(written in 2011, suffice to say things've got no better since, quite the reverse in fact)
Hey. Wake up. You fell asleep. I’ve been for a walk, down the hill, up the hill, through the entry, past the old school and home again. S’the same walk I took an hour after my dad died, trying to clear my head, finding a daze I’ve tried to stay in since, worried of what horrors lie in self-realisation. Tonight, on balance, has not been good for me. Dawn will be here soon. My friend came whilst you were out, popped in, he’s gone now. He recommended a note by way of explanation. Read it back to me.
Yeah, that’ll be fine. Keep that. Do what you want with it, y’know, afterwards. This morning, in a little while, my second life begins. I’m tired of being a critic and I wannabe reincarnated as a human being. Here it is. Hold it. Heavy aint it. Time tough, time tight, only the rich can get away with theft, and only the police can get away with murder, a thousand apologies. Did you go to a fucking pub last week, when they were clearing up glass in the street? Did you hear how British people explained things away? Their old remedies of send-in-the-troops barbarity and send-em-back repatriation? Bud bud bud bud. Green cats, cat curries, 7 to a room, stink of curry, kill their women when they’re not beating them, hate white people, mean to kill you. A thousand apologies you fucking white cunt, a thousand apologies. How close all these vintage lies are to the surface, how easily they can slip back in cos they have hardly any distance to travel from the bubbling undercurrent of the British mindset to the foreground of public discourse. Only takes a riot for all those old analyses of our propensities to re-emerge in the shitstorm of attempted explanation – before we know it we’re branded as ‘sick’, kept in the back of the public mind as the reason Britain is now ‘broken’, or even worse, Asians become proof of how immigrants can ‘make it’, emblematic examples of how the hard-working piccannini can become greedy wage-slaves just like everyone else, fit with the programme. The question always asked – why can’t black people be like them there nice Asians? A thousand apologies. I’ve seen the advert, the one where the whole script is divided line-by-line between a representative cross-section of British society, only joined together to say the brand-name at the end, ukuleles emphasising our mutual respect for each others walls and castles. I saw the Asian family in the middle who had the line ‘because they can’t be beat for price’. I felt the slight cringe. I guess we belong now. I guess I should have nothing to beef about. I guess I have to change my mind again.
If I’m allowed.
See, people don’t want to merely be ‘tolerated’ anymore than they want the compromise & cowardice implicit in the word ‘integration’. Both of those words suggest that we’re the problem when we confront racism, that only when the racial aspect of our being is successfully neutralised can we and you move on, it’s a way of thinking that supports the long-term habit in the UK of blaming hate on the hated. Selfishly, but like everyone, we want our race to be something we can celebrate, we can explore but that everyone else can shut the fuck up about. When you hear someone protest that they ‘can’t talk about race’ anymore, you can bet that what they want to say about race is critical, hateful, prescriptive for a community who’s complexity they’re denying even in their supposed straight-talking concern. Deeper than the things you expect to be denied as part of a minority (a decent wage, fair treatment, and visibility on screens and billboards and on football pitches) are the things you don’t expect – at root the denial of mental or moral complexity, the assumption that your mind can’t be changed. When the country doesn’t want you, tells you you’ve got a problem about that distaste, it means that everyday you reject and disown whatever you said yesterday, flip the acceptance or refusal of the last 24 hours in a fit of pique. A childish ability to suddenly jettison principles to make the dominant culture guilty at the twists and turns it spins me on, of course the dominant culture barely notices, but it means my mind’s a mess caught in a stubborn Möbius between megalith-like sureness and supreme self-loathing. Hey, I ain’t as smart as you white folk. You vote out of something other than fear, vote with hope you dumb fucks. Which is how we end up with a slippery cunt like Cameron in no.10, a racist clown like Johnson as Mayor. Hope you dipshits are proud.
Yes I’m angry. Yes I’m retaliating. Just admit. You started it. Heh.
