Looking Back and Forward

My recent and forthcoming live music experiences all involve bands of my youth that have reformed and are touring their old material.1 Wallowing in nostalgia, some might call it.

But there’s nothing inherently wrong with bands getting back together. It can be problematic if you are the band that tours as the Dead Kennedys, of course. There’s a whole saga there that I won’t go into, but if Jello Biafra’s not involved, and in fact is actively against it, then it’s not the Dead Kennedys.

Indeed, in his song “Buy My Snake Oil” Jello suggested that a way for old punks to make money off their history would be to

Give in
Ride the punk nostalgia wave
For all it’s worth
Recycle the name of my old band
For a big reunion tour
Sing all those hits from the “good ol’ days”
‘Bout how bad the good ol’ days were

Which is a fair criticism of old bands doing their thing in modern days, I guess. But I see two arguments to counter it, from a gig-goer’s point of view.

Unfinished

The first was made by my friend Andrew, around the time that the Sex Pistols reformed and toured. This would have been in 1996.

“I missed them first time round,” he said when I challenged him about it. “This is unfinished business for me.”

Which was a good point, and kind of made me regret playing the purist and not going.

In 1993 I had investigated going to see the reunited Velvet Underground. But I really didn’t want to see them at an all-seated venue. Partly because I’d had a bad experience seeing Lou Reed a year or so before (despite having had a very good experience with him a year or two before that).

I recall that I phoned the venue — Earl’s Court, I think — and found that it did have some standing room. But those tickets were sold out. So I didn’t go. Regretted that, too. So I’m talking the chance to see bands like the Rezillos, or The Beat and The Selecter, that I missed first time around.

OK, But What is it Really?

The second point about the “punk nostalgia wave” (or any similar accusation of nostalgia) is: that is not what it is.

Because here’s the thing: it isn’t nostalgia if you’re carrying on with something that was always there.

Nostalgia (noun): a feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past

according to Cambridge.

But this isn’t that. Because while those bands’ heydays might have been in the past, their music has remained available and frequently-played. You can’t be nostalgic for an album you listened to last week, or last night.

And a live performance always happens in the present.

This train of thought was kicked off for me a couple of years back when there was an article in the Guardian, prior to The Force Awakens coming out. I can’t find it now,2 but it claimed that “nostalgia” was part of the cause of the excitement for the new film.

And I thought, no. Well, maybe for some people. But for many of us, if not most of us, Star Wars never went away. We’ve watched it, talked about it, read theories about it, and so on. It has been part of our lives.

Or take Doctor Who. Sure, there were the wilderness years before 2005, but The Doctor never really went away. The Tardis and Daleks are burned into Britain’s cultural memory, and I think they always will be.

Now if I were to see an episode of, say, Marine Boy: that would be nostalgic. I remember it fondly from my childhood, and have never seen it since. I’ve never even seen it in colour, because those were the days of black & white televisions.3

But I can’t be nostalgic for punk bands or Star Wars or Doctor Who, because they never went away. The sense of warmth and shared experience they bring: that’s not nostalgia, it’s something else. Familiarity, at worst. Or better: community.


  1. Or a mixture of old and new, as with The Rezillos. []
  2. This is why you should always save links, folks. []
  3. God, I really come from another time, don’t I? []
Looking Back and Forward

Garden and Barbican

Spent most of today in the garden, making a start on clearing it up for the summer. Not exactly gardening, as such. More gathering sticks and leaves, and putting them into brown bins for collection. Nice day for it, though.

Then this evening to the Barbican, for the New York Philharmonic doing a couple of pieces by John Adams, as part of the “John Adams at 70” series. Oh, and in the middle they had a cello concerto by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Who was the cellist? Nobody special. Just Yo-Yo Ma.

It was clearly a virtuoso performance, but I didn’t enjoy the Salonen nearly as much as I did the two Adams pieces. Especially the second, “Harmonielehre.” Among other things, it’s good to see something orchestral where the percussionists have some serious work to do.

