The Revolution Will Not Be Televised As No Bugger Bothered To Record It For Posterity!
I was watching The Last Waltz the other night. There will have been a time when I would rather have headed for the hills than sit and watch this celebration of The Band and friends. And yet there are some lovely moments. I am thinking specifically of the dignity and grace of the performance of The Weight with the Staples; the fiery Levon-led Dixie; the haunting beauty of Emmylou and Evangeline; the way Rick and Robbie watch Dylan during Forever Young; and the closing reverie.
Much of the enduring elegance of The Last Waltz must be down to the imagination of Martin Scorsese, and the way he for example portrays the characters of Rick and Robbie as close relatives of the Mean Street hoodlums.
And I am left sitting there wondering where our Last Waltz is. Or to put it another way, I have spent the past few weeks exploring a loosely connected area of activity I have called the only possible revolution. I have collected together pioneers, explorers, and lost souls like Vic Godard, Weekend and Simon Booth, Michael Head, the Postcard collective, Robert Wyatt and the Rough Trade roster, Lydia Lunch and her twisted torch songs, Tracey Thorn and the Marine Girls and Ben Watt, and anyone else making a stand against rock orthodoxy.
I could have gone on to include él records and their playful exotic conceits (like the marvelous faux ï60s soundtracks of Marden Hill), Lawrence's Felt recordings with Creation (he was citing the Peddlers and Michael Nesmith as his favourite acts long before they were rediscovered by the arbiters of cool), and the likes of Anne Pigalle over at ZTT, and even Robert Lloyd's solo stuff in a perverse way.
Anyway, beyond a few records and the occasional word here and there, what is there to document this revolution?
Were the cameras present when Simon Booth's Working Week recorded Venceremos? I have pictures in my head of Robert Wyatt and Tracey Thorn at the microphone, eyes closed, fists clenched.
Did anyone film the Pale Fountains with Michael perched on a stool singing like a lost choir boy sharing a stage with the best haircuts in the North West?
Postcard seems particularly (and surprisingly) poorly served on the internet, but how much was preserved for posterity? Does Postcard patron Alan Horne's Punk Rock Hotel movie really exist? Does anyone have a copy left of Stephen and Aggi's Juniper Beri Beri with Horne lying on the ground with a Strawberry Switchblade and an immense Gretsch standing over him? Were any Postcard performances filmed? Will anyone see Alison Gourlay singing with the Jazzateers, lost and loving? Didn't Kitchenware's Keith Armstrong film performances at his Soul Kitchen club? So would he still have the footage of Fire Engines in evening undress? Can anyone check?
What about Robert Wyatt at Rough Trade and that whole Ladbroke Grove creative community? Surely someone has stills of the Raincoats, Essential Logic, Scritti, Viv Goldman, Adrian Sherwood, and so on? What about the Pop Group?
Was anyone there with a camera when Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt were joined onstage by Paul Weller to perform English Rose? Could the Marine Girls be seen again breaking our hearts, breaking the rules, and stirring our souls?
Lydia Lunch may have been involved in all sorts of film and literary projects over the years, but what of her own extraordinary performances with Teenage Jesus, Eight Eyed Spy, and as the Queen of Siam. What of her fabulous collaborations, which we must explore in more depth some time!
And I guess the same goes for books. The world's worst journalist David Keenan may have created his own England's Hidden Reverse, but this revolution is far more strange and seemingly secret. I have not seen Paul Morley's Words And Music, and can't wait for Simon Reynolds' Post-Punk treatise. Yet where are the activists of the only possible revolution written about?
Even the great Michael Bracewell barely touches on the theme in his briiliant pop books, England Is Mine and The Nineties. He does, however, imaginatively embrace the Television Personalities and Dexys. And I can't resist mentioning Bracewell's lovely feature on Kevin Rowland and Dexys which sat so awkwardly in the Evening Standard recently.
Anyway perhaps Bracewell's Perfect Tense novel from 2001 has more to do with the only possible revolution. Pitched somewhere between Nicholson Baker's Mezzanine, Robert Elms' In Search of The Crack, and Iris Murdoch's A Word Child, it is one of the great London novels. It deals with the theme of surviving office life, and juggling anonymity and private passions until it all comes tumbling down. Which in its way is very much in line with the only possible revolution, and turning against orthodox rock rebellion and crude riffs by creating quiet, sophisticated, subversively melodic pop and beautiful ballads which would sound more at home in a jazz lounge than a sweaty pub.
And Bracewell does all this wonderfully well, neatly overlaying themes from his pop books. So you can really imagine the hero of the Present Tense going home and putting on his old Weekend LP. But what would he read? What pop books are worth reading? Well, I understand Cherry Red are looking for pop and football related books to rescue, so if you have any suggestions for salvage projects let them know. I'm racking my brains!
Over to you!
© 2003John Carney