I’m constantly told how much better I should feel about racism in the UK, how much has been improved, how little my kind stand out any more, how much we fit in, how ridiculous it is to ‘have a problem’ about race any more. Look around, see our undoubted growth in numbers, open my mouth, realise I’m getting too old to stomach my own bile, swallow it back, add it to the inner sludge. I’ll admit that Asians are more ‘visible’ in England’s presentations of itself – but we’re fkn idiots if we don’t realise that internally & domestically we’ll still be first port-of-call when a prevailing white mindset needs something to take the piss out of, even if the Great Shittish Public have different nemeses for their anger now. I don’t see that now I get ‘I’d rather be a paki than a turk’ chanted at me on most Saturday afternoons as progress, I don’t see that people dumping their race-hate on the more generalised loci of ‘immigrants’ or ‘asylum seekers’ as proof that the UK has a ‘natural tolerance’. One of the most appalling things to realise in recent years is that Asians have forgotten the struggles our mums and dads had, are able to feel even more British than ever before by joining in the national sport of xenophobia. Some of the most virulent race-hate I’ve heard in the past few years has come from Asians themselves, whether directed at other faiths within their own neighbourhood, or at new incomers to those neighbourhoods from Africa or Eastern Europe. The almost comical amnesia of these chuckle-heads in laying into those who’ve merely followed the same trails they did beggars belief. It’s in those African kids, and Polish kids, and Slavic kids that I detect the spark of how I felt back in the day, the commitment to self-education based on mistrust of an education system that can’t keep up with them, and a native UK culture that places nothing but distrust and envy on those ambitions of non-inferiority.
Without a doubt, Britain is doing a good job of presenting itself as a more tolerant place, is maintaining a slick sheen wherein anyone who even brings race up as an issue is being somehow horrifically dated, trading in vintage race-relations language ‘unsuited’ for modern discourse, always the spectral threat of ‘thought-police’ and correctness-gone-mad making sure that racists can feel just as confident in spewing prejudice about asylum seekers or immigrants (two terms handily without colour-suggestions, a bit like ‘non-EU immigrants’). The far right that gave me such terrors as a child has won elections, marches the streets with ever-growing strength but yeah, why worry? You pay taxes, you’re useful, safe, a grown-up, no longer running from the lynch-mob but watching it from the safety of your sofa. The desperation in the UK to ‘finally start talking freely’ about race, the perception that for a long time being ‘honest’ about immigration has been impossible, has led to the new millennium being a time unrivalled in my lifetime for the blatancy and consistency of racist talk in the press and across the media. I teach kids, and I know what an effect this has had, how much is being forgot, what old bigotries are being made gospel again. The less subtle likes of the EDL & BNP perform a useful function for Britain, as the marginal crackpots the mainstream parties can project all racism onto, whilst the mainstream can carry on engaging in precisely the kind of immigration=problem conflation that has animated every single legislative immigration act since the 60s.
Everywhere is repeated the great lie: that the people who voted BNP aren’t actually racist, only underserved by govt., a mantra popping off from most of the major parties ever since before the 2010 non-election. This notion that the Great British Public instinctively don’t have it in them to be racist when the truth is that there is endemic racism within the UK whipped up by a hysterical press and a political mainstream unwilling to confront it. Coconuts like Baroness Warsi, perpetuate that condescending attitude that oh - if you’re white and poor voting for a fascist party is an excusable response (no it fucking isn’t), actually seeming to believe her own horseshit about how her constituents are ‘concerned’ about how the govt. is ‘under-resourcing’ immigration. Whenever anyone (and everyone does) talks about “caps”, “tighter controls” and about how it’s what the Great British Public wants it’s the same ol’shit that’s been spewed out since the Smethwick result in the 64 election i.e. parties realising that race-hate and prejudice is a vote-winner and tacitly diluting/soft-soaping those racist policies accordingly. The only difference in 2011 is that it’s apparently those nasty Eastern Europeans we should be sendin’ back. This country NEEDS invasion, the flood, the swamp, the deluge just to shake us into this fucking century, to make us grow the fuck up, to break the cowardice and cravenness of the political mainstream & the way that the tyranny of ‘public opinion’ actually muddies and obfuscates any real-talk about race/immigration in this country because we’ve all got to tiptoe around the racism in England’s heart, the racism England will deny forever. Since the twin towers fell, and alongside the new crusades our brave-boys have been fighting since, that inherent prejudice has got a whole lot fucking worse for the likes of me in offices, school playgrounds, the street, and the papers.
