WTM #1087: It’s Always Been 1980

wReck thiS meSS ~ Radio Patapoe 88.3
Amsterdam ~ Ethno-Illogical Psycho-Radiographies


15 March 2010 // 16.30-18.30

Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?
• Ronald Reagan, campaign speech, 1980

Your worlds are useless / Full of excuses / False confidence / Someone has used you well
• Johnny Lydon, “Memories”

photo of Wreck This Mess by Eddie Woods, NYC, 1980

Albatross > PiL [Second Edition / Island]
Memories > PiL [Second Edition / Island]
Sketches for Summer > Durutti Column [Return of the Durutti Column / Factory]
Poptones > PiL [Second Edition / Island]
My Way > Sex Pistols [The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle / EMI]
Magnificent Seven > Clash [Sandinista! / Columbia]
I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone > Sex Pistols [The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle / EMI]
Something About England > Clash [Sandinista! / Columbia]
Careering > PiL [Second Edition / Island]
Rebel Waltz > Clash [Sandinista! / Columbia]
Heart & Soul > Joy Division [Closer / Factory]
Sketches of Winter > Durutti Column [Return of the Durutti Column / Factory]
The Eternal > Joy Division [Closer / Factory]
World War > Cure [Boys Don’t Cry / Fiction]
For Belgian Friends > Durutti Column [A Factory Quartet / Factory]
The Crooked Beat > Clash [Sandinista! / Columbia]
Dub in a Matthews Lane > Augustus Pablo [Rockers Meet King Tubbys in a Fire House / Shanachie]
One More Time / Dub > Clash [Sandinista! / Columbia]
Justice Tonight / Kick it Over > > Clash [Black Market Clash / Columbia]
The Call Up > Clash [Sandinista! / Columbia]
Di Petty Black Booshwah > Linton Kwesi Johnson [Bass Culture / Mango]
Kingston Advice > Clash [Sandinista! / Columbia]
The Suit > PiL [Second Edition / Island]
Version Pardner > Clash [Sandinista! / Columbia]
Shocking Dub > > Linton Kwesi Johnson [LKJ in Dub / Mango]
Shepherds Delight > Clash [Sandinista! / Columbia]
The Suit > PiL [Second Edition / Island]

I suddenly woke up one day and said its 20, no 30, years since Sandinista and Second Edtion came out, which begs the old cliché where did the time go. First thing I noticed coming to PTP HQ is that the 16-yr-old DJs before me – do they skip school? No they’ve arranged to get out early – were NOT familiar with these 2 albums although they are familiar with a lot of stuff from earlier and since. When you look back at 1980 you realize it was a watershed year, bloodshed as well.

I picked only albums that were released in 1980 and things I was listening to because one of the confounding things about music is that sometimes what sounded great, unsurpassable back then may not sound that way now. This I think probably has to do with many variables including the zeitgiest and you in it. What you were experiencing was enhanced, commented upon and reflected by the music. 1980 was prior to really personal music [Walkman, etc.] and certainly compact formats so [OK cassettes] but in general, when you were asked to bring some records to a party you brought a bag of LPs and 12-inch singles. And once there you were expected to DJ per song or per album side. I did not mind this most of the time because it meant not having to talk, I could be at a party but not have to worry about worrying. Shyness led to DJ-ness. It also meant being able to test people’s limits. In that early 1980s period, so fraught with doom and gloom by the rise of Reagan, there were many bands that irritated people beginning with PiL. The Clash bothered people because they became too popular. Lost their shine of exclusivity. I remember nursing beers squatting in a corner with a hifi on a wobbly fake-antique table spinning the records. What irritated people was PiL. Later the first Jesus & Mary Chain, almost getting into a fight at Christine’s house for spinning that. PigBag, Pop Group, Mark Stewart & the Maffia, there were more but they have just not reentered my memory stick.

When I unpacked my records and tried to put on PiL LP I noticed that a sliver had broken off of one of my favorite things that I own. Strange this ownership and things that mean more than they should. I remember spinning great stuff at Danny’s party, you know that moment when your choice of music, the ambiance, the beer are all intertwined to create a magical moment, like a small puff of funny smoke it soon evaporates… It was a night of 99 Records stuff: Y Pants, ESG, Bush Tetras, Liquid Liquid, Congos… Ed Bahlman had impeccable taste and took chances, carrying our Nice #4, 4 flexi-disc magazine and selling loads. His enthusiasm was undone by his naivete in business – running across some mean-ass people from emerging labels like Sugarhill Gang. This stuff I still love. And at the party I remember meeting the most beautiful woman, escorted in by 2 boytoys and who held court in a certain kind of punky elegance [reminding me of Niagara] and I remember her being somehow charmed by me, my shyness, my drunken playing of interesting records and she asked me out and her boytoys I remember saying something like “Only if we can have some of him too.” I carried her phone number that she had scribbled on a scrap of paper, that Danny had handed to me for weeks and for weeks at work and wandering around I thought of how I would say what I needed to say to ask her out. You know, you rehearse it to death, worry yourself beyond death and then… You don’t do it. Only to find out later, when you see her pic in glossies, that she is a famous personage, a model with an edge… And so every time I play stuff like that [not today] I think of those grungy lively but lonely unsure low self-esteem how-do-I-write-myself-out-of-this-one period. I realize now I couldn’t write myself out of a damp paper sack holding a mildly interesting lager.

