I grew from babe to child in the second half of that decade, and matured into a teenager during the colourful and spectacular nineteen-seventies. I consider this timing to be fortunate because it seemed to me then – and still does – to be a time in which the populace were not afraid to experiment. My impression is that the middle years of the twentieth century were alive with new ideas as well as the motivation to live them. Most importantly (and especially so from the perspective of today), denizens of that time seemed prepared, if the ideas they wished to live required it, to go against the accepted grain.
It is nineteen ninety-three perhaps, or maybe ninety four.
Whatever the year, it is certainly late. It is nearly one o’clock in the morning.
We are in a dark roughhouse basement room. The walls are carelessly painted in a matt black emulsion as are the wooden benches that occupy various spaces around the perimeter. However, it is far too dark to make out any of these features clearly. There is also the odd cluster of more comfortable seating – little wooden stools with upholstered seats, and maybe a low table amongst them. That is as good as it gets here.
Houses of Parliament from Westminster Bridge – Photo by Montag
Have you ever seen the once-familiar in a whole new light? Looked really hard at something (or someone) previously taken for granted, and regarded it/them completely differently?
It happened to me once at junior school. I remember staring at one of my then friends. It was strange. It was like I was doing so for the very first time. A train of thought alighted upon me: Who is this person? Why am I hanging around with him? Why is he my friend? I stopped being so chummy with the lad shortly after that. It wasn’t that he’d done anything wrong. It’s just that awakenings can do that to you.
I had a similar episode regarding the concept of broadcast news a while ago.
The creation event of twentieth century popular music – its big bang if you like – can, to my mind, be traced back to a singular event in January 1865. That moment could be characterised as a dark black explosion, the shock waves of which reverberated for the following one hundred and fifty years. Despite the myriad creative ways in which this basic story has been retold by the powerful and the political, it is, to me, a tale of slavery, of freedom and of novelty.
In this piece I’m going to ask you to suspend the accepted narratives and to think hard about the origins of what we now call pop music. Through this I hope to arrive at some conclusions about the trajectory of music – and society – in this the second decade of the twenty-first century.