This old son-of-immigrants finds himself perhaps more secure than ever in my hidey-hole, but increasingly aware that by ‘joining’ mainstream UK culture you’re invited to salute some utter bullshit: the search for a ‘solution’ to immigration, the entire ‘debate’ resting on the assumption that it is a ‘problem’. Peripheral parties blame the mainstream ones for not ‘facing up to it’, mainstream parties bleat amongst themselves about who is best ‘dealing’ with that problem. At all times the language and phraseology is medical, mirrors Bal Thackeray’s desire to cut out and excise immigration to make the nation well again. It’s best to remember what you should’ve always remembered – that you’ve lived in Britain all your life and perceive NO fucking ‘problem’ with immigration other than the entirely unjustified rancour and resistance from the ‘natives’. When you start investigating that rancour you’ll see NO concrete or valid arguments, merely red-top snarl and gibber, ‘quality dailies’ fear and loathing, broadsheet bleating about ‘sustainability’, the take-our-jobs/jump-the-queue/diluteour-culture bullshit I’ve heard all my life. As ever, that general distaste/repulsion with the different languages/cultures people find themselves encountering is never directly confronted or questioned, just worked around, appealed to, the ‘these terrorists want to ban Xmas’-level of discussion never risen above. It worries me as a parent, and as a teacher, but I’m also aware that the young have a vigilance, and a way of knowing when they’re being lied to, that frequently shames the older generation, including the supposedly sensitive likes of me.
A student of mine directed me towards his favourite youtube video of the moment yesterday, in fact wanted me to show it to the whole class. I quickly discovered that this massive youtube hit was called ‘Muslim Demographics’ and was a ton of ill-sourced bullshit posted by someone called friendofislam (who it turns out is an evangelical US Christian). I showed the class on the big screen, like my dad leaving the downstairs doors open so I could hear the argybargy uncensored, asked them what they thought. Yes plenty of ‘I like immigrants except the one’s who won’t learn our language . . . . ‘ - we’re now dealing with a younger generation with daft young parents & inevitably short memories about the racist history of the UK, who have fundamentally had their notions about immigration dictated/effected by nigh-on a decade of press hysteria/horseshit and a generalised notion that Islam is out to wreck us all. However there were also kids watching the video who challenged it, either from knowledge or a righteous sense of when they could spot they were being fucked with or played by someone. They did so however, almost fearfully, worried about what the majority of the class would think of them. When I, unable to zip-it, waded in and started accusing kids of being EDL fodder I got shouted down, quite rightly. That ingrained consensus about England being under threat, those deeper, no more-palatable but way more presentable prejudices about the ‘disappearance’ of Englishness are the real battle in this country, not the loonytoons fucknuttery of the EDL. There’ s plenty of understanding amongst kids, especially the latest wave of Polish and Eastern European kids, that immigration ‘control’ might be a problematic concept because it always gets tied in with the racial fears of it’s epoch – these people are now looking homeward because we’ve become such tiny-minded nimby fucks that anyone (oh - apart from the ‘most skilled’ of course) who seeks a home here has to be instantly treated with suspicion, has to doff their hat as much as they can to British ‘tradition’ and ‘civilization’ or else they’re ripe for deportation/detention, watched for what benefits they dare to take from us native taxpayers. Blacks in the 50s, Asians in the 60s, Ugandan Asians in the 70s, Kosovans & Bosnians in the 80s/90s, eastern Europeans now - I don’t see how current talk about immigration ‘control’ isn’t just as motivated by fear and hysteria as previous shitstorms. Crucially in my day to day life I don’t actually notice immigrants ‘damaging’ the supposed rose-garden that is British society at all, and I can’t be the only one who feels that mismatch between media-hysteria and the ease of those relationships as lived. Any teacher you speak to who’s had to teach Polish kids or African kids in the last few years will probably tell you that they work a fuck of a lot harder than our supposedly squeezed-out British kids and I’d suggest that it’s only when Britain stops feeling fucking sorry for itself, realises it’s not ‘entitled’ to any kind of fealty or reverence just because it has a history, that its people will start bucking those trends and smartening up as much as immigrants to the UK have to to survive.. This repel-all-borders notion that there are ‘no controls’ at the moment, and that we are in a constant crisis has passed from the front pages of the Tory-rags to something approaching a national consensus and I just don’t see its accuracy at street-level. I see racist graffiti smeared where Polish kids gather, graffiti written by Asian kids too dumb, too amnesiac, too dumbly parented to know what old-games & roles they’re stepping into. I have to button my lip when talking to English-born Asians like me whose command of English is so much poorer than their African & Eastern European peers. We’ve become as blatheredly uncaring about Englishness as the English.
