SMASHED CATHEDRAL

1 Dec

Woodstock
I guess I’m overdoing the rock schtik but I’ve been reading from its annals this week. Rock criticism, the quality stuff like Lester Bangs. It’s not really some fan-based obsession more like an inquiry into the subterrenean history of the Right Now. The how did we get the way we are, how did I get this way. And which way from here?

Where the musicians go people follow and while that all goes on the men with their hands on the guns and the oil manoeuvre us easily as we try finding salvation in chemical oblivion Friday, Saturday nights to the android beats of techno and hip-hop – the heirs apparent to the Dionysian circus that shook the modern world somewhere and everywhere between 1963 and the election of Ronald Reagan. Afterwards bands continued to write and record and play. And well too, but by then it was an industry proper with standards and codes. What happened before was an organic thing that altered what had begun as a product in the furniture business beyond all recognition. Did we do music a disservice when we made it so all-important?

I don’t know. This is one of those bits I write where I’ve got no real idea what sentence follows, it’s that tedious consciousness stream again. Is it even worth reading? You tell me.

Reagan was elected when I was a virgin lad so this phase of history was over ‘before my time’ as it were. Nothing like it would follow, I knew enough about historical wave patterns by the time his presidency ended to understand that. But something similar occurred, the psychedelic wave that began c.1989 in the Summer of Love Ver. 2.0 and’d petered out well and truly before 9/11 woke the world up from its Millennial haze. The ’90s was an echo of the ’60s almost a contrived ‘let’s do it again’ for the people who missed out.

When Live Aid was on, Joan Baez told us that this was our Woodstock, us ‘children of the ’80s’. We watched it live on television most of us. Every tinpot bloated face on the globe appeared locally on telethon panels taking pledges for the starving children of Ethiopia who were routinely intercut with the rock god pantheon onstage in Philadelphia and London reminding us what this was all for. I can’t remember what I pledged or ended up donating if indeed I actually got ’round to it. I remember getting no sleep for 27 straight hours, VCR on stand-by to record such as Bowie (excellent) and Bob Dylan with the Stones’ guitarists (abysmal). It took me decades to find out that all the money that was collected bought food that went straight to the guys with guns who caused the famine in the first place. They just rocked right up and pinched it. We meant well. Oh well…

On the surface near the mikes lurked a double joy at such an impressive list of bands in such a good cause. Beneath the ultra-conservative ’50s style wardrobes and Risky Business hardline naked greed there was, I think, a hard kernel of white energy that longed for whatever ideals the 1960s represented to us. Live Aid revealed that momentarily before knee-jerk irony returned. But underneath all this, like the drone of a detuned bass guitar, was something altogether more desperate and unnameable. Even now there’s no word for it but everyone felt it then. And then along came the ’90s recycling the ’60s only stupider.

Back in the ’60s they had an excuse, they were the first. The first modern generation to give themselves over to the search for pleasure in the extreme corners of human sensation. Not the whole generation of course, just a significant chunk. They didn’t know what they did. But we had them and so there was no excuse for all those E’d out, pop-eyed Syd Barrett clones with their catastrophic endgames. Their self-destruction was a Romantic symbol: ours was a frivolous nonsensical waste.

I worked in the rave scene during that brief blessed moment when a new cultural form appeals widely enough to make it exciting and important but before the great unwashed come and destroy it with the same old primate venality. I helped design and display the visuals, to me an opportunity to make experimental cinema that actually paid! Working at these things gave you a healthy distance from the drugs that were by then taken over by the standard crime organizations. So did reading about Syd Barrett. You saw how silly it was. Whatever illumination that obtained from these little white pills and pieces of cardboard was followed by the inevitable gross over-indulgence and hollow eye’d indifference to fate. And whatever had been opened up closed down hurtling you blind towards the ‘grim meathook realities’ of which Hunter Thompson wrote so eloquently.

The place I worked was called The Site. Every week-end it got just a little more crowded. The chill-out room should’ve been renamed the Turkish Bathhouse Hash Crush. Up ’til that moment the vibrations of the scene had reminded me of ’60s love-is-all-you-need myths enough to have me half believing that all of it had just been the prequel to the Real Thing now. Perfect strangers were sincerely lovely to each other, it was for a while a warm little womb far removed from all the wolves and vultures. But that feeling had been leaking like helium from a balloon and this one night it could only be found skulking in the corners wearing grim there-goes-the-neighborhood scowls. I was walking back to the control desk with a coffee when some dude passed wearing all that raver gear. He said to his mate: If I don’t get drugs soon I’m bashing some cunt!

And I thought: that’s it, there it goes. That tipping point when Haight-Ashbury stops being a gentle place and starts being sordid. I quit next morning. It was over. It lasted a little over a year.

Rave

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