Brutalishht Schnippets

You conclude the book by saying that a city that is not melancholic is the best we can hope for. You talk about people fighting back – the Focus E15 Mums, in East London, campaigning for council housing – and say we should celebrate the fact that they’ve not kept calm and carried on. You quote that great slogan – ‘these people need homes, these homes need people’.

And you don’t have to write a dissertation on Brutalism to do it. Like, this exists, we need it, it works, we’re going to take it. Fantastic. How incredibly simple that is. And if that’s going to be the basic of an actual politics, that’s it.

So we don’t end up fetishising buildings for their beautiful angles.

Which are there, but they’re secondary. It was really telling that the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark became a cause celebre, because it was a nadir architecturally. But people were squatting it and trying to save it, saying, we want it to be social housing, leave it alone. Rather than appealing to it on the basis of architecture, it was on the basis of it being useful.

RE: Flanagan And Allen – ‘Down Forget Me Not Lane’, 1941:
The music of that era that I like is often quite different to this. What’s going on here, with the swing, is the kind of jolly hockey sticks version, whereas I came to music of the 1930s and 40s via Dennis Potter, where it’s incredibly melancholy and morbid. I’m not sure that that’s what anyone’s getting out of this.

RE: Kirk Brandon – ‘World Service’, 2005:
… Orwell himself was many different things. It’s weird that he’s held up as a paragon of moral consistency, when it was more like he changed his mind ten times a fucking year.

He has the most ludicrous explanations for things sometimes. Like the essay ‘My Country Right Or Left’, where he basically says, ‘I supported the war because I had a dream.’ He wrote loads of essays against the war in 1939, and then has this dream in which he knows that if the war comes he will support England. Because as he puts it – I can’t remember the exact quote, but something like, I knew that the drilling that every middle-class person in Britain has gone through had done its work. What he’s actually saying is, I supported the war because going to Eton drilled into me an instinctive patriotism. I don’t think there’s a serious anti-war argument against World War Two. But his justification is mad, and completely random.

Orwell’s loved because he instilled a certain self-righteousness in people. But I think people should treat him like William Cobbett, or Carlyle, or Hazlitt. He’s a very particular essayist who wrote some questionable novels. Who was enormously talented, enormously intelligent, enormously honest. But who was also full of shit. And totally limited by his time. Someone who tried quite hard to be anti-imperialist, but was also quite a convinced racist. Someone who wrote about anti-Semitism being ghastly while being deeply anti-Semitic. And his political predictions in the 1940s were bonkers. He really did think that what he described in Nineteen Eighty-Four was the direction the world was going. His version of what Soviet society, and later Chinese society, was like, was based on a monolithic idea of those societies that is completely mythical. He would have had no way of explaining Khrushchev or Gorbachev or perestroika. His analysis was just that it was a Satanic empire.

I really like [Michael Radford’s] film, 1984, exactly because it gets that it’s a book about the 1940s. Which I don’t think anyone else did. And because it creates such a convincing horror story – there is no way out in that book – it had an enormous effect on teenagers. In the same way that a George Romero film has a big effect on you when you’re 18, Orwell has that effect.

He was a terrific writer, but one whose recommendations worked for him. People will always cherry-pick quotes from the famous essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’, and ignore the mad shit. There’s so many in there – like, ‘avoid all foreign words!’ Anything ending with ‘ous’ is basically out for Orwell. Any Latinate words. You’ve wiped out half the English language. It also means that any philosophical language, any technical language, unless it’s engineering, any technical language is designed to mystify, for Orwell. It’s a certain kind of public school thing that’s prevalent among the PPE students who run British politics and the British media. There’s this belief that anything you can’t explain at the Oxford Debating Society is bullshit. Orwell really reinforces that.

RE: Mumford and Sons – ‘For Those Below’, 2013:
The thing that really surprised me – and I probably should have written about it more – is the way the old ruling class seem completely back in power now. From 1997 to 2010 the people who were running the government, at least, were people who had gone to comprehensive schools. After that, they then studied PPE at Oxford and become parliamentary secretaries. But mostly – with the obvious exception of Tony Blair himself – they were from the comprehensive system. And now, apparently, we have the most aristocratic government since the 1920s.

I can’t think of any time in which the Left has ever successfully managed to own the past, and made into a successful project. Every time the Left has done well in Britain, whether it was 1945, or 1964 under Harold Wilson, or Tony Blair, it was with modernity. And with an appeal to optimism. Because that’s what socialism is.