In such a situation, in such a country so addicted to its own bullshit, sometimes I start thinking that only one thing will save us. Fucking. And babies. Serious.
It’s the way life is led, that will destroy as much of racism as it’s possible to destroy. We’re heading for a time in the UK where non-whites will be more diffuse and present than ever. Cunts like Starkey & Theresa May may fear that time, but there’s no legislating against love - once we’ve all spent a few decades getting along and getting it on there’ll be a ruling class of pure-white pink-necked scum running things and the rest of us underneath, who are gonna be every colour under the sun, waiting for our kids to want or seek that power, making sure those kids know that the meek ain’t gonna inherit shit and if they want power they’re gonna have to take it. We’re heading that way now, I teach younger kids, 16/17 year-olds born in the mid-90s who genuinely seem to be approaching a state in which they don’t even notice colour, whose whole lived life has been one of diversity, where race only gets mentioned when the older members of the family insists on reminding them, racial characteristics merely a series of jokes and knowing pisstakes, race only being something they’re made aware of when pulled into rituals by their parents that mark them out as belonging to a past or a homeland, whether that’s an Somalian wedding or a Pakistani funeral or an Irish wake or a Jamaican party . I’m sure I should be seeing those kids as some kind of lost cause, perhaps precisely those who need reminding of race and what it means. But, really, those kids remind me of how far, & how short, navel-gazing can get you. Everyday I realise that turning yourself inward too much, endlessly asking “who you are” (am I black am I white am I gay am I straight am I a feminist... the excuses for inertia this endless self-pity gives you) might just be a crutch, that perhaps it’s more important to realise who you are is best proven by what you do, your part in the struggle and everything else. To that extent, I have no ‘problem’ with white folk any more, I married one, and we made lovely white & brown babies. I only have a real fkn problem with you whether you’re 16 or 96 if you mindlessly serve up the shit you’ve been taught, if you think people who come here should ‘respect’ the flag, learn the language, kowtow and doff their cap to you just cos you were ‘lucky’ enough to be born here. The language is still what I most love about England. A living model of all we’ve shared, and how Englishness, once, meant precisely an openness to the world, a world that encountered not just hatred from British people, but curiosity and a willingness to learn that undercut the more institutionalised chauvinism.
We’ve shared a lot my friend, for all the different tangents things sent us on, for all the self-inflicted & imposed difference of vantage points, we should both hopefully be able to see this glorious dunderheaded genius country we love for what it is. My England was not your England, although we shared its streets, a laugh, a smoke, a drink; you’ve been my best friend. But right now, stretched out under the same orange skies as you, watching night get its brightness and contrast pumped back into dawn’s undimming by a remote god’s remote control, we both must see that this is our England now - to be fought for, to be defended against itself. It’s an England holding a torch for a Britannic imperial past built on exploitation, slavery, colonialism, indenture and immigration. It’s an England perhaps only just waking up to how ideas rather than economics are what makes racism real these days, how racist idea and racist act are so difficult to delineate in this intermediary state we’re in between flesh’n’bone and fibre-optic. What we’re seeing in 2011 repeatedly from press and politicians is an attempt to slap on, impose from above a sense of British values on the nation, almost entirely cosmetic, and yet fanning embers that glow with shame and fear and division and street-level nastiness. In 2011 my Marathi-song reveries are imbued with a yearning, a desire for escape I might’ve thought would’ve lifted by the time I was 40. Didn’t work out that way. Need to hide now more than ever. Easier to dance alone than pretend you belong. Both are bad habits.
