In which I take a break from organising a quasi-historical not-very-academic (but very exciting) conference (at Birkbeck, 15-16 May) and reflect on the ways your personal backpages as a hack begin to intersect with the public record etc etc.
A few weeks back, Marcello asked if I had any thoughts on this TPL post (about, among other things, Johnny Hates Jazz and The Wire as it was in 1986/87). Well, I did and I didn’t: I did because this era of my mentor Richard Cook’s project is very much the making of me, and I absorbed an enormous amount of his sensibility and thought a lot how to advance it best (whether or not I did is for others to judge; sadly he’s no longer with us for his perspective). But I didn’t (at least tactically, for now) because I have for most of this year been organising a conference on UK music-writing in the 60s, 70s and early 80s, trying to focus on how things had evolved from roughly 1968 (and the discussion of rock in the underground press) through to maybe 1985, when (in my judgment) Live Aid hit the inkies hard sideways, and changed their political ecology for good (Geldof’s revenge, you could call it). The serious social potential of pop began to be more and more of a topic for the tabloids and the broadsheets: the inkies began more and more to fold in into their own niche, exploring less and less. In this they were reflecting changes in the world, to be sure — but they were also amplifying and accepting these changes.
Richard’s was (to me, then) the smartest part of the counter-response to these shifts — The Wire considered as a magazine about all possible music and indeed all possible ways to write and think about music, including the free play of the most scholarly anti-philistines against pop’s and punk’s cheerful teenage school’s-out yawp (not to mention a phalanx of more studied anti-music and anti-art stances). Max Harrison alongside Val Wilmer alongside Biba Kopf alongside, well, me.*
Anyway, looking too long and hard at (meaning reassessing) all this right now means not just distracting me from a rolling reassessment of the earlier era — as I chat to the various likely participants in my conference, and recalibrate my understanding of how things were — but probably undermining my entire current provisional grasp of what I need to be grasping. So for now**, you should be boiling what I am (possibly) thinking out of here (where I outline the purpose of the conference and name the participants) or here (a Facebook page you can like and also share) (share it!) or here ( tumblr with some nice pictures and also rolling thoughts on what organising a conference entails) (grief! also joy! so far much more joy luckily… )
Here’s who’s confirmed (reverse alphabetical): Val Wilmer, Richard Williams, Mark Williams, Simon Warner, David Toop, Bob Stanley, Hazel Southwell (nee Robinson), Laura Snapes, Mark Sinker, Cynthia Rose, Penny Reel, Mark Pringle, Tony Palmer, Charles Shaar Murray, Paul Morley, Toby Litt, Esther Leslie, John (aka Jonh) Ingham, Barney Hoskyns, Jonathon Green, Beverly Glick (aka Betty Page), Paul Gilroy, Adam Gearey, Simon Frith, Nigel Fountain, Tom Ewing, Kodwo Eshun.
(Not quite confirmed but definite interest shown: Tony Stewart)
Panel topics not entirely coalesced yet but will likely include: what the undergrounds knew that the mainstream was missing; rhetorics of outsider style; the changing make-up of bohemia; handling pressures on the playpen, professional and commercial; the rock press as a species of agit-prop samizdat; and legacy and lessons today…
You’ll need to register/book here but it’s free!
*Me (that is) as in the me just today delighted to be in receipt of the intelligence that (OMG LOL) Daphne & Celeste (@Daphne_Celeste) is now following you on Twitter!
**My rule-of-thumb back in the late 80s and early 90s, on ways to ensure The Wire really actually did have the widest possible scope, was to think of it as the mini-arena in early 80s NME jostled with mid-70s MM, allowing strategic space for sensibilities like Musics and Collusion, the late 80s Village Voice (a revelation to me) and even (bcz I have never not been a bit of a goth) Zigzag.