Friday, October 19, 2007

Punk as fuck!

It can be a thoroughly grim affair when punk legends degenerate into dreadful old has-beens. Though it’s an appalling cliché to say it, when they die on stage in front of you, a part of you dies with them. I remember having this experience seeing Johnny Thunders as a smacked out old loser, and his actual physical death a year or so later came as no surprise. More recently, and even more painful for me was the experience of witnessing one of the heroes of my youth Jello Biafra at a poetry festival here in Olomouc a few years back. Not only was he shit, he was also clearly a loathsome prima donna. He refused to have a translator, which naturally meant that a large section of the audience hadn’t a clue what he was ranting about, not that they missed out on anything. In addition he refused, at a poetry festival, to perform any poetry or music. Instead he spewed out an incoherent fulmination of bollocks conspiracy theories, to the effect that contemporary US society is comparable to Nazi Germany etc., utterly misjudging and insulting his audience, who in this country have plenty of reason to be hostile to ill thought out, extremist left-wing bullshit. The result was that he deservedly bombed, facing a chorus of booing until most people simply got bored and ignored him or walked out. I lasted about 20 minutes before leaving myself, feeling crushed, while Biafra continued to spout his tedious, ineffectual wank to a half-empty hall.

Last night however I had the opposite experience. There obviously hadn’t been much of an advertising campaign prior to the gig, I only found about it through word of mouth a few days before and even then almost didn’t bother turning up as I was coming down with a cold, in addition to which I’d also misheard who was playing and only caught the name of the support band, a bunch of local mates. In the end I decided to turn up and support them out of loyalty, as well as to catch up with a few old friends, and was pleasantly surprised to find TV Smith headlining. Naturally this was mixed in with a small amount of scepticism and apprehension, but after all TV Smith hadn’t been one of my greatest punk heroes anyway, so I figured that even if I was going to be disappointed it wouldn’t be all that bitter. Plus of course, TV Smith is still quite a name for a small town like Olomouc – he probably played several times in Leeds when I was a student there and spoilt for choice, when I was too busy turning my nose up in favour of hip, upcoming stars like Nirvana, but apart from the aforementioned slug Biafra we’ve had little in the way of internationally known names during the twelve years I’ve been living here, so by Olomouc standards this was pretty prestigious. In the event I left the gig clutching a signed Adverts CD, which as I write I’m listening to, shaking my head in bewilderment at my utter stupidity for having paid so little attention to this astonishing band. The gig was a simple affair, just TV and a miked-up acoustic guitar… and it was absolutely fucking brilliant. Unlike smart-arse Biafra, who sneered at those who still play punk rock, TV Smith wasn’t too proud to give the audience what they wanted and produced all the classics, with quite charming modesty referring to “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” as his only ever hit. Naturally it was a somewhat nostalgic experience, but there was much more to it than mere cuteness. TV wasn’t relying on his legendary status to get him through the gig, but rather played and sang with immense spirit, certainly enough to make his songs sound fresh and relevant today. He told me afterwards that he plays about 150 gigs a year – this is simply a man who loves what he does, and the commitment and honesty shows. Added to that he must have played for a good hour and a half.

Afterwards I was lucky enough to have a drink and a chat with him and was even more pleased, though after that impassioned performance not at all surprised, to find that he’s an extraordinarily nice bloke who genuinely seems to love talking with his fans, which he continued to do long after I left. Out of the blue, a truly life-affirming evening.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Jesus And The Mary Chain - You Trip Me Up

Or was it this?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Ace of Spades (Music Video)

Surely the greatest single ever made

Friday, October 05, 2007

My score

Increasingly tricky business these days making sense of politics, both in UK and CZ. A child of the Thatcher era, when the right was traditionally seen as a force of repression and the left more associated with human rights, liberal-intellectual counter-culture etc., obviously when I first came here I’d prepared myself to some extent that the left would be viewed with suspicion. Nevertheless it was still quite weird to hear some dope smoking hippy who listened to Hendrix and the VU extolling the virtues of Thatcher or Reagan. Of course as a leftie I had a fair bit of fun out of all this, since it was easy to provoke a lot of people, but it was also frustrating trying to get through in some cases. People who to me would seem to be natural left-wing liberals were staunch in their intentions to vote for the right, who for a number of years were fairly successful in portraying anything other than a minimalist, free-market state as a return to totalitarianism.

