22/365 – ‘Fire’, Bruce Springsteen (1977) – 365 Days of Music

This must be the sexiest song in his entire repertoire.  He wrote it for Elvis, but Elvis died before he had chance to record it.  It was written during the ‘Darkness’ sessions, but Bruce felt it didn’t fit in with themes of struggle and hopelessness that feature on that album.  I have to fully restrain myself from throwing my underwear at my computer screen whenever I watch the live performance from 1986.  Listen, and melt.  Here is the live version.  Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Margaret Thatcher, 1925-2013

I was sat having lunch with 2 of my work colleagues when I heard the news about Margaret Thatcher.  One of our other colleagues had bombarded us with missed calls and we, naturally, thought something at work had gone tits up.  But no.  When I checked my phone I noticed texts from 2 friends and my Mum.  I saw in the subject the words, “Thatcher’s dead!”.  It was a surreal moment.  For years she has been ill and in and out of hospital, but you always think people like Maggie will live forever.  It’s the same way I feel about the Queen.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she outlived me. 

My personal reaction to her death is mixed.  I spent years at college and university criticising every single word and policy that came out of her and her government, and my anger then was spurred on by the many left-wingers I was surrounded by.  My politics teacher at sixth-form was a left-wing Catholic Scouser with an Irish father, so you can just imagine what she thought of Mags.  I hung on my teacher’s every word.  That anger was young and naive.  I have no love for Thatcher or her policies, but my anger and my critique is, I hope, more mature now.

It was interesting to see the reactions of my friends on Facebook and Twitter.  So many were sad, and an equal number were either indifferent, angry or happy at her passing.  For me, I felt odd.  There will be no tears shed for Maggie in my family.  We are staunchly anti-Conservative and my own father became a victim of Thatcher’s destruction of Britain’s manufacturing industry in the 1980s when he lost his job and briefly went on the dole.  Having said that, it’s not in my nature to be happy to see someone die.  I never wished ill or death on Maggie, and I won’t be attending any parties to celebrate her demise.    This is not to say that I think those who are happy are despicable humans or unfeeling robots; merely that for me personally, I can’t live with that kind of hate inside of me and I don’t see how dancing on her grave will change so much of what has already been done by Thatcherism.

However, the media reaction has infuriated me and I’m not sure why I am so surprised.  Thatcher is held up as the hero of the right by most of our major papers, including the Telegraph and the Daily Mail.  But to watch the BBC yesterday and this morning, I was left feeling that so much of her history as a politician and leader of our country is being glossed over.  Perhaps this is a premature assessment; the reactions to her death are still new and raw, and perhaps many media outlets are biding their time before they unleash their critiques of her time in power so as not to seem tasteless.  I will wait and see.  Yet Bill Turnbull still wound me up this morning on BBC Breakfast during an interview with left-wing Mirror journalist Kevin Maguire and some other right-leaning hack.  He repeatedly lambasted Maguire and those who have expressed relief and/or gladness at Thatcher’s death, without really addressing the root causes of why some people in this country will not be sad she’s gone.  The complexities of Thatcherism and the effects of those policies are too nuanced to paint this situation as black and white.  If Turnbull can’t understand why not everyone is shedding tears and leaving flowers at Downing Street, then I wonder where he has been for the last 35 years.

Reactions on social media outlets were equally curious.  Most of my friends had a similar reaction to me, one that expressed a respect for an old, sick woman who had died, but also a hope that her policies would die with her.  Others launched into tirades against her and her government.  Some praised her.  It was the usual mix you would expect upon the death of such a divisive figure, an image that Maggie herself revelled in.  But the constant posturing over her position as the “first female Prime Minister” left a bad taste in my mouth.  It is truly remarkable that we elected our first woman Prime Minister in 1979 and I won’t take away from that fact.  It is interesting that we have never elected another since.  But to hold Thatcher up as a feminist icon is to insult her, her principles, and true feminism.  Thatcher described feminism as a “poison” and she attributed none of her success as a politician and leader to her gender.  It is telling that over the course of her 11 years in power, she only had one female member of Cabinet, Baroness Young.  In 2011 I wrote of Maggie’s approach to politics and concluded that her appeal was due in large part to the traditionally male/masculine attitudes she displayed (that blog post can be found here: https://brightlightsandthebigcity.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/nostalgia-for-thatcher/).  It is great that this country elected a woman to the highest office, and we should be proud of that.  But let’s not pretend that she cared for this fact beyond any superficial meaning.