Djing has changed significantly as I note with the Beautiful Freaks, the young hippie boys are probably better off that way as the equipment has a way of undermining seamlessness, of conscientious mixes, of a set – which means you are constantly surprised by the surprising [no longer surprising] state of affairs there – if you bring only vinyl you arrive and some DJ has decided to remove them from the studio and use them for a gig somewhere. You bring only CDs and none of the players play CDRs. Or the knobs are shorting or the faders cause a lot of rumble and shorting when you slide up or down… These situations call for a kind of sturdy ad hoc make-do spirit, which can diminish the best laid plans, deflate the best intentions.

And vinyl is back in these times of shifting, wavering, uncertain formats – what is the future, not the past back into warm vinyl [vinylophiliacs, yikes] or CDs, which have always been a distrusted and debased format altho they can be handy, they can just as easily be unreliable and just not work. Back to 1980 – BCD = a time prior to CDs.

Now to the music at hand: See above – I was listening incessantly to most of the above, was working as a warehouse drudge, had no money so that any purchase was well thought out before it was made… I was going through a painful separation with my girl friend [who looked so much like Chrissie Hynde, some people did not believe me or us that she was Chrissie. And so I went through a woe-is-me period perfectly supplemented by Joy Division and “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” it’s gloom and acceptance of fate spoke to me so much now that when I go back and play certain JD tracks I notice they were played too many times and the vinyl had begun to wear out, now sounding hissy and vague and distant compared to the tracks that did not speak to me. Second Edition by PiL spoke to me the way Celine did. Hope inside hopelessness. One must experience dire, dilapidated, all-deflating hopelessness to experience a rebirth into vision, into refreshing post-hope hope. Ridiculous and hopeless were the eternal optimists who were actually denying the darker side to cruise on smooth surfaces of false emotion. Joy Division was grungy post-industrial Salinger, PiL was haiku Celine with dub while the Clash offered a glimmer of hope by channeling one’s anger into creative outrage. It was the Reagan-Thatcher era of us-vs-them, a clear demarcation of the haves keeping what they had from the have-nots. The only confusion was that many of the have nots decided that they would cast their lot for those who would take even more of their money and esteem away from them.

The Clash and PiL instantly discovered that their fan base was jealous scrum of stagnating souls – their switch to danceable beats, however radical they may have been, to the non-dancing egalitarian self-righteous punkocracy their switch to danceable beats was the equivalent of treason + heresy and their music became even more … Barbed. They weren’t the only ones traversing this wangly wobbly g-string between punk and dance but they are probably the most famous. Even their fame went inside out and was denied and ignored and debased and touted all at the same time. Ugly was beautiful and beautiful was ugly and beats had certain messages to carry in their ability to alienate and in their alienating tendencies reunited disaffected unempowered others. It was a strange language of signs we were forced to negotiate.

Although my record collection was not large it was trustworthy. I knew what I liked and why. I knew which record to put on like others would make a cocktail. I knew when I needed fortification before thrusting myself into the weekend insanity that was NY [where partying til you drop was all part of the ethos of obliteration with style and some tacked on meaning and purpose. We did not have Walkmans and Ipods and so when you went outside to engage the evening you inscribed the songs on your heart to protect and ennoble yourself in some way as if you were walking in slo-mo heroically overcoming your anonymity. I wrote about my experience of hearing “Magnificent Seven” for Brandon Labelle’s Phantom Radio Project.

What I liked about Sandinista was its precosious world music where borders do not behave and where the ethnomusicologists can’t keep track of links and roots. They were so hopeful and all embracing and political and enthusiastic and advancing by leaps and bounds. Everything was tasted, sampled, remixed into this album. One can feel about 30 major genres and still it sounds like the Clash. Even the misses here are wonderful experiments in audio travel in linking cultures in making music a lingua franca, in making revolt sound accessible, dangerous, loud, with a beat…. More so than Billy Bragg, the Clash were like an audio/sonic update of Woody Guthrie…

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