The popular hatred of asylum seekers is guided by the new Islamophobia that is the theoretical & rhetorical arm of racism in 2011, the rationale that justifies what’s currently seething on our streets, and we can’t allow the battle against those ideas to undermine or over-intellectualise that concrete daily struggle. Any immigrant - 2nd-gen or otherwise - has to realise that, increasingly, the brutishness that is Britishness isn’t held together by anything coherent, but more stitched up by fear of an enemy within, whether that fear is found in the sophistry of the liberal middle-classes or the red-top tactics of the tabloids and the EDL. Britain, like so much of old Europe, lusts for the brands and ravishments of globalisation but can’t stomach seeing the new-folk it brings (and really can’t stand it when those bar-coded happiness-objects get stole by those mongrel hordes, without having the dignity to be ‘declared’ like MPs expenses were). Politically, racism is still useful to every party as a way of explaining hardship, promising redemption through toughness. Of course, Asians - Marathi, Punjabi, Sikh, or Gujarati - are as guilty as anyone else in accepting the current racialization of religion, perpetuating it in the temple and the gurdwara and the street. We’re not talking about easily search-lit fascists any more: the classless suffusion of Islamophobia from the graffiti on the walls to talk-radio chat to youtube comments sections to Hindu Sikh pamphleteering to the prime-ministers speeches shows how the politics of fear is currently winning the hearts and minds of all classes in this country, whether it’s bourgeois fear of the immolation of a spurious national culture of ‘tolerance’, or alleged working-class fear of aliens thieving jobs, homes, shops and their kids futures.
At work, seeing Coventry’s ever-dizzying new waves of new people come and go, I see reasons to smile, reasons to scowl. Without a doubt the kind of isolation that turned me out rarely exists any more. But in my lifetime, in terms of how acceptable on a street-level racist language and action is, shit’s not got better, not progressed. There is no moving on. Shit’s got WORSE as institutions find better ways to hide their inveterate prejudice, as individuals turn the mere suggestion that they might have to moderate their language and behaviour into an angry retaliatory rejection of political care that liberates the inner bigot, more free than s/he’s ever been to walk this sceptred isle smearing their racist shit on the ever-growing walls between us. It’s down to us to dismantle and destroy the bullshit being built in the name of Britishness, whether it’s in black and white on a newspaper page or policy draft, or between black and white people on the street, on the march, or on the rampage. The more I listen to the music of my parents youth, the less I feel like getting trapped in my past, the more I feel like taking a leaf from their courage and clarity of purpose. In 2011 the politics of identity cannot trap us inside ourselves when there are battles out the front door, when the apparatus of the state is becoming so informed by whom the fuck THEY think WE are. The word shouted at me 10 years ago was bomber, and until a few months ago Osama was quite a common one too. To the English idiot, any Asian could be a Muslim, every Muslim is a fundamentalist, and anyone wearing a headscarf or a beard a malefactor within the gates.
It’s not art’s duty to combat that idiocy. But great Asian art does so all the time. Crucially, Indian music at its best reminds me that I had music before I had words or categories for it: at its best, it suggests to me that it’s time I shut the fuck up about music and spend a few years just listening, care less about having the final word than quietly exploring those moments for which there aren’t words, let those folk who mistake music for the accumulation of taste have their lists and lineages and things You Must Hear Before You Die whilst I get busy finding out what and HOW I must hear before I can start living again. I have no idea what this new music will sound like, or how it will unfold, but I'm absolutely convinced that a look east in a spirit of innocence and discovery is essential, an admission that our present is a prison, that a while spent absorbing and adapting could give us an open future preferable to an eternity of knowing and nailing down the Western models we’ve so thoroughly exhausted. We have to relax our notions of music, just as we must relax our notions of nationality. Before we surrender to brand-Britannia, everyone in the fortress should be wary of how our new god the market tries to erase history, peddles false pasts, confines what can be said: in the past 10 years white English pop should feel fucking ashamed of its silence, the way it’s allowed the creeping fear and loathing in contemporary public discourse on race to simply sail into the mainstream with nary a whisper against, no counter-statement bar an endlessly bleated insistence that hey, race doesn't matter, that the ‘universality’ of songs about relationship and romance is enough of a response. Your general subject, love, is MINIMAL motherfuckers, and isn’t arming anyone - the maximum ambition of British pop at the moment is to be a DISTRACTION from what the fuck is really going on. Radios 1,2 & 6, The NME & everyone else in the music-press, should be scraping their skin off in abject fucking guilt and shame about this. You silent, dumb, wretched treacherous fucks.
