More and more frequently I find myself wondering whether the world has always been this despicable or if I’m just becoming more conscious of it. Concurrent with this feeling is a realisation that our generation is being increasingly more spoilt with a Pop Culture smorgasbord: the Heroes of our youth dominate the Box Office, favourite bands of the past reform and tour, the best TV show of all time revived after a 25 year hiatus, Comic-Con has gone supernova. One of the few gifts of being a dentally challenged, pallid skinned Brit is an ever healthy cynicism possibly attributable to being of an island nation still living on a pension from a highly questionable Imperial legacy, which during the best of times enables many of us to take a dim view of anything that on the surface seems too good to be true. Back in my teens when I thought ‘The X Files’ was giving me a window into the clandestine machinations of the world’s superpowers my dad calmly and succinctly cut through my teenage distrust of his adulthood by putting it to me ‘hypothetically’ that THEY would love it if we were ‘watching the skies’ rather than paying attention to what was going on in front of our noses.
These ponderings were crystallised last month when Simon Pegg (via more than half-decade old observations by Baudrillard) made some fascinating but immediately misunderstood points about our current cultural Candy shop:
“…as a society, we are kept in a state of arrested development by dominant forces in order to keep us more pliant. We are made passionate about the things that occupied us as children as a means of drawing our attentions away from the things we really should be invested in, inequality, corruption, economic injustice etc. It makes sense that when faced with the awfulness of the world, the harsh realities that surround us, our instinct is to seek comfort, and where else were the majority of us most comfortable than our youth? A time when we were shielded from painful truths by our recreational passions, the toys we played with, the games we played, the comics we read.”
Like Pegg, I’m not of the opinion that the entities and organisations that produce our ‘geek’ mass media and merchandise are conscious or complicit in social control, but am suspicious of why they are in such a position as to be able to market it to so many, and what effect it might have on us to be obliviously living in Sarah’s junkyard bedroom-illusion from ‘Labyrinth’. I’ve abstained from broadcast TV for most of my adult life, and I’ve never stultified myself with Facebook, instead frequenting various carefully chosen waypoints on the internet daily and ‘controlling’ my intake with YouTube and latterly Netflix and other VOD services, and still I don’t feel as though I have enough to time to consume every bit of shit that is flicked my way to keep myself informed enough to be involved in the ongoing cultural conversation.
But I digress, of the few places I frequent of a weekend, one of my favourites is this particular Charity Shop (thrift store) next to an abandoned Blockbuster Video in a student suburb of this City. It proclaims to benefit the eternally disadvantaged children of founder ‘Dr Barnardo’ (who since childhood has always conjured in my mind the figure of some banana-nosed, cape wearing Dickensian villain masquerading as a Saint). I’m digging through 99p DVDs and CDs in a disintegrating retail park (strip mall) in Fallowfield and I pick up ‘Plastic Beach’ by Gorillaz, which while a commendable entry into their oeuvre only serves to remind me of the far superior 10 year old ‘Demon Days’. The scene is set from the neck-hair erecting ‘Dark Earth’ by Jack Trombey from Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ that serves as its prologue, but proceeds with a coolly beautiful melodic lightness at odds with the portentous subject matter in ‘Last Living Souls’, that has always whispered to me: NORMAL SERVICE WILL BE MAINTAINED FOR THE DURATION OF THE DISINTEGRATION OF CIVILISATION. A muttering that stays with me for the duration of the album.
‘Kids With Guns’. Enough said, ditto ‘O Green World’.
In our future I see us rebuilding, scavenging from landfills the perfect material. We’ll squat in these hovels made from extraneous ‘FRIENDS’ VHS cassettes, trying desperately to warm ourselves on the overuse of our phones having lost the simple incendiary ability to improvise fire but having Macguyvered a charger with blood-stained hands.
‘Dirty Harry’ kicks things up a gear with it’s motivating riff that says “Let’s mobilise…to nowhere”, because we’ve hit a dead-end and the congregation of kids sing angelically over handclaps to “they ain’t got a chance, they ain’t got a chance” about the poor perishing under the sun, while we arm ourselves for peace.
My initial intrigue at Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s virtual band swiftly gave way to suspicion (via slow-setting boredom) when I saw them play behind a projector screen of insufficient animation reels 14 days after 9/11 in a mainstay Mancunian venue that had erected a stage especially at its rear to accommodate the under 18s that had unprecedentedly been allowed to attend. Four years later, the impish illustrations that fronted this second effort seemed less about a marketing gimmick than an embodiment of throw-away culture, parading a mischievous indifference to the concerns of this world coupled with an unassailable satirical standpoint by their very (non) existence, but cleverly pencilled into the soundtrack by their authors.
‘Demon Days’ is my go-to apocalyptic pop album and seems as relevant as ever. This last week or so in particular.
Don’t buy it directly, they don’t need your money. Put it on your look-out-for list for when you’re rummaging through the next thrift store you visit and hope the umbrella company aren’t skimming the majority of the profits to line their own pockets, or surreptitiously bankroll some nefarious internment camp!
Are we the last living souls?
Tommy, make us smile again despite the dastardly rat-baggery at play in this doomed Vaudeville we call an existence.
Chester Whelks is a peripheral figure on the fringes of existence. Predominantly bothering the local music scene of his native Manchester, England, he has a very finely attuned Justice-button, and knows how to call a spade a ‘Multi-Purpose Murder/Concealment Device’.