Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Totally Wired

Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews
by Simon Reynolds
(Soft Skull Press, 2010, 464 pages)

I just finished reading Simon Reynold's latest post-punk tome, Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews. The title is taken from a song by The Fall, one of his fave bands, and is a follow-up/companion piece to his superlative/definitive post-punk chronicle, Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984.

It kind of works like Jon Savage's The England's Dreaming Tapes, which presented most of the complete interviews that were edited down for his England's Dreaming punk rock history, in that it goes back to what were the source interviews for Rip It Up and Start Again - plus some added "director's cut" edits of previously published magazine articles and essays ("John Lydon and Public Image Ltd: Two Biographies," "Joy Division: Two Movies," "Ono, Eno, Arto: Non-Musicians and the Emergence of 'Concept Rock,'" "Glam City: Poseurs, Dreamers, Heroes and Monsters, from the Bromley Contingent and Blitz to the Batcave and Leigh Bowery," as well as the LA scene chapter that was excluded from the American edition of Rip It Up and Start Again: "The Blasting Concept: Los Angeles, SST, and 'Progressive Punk'") - and presents them whole. He evens included an interview with himself ("A Final Interview: Simon Reynolds") to further explain the who, what, where, and why of his definition of postpunk and Rip It Up and Start Again.

Like Rip It Up, it's a fantastic, informative read. Reynolds is my favorite music writer. He gets it, and articulates it, in a way no one else can. Hip without being snarky. Intelligent and thought-provoking without being pedantic, elitist, or patronizing. The only chink in his critical armour to me has always been his adulation of Public Image Ltd (PiL) as the inspiration and starting point for post-punk. Sorry, I never cared much for them - and the telling ting is, I don't think John Lydon does either - he re-united for filthy lucre with the Sex Pistols - not (tellingly) PiL - and PiL garner barely a passing mention in his bio! (Guess he knew his legacy, fame, and fortune rested with the Pistols - much as he purports to detest Malcolm McLaren - not to mention the unseemly fallings-out he had with various PiL members)

While I enjoyed all the interviews collected here - Ari Up, Jah Wobble, Alan Vega, Gerard Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh, David Thomas, Tony Wilson, Bill Drummond, Mark Stewart, Dennis Bovell, Andy Gill, david Byrne, Andy Gill, James Chance, Lydia Lunch, Steve Severin, Nikki Sudden, John Peel, Alison Stratton, Green Gartside, Gina Birch, Martin Bramah, Linder Sterling, Steven Morris, Richard H. Kirk, Alan Rankine, Paul Haig, Phil Oakey, Martin Rushent, Edwyn Collins, Steven Daly, Paul Morley, Trevor Horn - my fondest connection came when Reynolds defined the pre-digital, pre-Internet world that we all lived through in the postpunk 1980s...the world of true "Boredom" (ba-dum, ba-dum), when there wasn't the massive reissue industry and availability of "everything-ever-recorded in the history of music" that there is today and that is just a few clicks (or cliques) away. It was the era of a scant few music magazines, whose rock press scribes (like Paul Morley, Greil Marcus, Lester Bangs, Nick Kent, Jon Savage) become as much stars as the musicians they were writing about.

"One thing that came to me as I did my research was how much music and the rock press in those days was a lifeline that I and oter people who lived in small towns across the UK grabbed onto. If you didn't live in one of the big metropolitan centres, you were starved of stimulation. Boredom is a great motivator. A vista of emptiness is something you want to fill. It was a different kind of boredom in those days to the kind you get nowadays, which I think of as this sated, distracted-to-death boredom, the problem of having too many options. [This condition speaks to this ADHD-afflicted blogger's soul!] We didn't have that problem in the seventies. As a kid at that time, there were big stretches of time where the sensation of boredom was so gnawingly intense it was almost spiritual. In the UK back then there were only three TV channels, and they were off for stretches during the afternoon and closed down completely around midnight. There were only a few radio stations and the time they allotted to left-field music was pretty restricted. We didn't have video rental or DVDs to buy. There were no blogs or online message boards, no YouTube or internet radio. Kids today living in small towns probably suffer from not having much to do, but they still have infinitely more in terms of stimulation and distraction that they can siphon into their computer or mobile phone. They can download and get what they want instantly, legally or illegally. But during postpunk days the avenues that existed for accessing cutting-edge music were the local record store, John Peel's radio show, a couple of TV shows that might occasionally have something left-field on, and the music press. Those were your connection points and they became enormously highly charged. It created a relationship with music of an intensity that I don't see today. Both information-wise and in terms of getting hold of the music itself, it was a scarcity economy. An economy of delay and anticipation: you had to wait for the record to arrive in your local shop; you had to wait until 10 p.m. for Peel; you had to wait for the weekly music papers to arrive in WH Smith. The day the new issues of the music press came out was the best day of the week. They were like little capsules from a world where all the excitement and all the ideas were. Lots of people would read them from cover to cover." (Simon Reynolds, "A Final Interview")

Those were the days, my friend. And I was was one of those avid readers, devouring Creem, Bomp!, Trouser Press, New Yorker Rocker, Punk, Slash - whatever was at hand.

Watch The Fall's "Totally Wired."

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