I learned to write about music in a 30 floor building filled with magazine-offices, one of about 4 to 5 people who were black/Asian who weren’t pushing a tea-trolley about. I don’t think those ratios have changed much since. The same old story, the same old white-domination and exploitation, Jessie J sweeping the boards at the MOBOs, don’t fucking tell me ANYfknthing’s been sorted. The pop industry is racist because from top to bottom it pussyfoots around the racist 'taste' of it's mainstream audience - and to a huge extent that’s the entire history of pop in a nutshell. The pop industry is racist because pop is founded in a racist country, the US - rock & roll was the process whereby the stink of slavery got forgot by some, driven home harder to others, sometimes seemingly/magically absconded but never really left, unspoken now but still the template of the entertainment power-structure we all suckle from. Rock & roll’s initial pleasure lay precisely in its essentially failed cultural tourism, white rednecks hampered in their attempts to play black music, vacillating between self-realisation and denial. And in that failure, that furnace of history... such joy and greatness, sure, but don’t forget the hierarchy, don’t forget the segregation, the assumed superiority, the backdrop, the racial COLLISION at the heart of rock & roll’s birth pangs, and the unmannered, brutal way that collision unpicked itself, the enduring way western pop is still pretending that hostilities are at a cessation, that it doesn’t still have some seriously twisted issues with people from ex-empire, or new accession countries, even if it’s lovin’ and theiving and reissuing what they produce. You only have to look at the way reggae musicians have been fucked over and forgotten by precisely the reissue market that lionises their work to realise that just because fanboys are involved, just because the rape of this music is being conducted by people with blogs who call themselves ‘fans first and foremost’ doesn’t mean the same old games of imperialist pillage aren’t being enacted, even if it’s not big corporations doing it but some spod sticking mediafire links into a wordpress engine. Today’s fucknutted new-age music futurologists, confident that when music becomes a mere utility that flows like water all these old injustices will somehow be erased, are sticking their heads in their own manure, doolaley on their own fermented suppurations: don’t expect the new interactive-Media empires and multinational entertainment corporations to end the same old tale of black innovation and white exploitation. Why should they? It’s what profited the traditional music industry they’re strip-mining into obsolescence, the old structures they’re gonna step into garbed in hipper, more ‘fan-friendly’ clothes. The gap-year pastiche playfulness with the bloody roots of pop now being enacted by the middle-class currently dominating UK music (artists, industry & press) serves to render all history equally neutered, recast in a world where ‘only the song’ or ‘only the passion’ matters. Fuck that. In the beginning of pop was that n-word I can’t say (a word I still find offensive, especially when jokingly quoted by non-African Americans) and we’re all here as a result. 60 years on since the Empire, since the birth of pop, the current instant-availability of all music forces some questions on all of us. And sometimes the answers can come from the most unlikely sources, for me from a bundle of tapes in an attic, and a memory of magic I still can’t explain.