Not that we could see the percussionists, mostly. We were effectively in the front row. Which is to say, it was row D, but row C was right up against the front of the stage, and not being used because the stage had been extended into rows A and B. That orchestra is big. The downside of having such close seats is that you can only see the first few rows of the orchestra: the string sections, basically.

The big upside of the position, of course, is that you get such a close view and intimate sense of the performance. It’s almost like you’re inside the music at times.

Meanwhile British politics has gone even crazier, with Michael Howard crawling out of the woodwork to threaten war with Spain.1 But that’s a discussion for another time.


  1. To be fair to Howard, that’s not at all what he said. Just that May should be as steadfast with Spain as Thatcher was with Argentina. But “war” is of course how the papers are hyping it. It wouldn’t surprise me if Gibraltarians (96% remain) now wanted to become part of Spain. []
Garden and Barbican

Vanessa Bell and Princess Leia

We went to Dulwich Picture Gallery today, to see both the permanent collection and the Vanessa Bell exhibition. All very fine. But I was struck by one of Bell’s paintings in particular.

It’s called “The Model,” which makes it hard to search for, being so generic. But it’s clear to me that the hair & makeup people of the original Star Wars must have been familiar with it, since it is totally where they got Princess Leia’s headphone hairstyle.

Bell lived until 1961, so her work is still in copyright, which I expect is why it’s hard to find a decent image online, but Google Image Search has this.

Take a look. Tell me I’m wrong.

Vanessa Bell and Princess Leia

Missed

Well, yesterday genuinely feels like the first day I’ve missed posting this year. A few post-midnight posts have counted towards the previous day, but although I’m writing this early in the morning, it’s definitely the 16th.

It’s for a good reason, though: I went to the pub after work.1

The occasion was the monthly drinks for ex- and still-current-Misys people. Always good to see folk I haven’t seen for a while. And Misys are in the news at the moment. It looks like my old section, Payments & Messaging, won’t be long for this world (even what little is left of it). This D+H outfit — Vista, the owners of Misys, have bought them and are planning to smoosh them together with Misys — is big in payments. I’d expect that their products will be seen as superior, and our Payment Manager will start to be sunsetted.

That’s certainly the likely trajectory if Misys management end up running the combined organisation. They have a permanent, severe case of inverse not-invented-here syndrome. Any product that the company has been making and selling successfully for years (decades, in the case of Midas and Equation) is automatically suspect and needs to be edged out in favour of something that came from another company, and/or is newer and less capable.

Mind you, those old products have a habit of keeping on keeping on (and making the company money). Because, of course, they meet the needs of customers.

Not that anyone was talking about that at the pub.


  1. I did start to write something when I got home, but it was never going to be anything viable. Looking at it this morning it doesn’t even make sense. []
Missed

Saved Life

In International Clash Day I mentioned a life-changing song: “Wasted Life,” by Stiff Little Fingers. SLF’s anti-military song literally changed my life; or its potential direction, at least. I was probably moving in an anti-war kind of direction anyway, to be fair., but it was definitely a trigger point.

People say — or used they to, at least — that a song couldn’t change your life. By comparison, I don’t think there was ever a similar tendency to say that a book couldn’t change a person’s life. I suspect that is down to their comparative sizes: it seems respectable for something the size of a novel to have a major impact on a human’s psyche, while a three-minute song? Not so much.

Although if it were merely length, then people wouldn’t have complained if you said an album changed your life. I’m not sure that anyone ever said that ,1 but I suspect that if they had, their statement would have been pooh-poohed just as much as the same claim for a song.

At this point I feel I ought to quote Springsteen, giving the opposite view:

We learned more from a three-minute record, baby,
Than we ever learned in school

he sings in “No Surrender.” Hyperbole, certainly, but there is a core of truth to it: the truth of the feeling you can get from listening to a great song.

With “Wasted Life” the feeling for me was of sudden crystallisation, or realisation. I had, for some years, been saying that I wanted to be pilot, join the RAF. This was before the horrors of the Gulf War, or for that matter the Balkans. Though it was in the heart to the Cold War, and British soldiers were stationed in Northern Ireland during the troubles — though not so much RAF staff, I would think.

