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Black Sky Thinking

Manchester, So Much To Answer For. A City Accused
Austin Collings , September 3rd, 2008 16:11

Any day now a horde of parka wearing divs will pile out off various National Express coaches clutching new reissues by The Smiths, New Order and the Inspirals, on their way to Uni in Manchester. Let it fucking go already says Austin Collings

Famed Mancunian Doorway of Salford Lads Club

As both a Mancunian and a fan of New Order and The Smiths, and, to a lesser extent, the Inspiral Carpets, I’d love to write something positive about the re-issue of New Order’s back catalogue, about another The Very Best of The Smiths and Cool As – Inspiral Carpets. But as a Mancunian who’s had his fill of desperate cultural revisionism and all things born from Ian Curtis’s unsmiling mug, I think the time has come to wield The Axe a la Jack Nicholson’s dementedly frustrated everyman in The Shining.

It’s a time thing. I seem to be existing in a perpetual state of bland déjà-vu; of culture shock - in all its ordinary glory. And I know I’m not alone here when even the old appears newer than the new.

Everywhere I turn my bullshit-detector can locate a better elsewhere… The Sweeney fresher than Life on Mars; Bukowski’s hard-boiled wisdom a world away from James Frey’s castrated confessions; Cesar Romero’s alarmingly energetic Joker a far more intimidating prospect than Ledger’s lethargic menace…

This absence of historical perspective is almost conspiratorial; so much so it’s become an industry itself governed by the secret public: a profitable flip-side of the ‘no brainer’ cliché. And everyone’s on the make.

Even standout pieces of work like The Wire and Peep Show and There Will Be Blood (a savvier Hill Street Blues meets The Great American Novel; The Likely Lads for the Internet-masturbator; and Citizen Kane with a more compelling lead, respectively); even they have my mind swimming in that hard-to-forget sea of references that stains most of my vision and ears and brain. Only The Sopranos, I think, only Tony and Paulie and Chris; only that dark diamond of modern TV dared to immerse itself in the bleak sodium-glow of the unknown night; and return not with second-hand stories of other people’s success but with something altogether modern and thrilling and closer to our own – like a proper mate who could only ever exist in your own time, in your class at school, in your dinner hour at work, in your pub.

And all this before I’ve even mentioned ‘New’ Order, The Smiths and Inspiral Carpets; and oh how those names are tattooed in my head; and oh how they continue to exist like a second, spiritual family for a generation of blue-chinned blokes with 4am eyes, affected losers, and the committed pisshead, respectively.

As your well-groomed Roger Moore-like editor pointed out to me in an email recently – ‘Manchester is in danger of becoming a museum. You see all these fresher students getting of the National Express near Canal Street wearing parkas and walking like they've just shat a bowling ball. No fucking ideas for themselves. Where's the rock & roll in that?’

But we’re not just talking Manchester here. Fair enough, Manchester has yet to recover from Oasis. Like A-bombs in Adidas, the fallout from them and the likes of New Order, The Smiths and the Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses and the Carpets has been truly debilitating to a generation of lads. As empty as an empty house, it’s all windows now; and one can’t help but look in and think maybe it’s time they knocked it all down and started afresh.

When flags are being flown for the trite poetry and witless posturing of The Courteeners, it’s only right to think long and hard about what is actually ‘Good’ - in the true and simple sense of the word; and what is quite simply a smokescreen of greatness born from the Noel Gallagher school of business school (love him or hate him, he’s one hell of a businessman).
The problem is it’s never been harder to be shit. Save for cheap chicken and the hard-working Gordon Brown, everything is great nowadays; or, if not great, then genius: Girls Aloud, Glasvegas, Amy Winehouse – the female Mick Hucknall; think about it, half-decent soul voice in a unusual white body… Even charity shops are a beacon of cool.

And herein we have ‘It’: the modern malaise; the new school of moneyed revisionism – flog the old not as ‘new’ because new isn’t in; but as something ‘old’ and thus ‘good’. If enough people tell you something’s ‘great’, then it must be must it not? These shit skinny jeans and this pillock’s hat that reeks like a dead fox – they’re great aren’t they?

The more one can’t escape third-rate music in thrall to all that came before; and charity shops containing six good books amid piles of obvious tat; the more one’s own ideas have as much pulling power as a man in aftershave at a Babyshambles gig.

A whole generation of walking lists, that’s what they’ve become: mention The Stooges or Scott Walker on your mySpace page and you’ve made it.

It’s as if the whole ethos of ‘Rock & Roll’- the whole fuck-what-came-before, daringly primitive and unabashed idiocy of it all is the one thing from the past that nobody can locate: not truly anyway; that, in reality, nobody wants to find.

For like lads huddled round the damp porno mag in the six - week holidays, or girls gawking at Big Brother bodies, the real thing might just be a bit too much to handle and live with: better the surface, the page, the TV, the comfort of make-believe. Better this…

Than this…