today.


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