Lots of stuff in this book comes from reading Patrick Wright’s On Living In An Old Country, which was published in the early 80s. And his target is Tony Benn. Politically he was pretty much on the same side, but there’s a critique of Benn’s mood music. You cannot appeal to a memory of socialism, because we’ve never had it. All you’ll end up appealing to is a memory of failed struggles.

RE: Manic Street Preachers – ‘Design For Life’, 1996:
… I saw them in 1996 and they were very boring. They just stood there in sportswear. And the screens behind were doing all the work…

… God, the 1990s and 2000s for the Left. Ok, there was the anti-war movement, though that didn’t necessarily polarise on Left and Right lines; in many ways it wasn’t seen as political issue so much as a moral one. And there was the tiny anti-globalisation thing. But by and large in those two decades, there wasn’t really anything. Which I think is also a consequence of why those people in between the 25-year-olds and the 60-year-olds are so completely baffled by Corbyn. Where they come from is the 1990s and the 2000s, and that’s where their ideas of what’s possible and normal and acceptable were formed.

Unlike being an 18 year old in 1983, say, when the default position was political.

Or an 18 year old in 2011, when the Education Maintenance Allowance had been abolished and you had no chance of getting the job you wanted if you were a student, when the welfare state was utterly residual and getting unemployment benefit was like pulling teeth. Those in between are incapable of understanding that all of those things have been taken away and what that means for young people. They just do not get it.

… the Manics’ raison d’etre was: we cannot do anything new, all we can do is borrow. That’s what made them different from bands that just did that casually. The 90s were full of bands that were as retro as the Manics, but they were the only ones saying, we cannot create anything. I can’t remember if this is someone else’s line or not, but the Manics are about their own impotence, really.

‘Design For Life’ is about what the people that beat them up at school in Blackwood had to deal with. It does that enormously eloquently and captures lots of things about working class culture. The casual violence, for instance. The line, “I wish I had a bottle right here in my dirty face.” If you’re growing up in Blackwood, that’s something you just face. I experienced that growing up in Southampton. If you went out looking a certain way, you’d get your head kicked in. I got my head kicked in a lot.

RE: Pulp – ‘Disco 2000’, 1995:
Jarvis, I know, is not from an entirely working class background. He grew up quite poor in a one-parent family, but he’s called Jarvis and his sister’s called Saskia and his mother I think was briefly a Tory councillor. He was someone like lots of people in pop music: between classes. He could never have written something like ‘Design For Life’, because he could never have said ‘we’.

RE: Lord Kitchener – ‘London Is The Place For Me’, 1948:
So why does the world of austerity nostalgia basically end in the mid- to late-1950s? By the mid-50s there was mass migration, the Notting Hill riots and so on, and that’s the cut-off point. So austerity did seem to have a really obviously disavowed thing about race and migration that I wanted to tease out.

RE: Morrissey – ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’, 1988:
There’s that lovely interview that Simon Reynolds did with Morrissey, where he’s going, ‘You love this, don’t you?’ All of these songs – ‘Late Night Maudlin Street’ and ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’ and ‘Suedehead’: Reynolds says, ‘Actually all these things you’re writing about being terrible, you make sound wonderful.’

Pulp songs are obsessive, but not morbid. Whereas Morrissey is completely and utterly riven with morbidity

It was a case of being in the mid-80s and saying, ‘I’m having no part of this’. And there were a variety of responses to have. You could either be like Billy Bragg and withdraw into a Ken Loach film, or be the Style Council and try desperately to keep up with it and embarrass yourself. The whole thing about The Smiths, like all of this stuff really, is about trying to stop it just before it happens – Motown, that is. So you pause British music where it’s just Billy Fury and Joe Meek…

As a skinny white boy from the south of England, all of the things in these songs have immediate resonances. Every single time I hear something from the first two Smiths records, I immediately see a particular scene in my head from Southampton in the 80s or 90s. I can see a particular garden, street, corner shop. And the ability to evoke that is extraordinary. What the Smiths did is enormously powerful, but it’s clear why they did it. Morrissey’s version of pop culture and his version of England stopped at some point in the 1970s from corresponding with his obsessions and how he wanted the world to be. So he just wills this old world back into being. And because of the fact that he wasn’t a dilettante, that he was obsessive about these things, it’s incredibly powerful in a way that Public Service Broadcasting are not. He cares deeply about this world, despite the fact that he makes it sound horrible. He cares and wants to evoke it. As a protest against the 1980s, he wants to live in A Taste Of Honey. And that’s a horrible world, and it’s good that that world is dead.

Brutalist Truths: Owen Hatherley Interviewed In Ten Songs.
Karen Shook, The Quietus, January 27th, 2016 09:25.

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