We’re slowly coming to terms with the fact that music’s history is longer than that of the recording industry, that we’re all back in a world where musicians travel, throw their cap down, hope for the best. The Marathi music I’ve been listening to and loving my whole life came to my ears via the magic of recording- was only accessible to this distant whelp through the technology bought to my parents’ homeland (India) by the putsch of MY homeland (Britain). But what this music proves is that there’s something older than empires - something inherent and intrinsic to the way music is made and used in the East - that might just be the only way forward for western musicians, the only way out of these smart-arsed, burnt-out ruins we’re in. Before the industry can con us that merely with a little more of our re-financing they can give us gold again, let’s step back, lets realise with the old music of the West we have to remember what internal patterns of conquest and exploitation were going on within our borders - we’re fucking chumps if we just sup up the endless classic-version of pop’s past without tasting the brackish backdrop, smelling the charnel-house smoke, realising who was gaining and who losing in this evil deal. The history of Western pop is the history of racism on an industrial and cultural scale. Now the entire history of recorded-sound is a click away, we need to be more careful than ever to notice who and what is getting played when the needle drops or the laser lingers or the file gets play listed, what deeper part of history is getting forgot in our agility over its wreckage. And if that relationship at pop’s heart, the conversation and confrontation between black Africa and white America is feeling played out, does pop music even exist any more on that ground or is it confined and imprisoned, paralysed by it’s refusal to see the blinkered mess it’s in, the backstory we can never read again because the future-now is all that is foregrounded, the possibilities we can’t explore because the dead-end of pop-historical lies clamp us into old modes of habitual rapacity. Pop is a racial wound unhealed, and I’m in no mood to make light, forget, and pretend it ain’t so. Pop, for all its pleasures, done fucked me up and I’ve squeezed it dry and I want out. I have no sunny reminiscence, no self-pity stronger than my self-loathing, no amusing Anglo-Indian mutual-misunderstandings that could stretch to a half-hour of comedy, no community I grew from except for a secret society keeping something Vedic alive, something in Sanskrit, dying tongues and mantras only my kind could say or understand, no-one to thank bar my parents, in love, who made me a home, once they’d changed their names for ease of pronunciation, once they’re realised how resistance isn’t a single act but a lifelong act of being.
Caught by the old ghosts, dimly guinea-pigging the future I, like you, am one of the fans that won. We won. We won what exactly? The right to find our listening coasting on round the same atrophied corners again and again, the east only looked at once it starts thieving from us, once it has the post-colonial confidence to remind us of things we know. The right to explore a strictly filtered pop universe that blinds us to the musical multi-verses that we might swim in were we to drop the shoulder, admit ignorance, stop look and listen rather than keep closing our eyes for the old rushes of our pasts, hear instead pasts we can’t access directly via our own, other ways of being music makers and listeners. In the writers block of 2010 it was an admission of defeat that gave liberation, a defeat with a hope that through naïve and innocent exploration of things like the classical and cinematic back-roads I’ve outlined above, that we might be able to hear rather than process again. And thus find a way to genuinely free music from fear, to let it touch again the natural ease and innocent movement of our day-to-day relationships with each other. Our chance to enact the vanishing of the racist music industry from the music we choose to listen to offers that opportunity, as does our vigilance at rejecting those interpretations of music that seek to force it to sing for those racists and bigots always on the look out for music they think can reaffirm their messages of hate and division. The destruction of the music industry, the death of criticism offers us the chance to dig the past present and future in an honest, open way, discover that the only way out of dead-end-now is not to lower our expectations of music but to change them, realise that finding a music that we can live with might be more important that finding something that makes our jaws drop or our pants drop or our friends admire us more. Ditch the hyperbolic response we’re conditioned to expect/expectorate in favour of a more subtle invasion and revolution of our everyday. Realise that a commitment to music’s future means we’re gonna have to really apprehend all aspects of music’s history, realise that the history of the record-industry is one that spans roughly about 2 human lifespans and that’s all, stop thinking we have so little time and too much to hear. Start thinking about how we hear, and how we use that time.