I am a huge Meryl Streep fan and I found her statement was one of the most honest of the day, perhaps because she is an American, perhaps because she played her and tried to understand her from all angles, perhaps because I am biased.  Alas it is important to remember how such biases colour our perceptions.  Would I care so much for Maggie’s death if I hadn’t seen her played by my favourite actress in an Oscar-winning performance less than 2 years ago?  Would my reaction have been different if ‘The Iron Lady’ had not been made?  These questions are difficult to answer.  Ultimately this film was made, I did enjoy it, and I have been affected by it.  She was portrayed as strong and ambitious and a woman who faced multiple struggles to be elected as an MP, leader and Prime Minister.  She was also seen in her later years as suffering from possible dementia.  She looked frail and old and a shadow of her former self.  And even though I knew it was Meryl underneath all those layers of makeup, it still struck a chord.  How much truth is in those movie interpretations, only few will know. 

I also witnessed a few of my Meryl and non-Meryl friends engaged in heated debates on Facebook over what should be the appropriate response to Thatcher’s death.  A comment that popped up a few times was “you weren’t there, so you don’t know”, a condescending statement put forth by some people who had lived the Thatcher years and were obviously dismayed to see young people expressing any notion of sympathy for Maggie.  It’s a comment that throws up a lot of thoughts and I see it from both sides.  If you study a particular part of history for any length of time, you have an evidence-based advantage over those who have not.  History lessons at school, college, university etc, taking the time to research and learn about Thatcher – you have the right to an opinion whether you were there or not.  Whether this opinion is informed or not is open to further debate, but you have the right to feel something, to react to an event, to hold a view. 

Having said that, can we ever truly understand what the Thatcher years were like if we weren’t alive back then?  Can we ever understand what it felt like to live through those strikes, the Falklands, the IRA bombings, the poll tax, the demise of hundreds of northern communities as a direct consequence of her decisions?  I don’t think we can.  We can have an idea.  We can read about it, learn about it, and form a view.  But I wasn’t there.  I don’t hold a definitive opinion.  I was born in 1987 and by definition I am a child of the Thatcher years, but I will never know what it was like to live in those times.  Furthermore, whilst I sit here and lavish praise on the honest assessment provided by Meryl, she too couldn’t ever fully appreciate the Thatcher years for Britain.  Of course, she was alive then but she lived in the States.  She did not live here, in our streets, whilst miners went on strike, as the wealth gap widened, as poor families struggled and felt punished.  Our views can’t be separated from our emotions and our personal and political biases.  And the storm of opinion and thought will rage on for months, perhaps years. 

Thatcher is a hero and icon on the right.  She is held up on a pedestal for what she did.  Few politicians exist in this day and age – in fact I’m not sure I can think of one – with the kind of conviction Maggie had.  Her impact on Britain and the wider world is something few achieve.  She knew her mind and she stuck to it.  To us on the left, she is a villain.  She destroyed lives and snatched away jobs.  She cared not for the poor or the working class.  She encouraged greed and the ‘I’m-alright-Jack’ attitude that we still see in society today (the society that doesn’t exist).  But if I put aside my biases for just one moment, I can see she was also just a human.  Hero, villain, pariah, devil-incarnate… but human all the same.  A daughter, a mother, a wife, a Prime Minister.  She lived, she worked, she suffered illness, and she died on April 8th 2013.  The criticisms and tributes will continue to roll in, but she is gone.  Whatever happens in the future, we cannot change what she did.  To celebrate her death as some kind of victory is, in the long-term, futile.  Look around you – even now, Thatcherism lives on. 

21/365 – Italy – 365 Days of Music

So I’ve been away for the last 11 days on holiday in Italy with four of my best friends. We had a really wonderful time and I fell in love with the place, the culture, the food, and the people. It is truly a gorgeous place. I arrived back in London yesterday and I am, unfortunately, back at work – but also ready to fire up my blog project again. So what I thought I’d do for this first post in nearly 2 weeks is list a few of the songs that became our “Italy playlist” whilst we were on holiday. A couple of these are Italian songs. We listened to the RTL 102.5 radio station every day and these songs were never off.