It’s been almost 20 years now since the toppling of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution, so things have settled down somewhat here compared to the heady post-revolutionary years and began more to approximate Western European countries as disillusionment sets in. Thankfully only a few pontificating, ideology-drunk prigs continue to share the conviction that the market will solve all, and most normal people have tired of the right’s cheap attempts to malign any opposition by scaremongering with the spectre of communism. Still though, in many circles, left continues to be something of a dirty word. A good example is the large amount of people I’ve met who are vocal about their enthusiasm for green politics, but adamant that they are not left wing. The Green Party here has even entered into a coalition with the Czech version of the Tory party – and, as might have been expected, now finds itself floundering around rather uselessly in an implosive identity crisis. Patronising though it undoubtedly is of me, I would say these people are in a state of utter denial. How can you not be left wing if you support environmental causes? Promoting green policies requires tough economic regulation, does it not?

On this point I find myself in a bizarre kind of agreement with this twat. President Václav Klaus, a man who in this day and age still takes Thatcher as his role model and for whom the word pedant could have been invented, has recently published a book crusading against environmentalism – “A blue, not a green planet – what’s in danger, the climate or our freedom?” – complete with a cover depicting the globe shackled in green chains. Whilst his predecessor as president, dissident king Václav Havel, who Klaus incidentally dismissed as a “half-socialist”, was languishing in prison for his dignified opposition to the totalitarian socialist regime, Klaus was sitting in a bank doing his sums. And this is indeed a man with a dismally obsessive one-track mind, with all the erudition and breadth of vision of a pocket calculator. With numbing predictability he places himself way out beyond the recalcitrant US presidency, scorning the emergence of the issue of climate change as nothing more than a conspiracy by meddling lefties hell-bent on destroying the liberty that only the market can guarantee (and of course, in this country he likes to regard this as his own grand project), in an ecophobic echo of Thatcher’s comments about the EU social chapter, with its introduction of a minimum wage, constituting “socialism through the back door” (and again predictably, he also shares her antipathy to the EU). In a way I’m grateful to him for the potential damage he’s doing to the right in this country by at least clarifying that right wing and green are polar opposites – green issues here are quite populist, even if most people’s response to them, not only in this country, is dispiritingly tokenistic.

Whatever personal glee I might gain from watching Klaus slowly become a figure of ridicule is however tainted not only by what he’s doing to the international standing of the country I’ve chosen as my home, but also by the realisation that he’s not the only one of us these days who has found himself politically disoriented and out of touch. Whilst Greens cuddle up to the Tories here, in the UK the BNP have economic policies to the left of Labour. The USA is economically probably more right wing than it’s ever been with the unstoppable dominance of giant global corporations, yet in the same country there are pockets of society under the yoke of puritanical left-wing extremists - not long ago I heard a horrendous story about a long-serving university professor with a distinguished academic record losing his job after being accused of looking at one of his female students “in a funny way”, which she claimed had an adverse effect on her exam results - a kind of radical feminist retake on Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Some of these phenomena might not be exactly new, but can still be quite bewildering. Back home this summer, in connection with my support for the ban on smoking in pubs, I was labelled an “authoritarian socialist”. If socialist means believing in state ownership of all industry, then as a self-employed person I don’t consider myself either authoritarian or socialist, but then in that case where exactly do I stand? These people have had a decent stab at putting things into perspective, fleshing out the left-right distinction and for me at least providing some comfort. It might not save the world from the likes of Bush, Wal-Mart, Tesco, ExxonMobil etc., but at least it might stave off my own personal identity crisis for a while yet.

On the other hand it doesn’t make me feel any better about the fact I voted for Tony Blair ten years ago. Put that hair shirt back on boy!