I haven’t really ever calmed down to the point of being able to do that, to the point, perhaps of feeling the same tranquillity and wholeness that my parents felt when hearing these songs. They felt connected, returned, when they heard these songs, when I heard them they merely added to the powerful disconnect I felt, the sense that what I had to live up to was too enormous for me to comprehend. Without my parents ease and grace with their birthrights, their non-doctrinal passing on to me of what they could, I might’ve rejected it, or worse, taken it on in an entirely dogmatic way that would end in my refusal and resistance of it. Parenthood makes you think about your parents, and I have grown to realise that there’s a lot I should be thankful for. Who I am, who I was born as, has brought me strife, from my skin inwards but my own self-sanctimony is part of it as well, and that can’t be blamed on anyone but myself and the music and books and movies I’ve indulgently been drowning myself in for so long, all that art that so encourages that self-rhapsodizing delight in your own melancholy. As you grow older you realise that the open-ears you have to have as a critic, have also let in a lot that’s angered you, that’s maybe got you addicted to your own anger in a way not helpful, in a way that might have stopped you growing up. You also, as you grow, realise that there’s plenty of people you’ve put on the ‘other side’, who have way way more problems than you, problems perhaps even more intractable than the colour of their skin. People without families. People whose families are so fucked up they offer no refuge. Just cos you feel your problems were unfairly inflicted upon you, doesn’t mean rage and pain and agony can’t hurt just as much or more when not inflicted by a race but inflicted by a careless mother, or an errant father, or a bastard of a brother. We’ve all got shit to get over, true liberation I think comes from realising you’ll never get over anything, never ‘deal’ with bereavement and anger and loss, and never deal with the racism of the UK you feel has blighted you into the weird corner you’re in now, any more than you can wipe out the UK’s history. History isn’t an excuse for feeling sorry for yourself or any reason to stop struggling; it always provides vivid contradiction to that exhausted, sulky inertia. Just because the million-year old mystery that is music is finally snapping itself out of a 150 year old daydream wherein it was bar-coded and blown-up, and everyone in any way tangentially connected to that biz is bricking themselves, doesn’t mean it can’t survive, return to another state again, or a new state of an old disorder. I think two things will make this happen. People talking. And music made with way more humility and deeper ambitions than simply visibility or self-idealisation. Creativity not just in what we can make but how we listen to others. Realising that us ‘minorities’ have our own history of prejudices to battle. Realising that to be an adult is ultimately to shed those lies that shored up your adulthood, free swim again in some doubt, wonder, and openness again. Soon you’ll see. I’m finally growing up. Trying to anyway. Trying to find a new way to be an adolescent. A new way to maybe stop looking down at my feet and start facing up to the path ahead.
I suggest it to myself as a critic, because being a pop critic is never about pure reportage, it’s about also knowing ways you think music should work, should look, should sound and presenting those ideas stylishly. But this music, and other music from places pop isn’t looking (see appendix) doesn’t give you that freedom, that chance for you to put your ego between you and it. It demands that you listen and find a new way of responding, perhaps a way that isn’t even verbal or physical but more intimate than that, more linked in with the way you live your life, the way you find a live worth living. It's music that points to no future I can delineate before it occurs, and that’s perhaps the most exciting thing about it, that it insists music is not made by auteurs or stars or artists but by people, places, and systems. That to me has way more inherent possibilities for our future as musicians and listeners than simply trying to be the next important band, the next important star, the next chapter in a story who’s premise is racist, who’s body is essentially tragic, who’s conclusion is an endless forgetting. With your tastes growing sour from the rich plenitude on permanent offer from your screen and your home, this might be a good thing, with the perma-collapse of the industry and the underground’s endless attempts to replicate the same structures in miniature this might be a good thing, music you can’t possess that possesses you, music that goes further than mere possession. A playlist stranded in time that can never grow, a playlist that could be endless but that more often shrinks down to a single song that matters today, this morning, tonight, songs you have to replay (anathema though that is to these crammed busy-learning-nothing times) because they reach further in to exert a quieter, more meditative hold on you. I suggest it to myself as a way to make listening a surprising act again. Pass me the gun. It doesn’t kill people, only critics, and when I pull the trigger I’ll be free to be a person. To hear without having to make my own noise. I’d say ‘person again’ but I’ve never been a person.
I can’t wait to see what it’s like."
I suggest it to you because I love you. Because you’re my friend, and that’s why you came here. Soon the critic dies, but before then a handshake, a farewell. Because we’re living proof that growing up never was about finding out who you are. Just about making sure who you aren’t, who you’re not gonna stand alongside, who you’re going to share your impure bastard-past and fucked-up future with. Sorry to have kept you so long. Let our eyes meet on the nearest star through the silhouetted branches. At the start of a new day of Eastern Spring. The summer soon come. How curious that this ring of steel on my temple somehow feels less real than it did in my daydreams. Despite our differences, because of our differences, for us both it’s about survival now. And whim.
Vultus oriens, Ecce Homo Sacer, Rodus Dactlyus Aurora I don’t have long so listen now, before your house wakes and time starts stealing your future again an ancient song for a new dawn. Hear the sun?
Look away. No one to blame. A whim.
Hear the noise it makes?
Feel it in your heart.