But I was blind to all that, brought up as I was on a diet of Second World War films, Commando comics, and Airfix models of warplanes. I had, in short, a thoroughly romanticised view of war. And I just wanted to fly.

But I didn’t want to kill. I had always known that, I’m sure. But two lines of that one song made it real for me:

Stuff their fucking armies
Killing isn’t my idea of fun2

And that was all it took. I remember that it was a while before I could tell my parents that I had changed my plans. Perhaps because they would have asked why, and I didn’t want to have to explain it. Maybe because I thought they’d be disappointed. I’m sure my Mum wasn’t. My Dad kind of was: “But you were going to be a Spanish-speaking pilot,” he said. He had always been slightly amused that my school taught half of us Spanish, instead of the then-much-more-conventional French.

A life can hinge on such a small moment.


  1. Somebody must have, of course. []
  2. In an amusing followup to recent thoughts, I originally wrote that as “army,” but find that lyrics sites think this plural too. Correctly, of course. []
Saved Life

Little, Feat…

Many songs these days involve one or more other artists guesting with the main one. Rappers adding a part to a singer’s track, for example. Nowadays such guests are always credited. Quite rightly: we’ve come a long way from the days when Billy Preston played keyboards on some Beatles songs uncredited (though visible in the famous Apple Music rooftop performance).

As featured artists, such guests are nearly always credited using the abbreviation “feat.” “The Beatles feat Billy Preston,” to give an example that was never used.

But “feat” is a word on it’s own, of course, as well as an abbreviation. Which I think may be why I always find the formation slightly amusing. And there used to be a band called Little Feat, if I’m not very much mistaken (I’ve never knowingly heard them).

So I’ve been wondering how the modern crediting style would have worked if they had ever been guests, or had featured guests, on any of their songs. “Little Feat feat Joe Feet.” “Legs & Co feat Little Feat.”1

Alas, it was not the way back then. Though their Wikipedia article suggests they’re still around, so it could happen.

More surprisingly it tells us that they changed “Feet” to “Feat” as a “homage to the Beatles.”2 I had no inkling of that connection when I mentioned the Beatles above.


  1. Yes, I know Legs & Co were dancers. I’m just trying to make up mildly amusing names. I invented Joe Feet. []
  2. I’m assuming that refers to the story of the Beatles naming that involved them wanting an insect name like Buddy Holly & the Crickets, but changing the spelling so it read as beat music. []
Little, Feat…

Footnotes Revisited

Having looked again over yesterday’s piece, I’ve had a slight change of heart.

As I’m sure you noticed, I made a comment in the footnote to the effect that I thought that my misremembering of Neuromancer’s famous opening line was better than the actual one. I no longer think that’s the case.

Gibson obviously knew what he was doing. “The sky above the port” is more euphonious than my “over the port.”

Glad we got that sorted out.

Footnotes Revisited

Mac Wishing

Those times when you’re typing a document at work on a shonky Windows 7 machine, and longing for your Mac, where you’d have professional text-handling tools, like Marked for previewing Markdown.

Not that you can’t preview, as long as you’ve got a decent text editor such as Sublime Text (well, specifically Sublime). But things are just so much easier with Mac tools.

And I speak as one who has never had the opportunity to use the Mac professionally. I’ve used Windows machines at works since about 1993, and before that green-screen 5250 terminals.

One of these days, though.

Mac Wishing

“Ping” Pong

When the original Unix designers (or, as it turns out, Mike Muuss) chose ping as the name for the command for checking the status of a network host, it was a moment of inspired genius. The word is almost onomatopoeic in its appropriateness.

But nowadays people are pinging each other all over the place: emails, IMs, even phone calls are “pinged” at each other. “I’ll ping you an email,” they say.

The purist in me cringes a little each time I hear it. But it shouldn’t. The word that was so apposite for those early savants is just as suitable today: it communicates a needed concept. And English, of course, is a living, thriving language. So let people get on with it

Just don’t expect me to use it myself.

“Ping” Pong