Bastille – ‘Pompeii’ – For obvious reasons. We visited Pompeii on one of our last days and it was an incredible experience.

will.i.am & Britney Spears – ‘Scream & Shout’ – It was everywhere. I think on one day we must have heard it approximately 4 times. We particularly liked reciting “Britney, bitch” after numerous shots of limoncello.

Vasco Rossi – ‘L’Uomo Più Semplice’ – Oh my days. This song. Some 60+ Italian dude who my friends said reminded them of Bruce (no!!!!!!). He’s clearly on some comeback and we loved this song, including his chants of “GUITAR! GUITAR!” and his cringey Dad-dancing. When I got back to my house yesterday I asked my Italian housemate about him, to which she responded that she hated him and even though he’s a legendary artist in Italy, he’s also vilified for some of his personal life choices, including being a mad drug addict at some point.

Max Gazze – ‘Sotto Casa’ – We called this the “Madness song” because it sounded like Madness. Max looks like a pirate in the video and we had no idea what he was singing about, but we loved it all the same and my Italian housemate said everyone in Italy loves Max.

Lykke Li – ‘I Follow Rivers’ – We heard this amazing remix that I am STILL trying to find. It’s so good.

There are other songs but these are the ones that stick out for me. It was a great holiday and it’ll be bittersweet to hear any of these songs now I’m back home. That’s the great thing about music – you can hear a song at any given moment and it can transport you back to some of the best times of your life.

20/365 – ‘Then He Kissed Me’, The Crystals (1963) – 365 Days of Music

Ah, Phil Spector.  I still feel a pang of guilt for loving all those songs you produced now it’s been proven you’re a murderous bastard.  Alas, music is timeless and as this specific song proves, without great girl groups like The Crystals, your music would not be half as incredible.  Discovering soul music in the form of Spector’s “Wall of Sound” production method was a revelation for my teenage mind.  That glorious, sweeping orchestration, blended with the soul vocals and instrumentation so common on records of the 1960s – it is heavenly. 

I first heard this song when I watched the Martin Scorsese film ‘Goodfellas’ for the first time.  From then, I was hooked.  The song itself is so simple – in melody and in lyrics.  But as with so many soul songs of that era, its effect goes beyond its simplicity. 

“He kissed me in a way that I’d never been kissed before / He kissed me in a way that I wanna be kissed forever more”

Beautiful.  The minute I hear that intro, I’m gone.  That Bruce Springsteen has often covered it (neatly changed to ‘Then She Kissed Me’) in his live sets makes it just that little bit more special.

19/365 – ‘Our Day Will Come’, Amy Winehouse (2011) – 365 Days of Music

An ex bought me this CD.  Well, I say “ex”.  We’d actually only dated for a couple of months but it felt like it was going somewhere, until it wasn’t.  I ended it with him a few weeks after he gave me Amy Winehouse’s posthumous ‘Lioness: Hidden Treasures’ album as a Christmas present.  I guess our day was never coming.  I saw him again last year just after he’d completed the London Marathon.  He seemed happy & I hope that’s still true nearly a year on.

18/365 – ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’, Bonnie Raitt (1991) – 365 Days of Music

This song has been there for me many times.  I’ll leave it at that and let the music do the talking.  I think most people will relate in some way to the themes of this beautiful ballad.

 

17/365 – ‘The Key, The Secret’ – Urban Cookie Collective (1993) – 365 Days of Music

I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since this song came out.  I was 6 years old when it was out, and my brother would have been 10.  All those legendary dance classics from the 1990s – especially from the early 90s – remind me of being a kid.  I remember my Dad had a monstrous hi-fi system of the type that was popular in the 80s and 90s.  Every Sunday afternoon/evening we’d listen to the top 40 singles on the UK chart, back in the day when the charts still meant something.  And I would prance around the dining room to songs such as ‘The Key, The Secret’.

At Christmas I went through old photos for the present I was making for my Mum.  I found a rather grainy picture from around this time.  In it, me and my brother dance in our darkened dining room whilst my Dad is stood on a chair in the corner of the room flashing a torch around, just like a disco.  Hilarious and a great memory.