Pop goes the music

In an exclusive interview in

wake of his recent Channel 4 requiem for pop Tony Parsons,

elder statesman of music

journalism, tells Craig McLean that pop’s mid-life crisis is fatal.

They were born together. grew up together. Experienced a ternpestuous. thrilling. often immature first decade together. walked into their rebellious teens hand in hand. Came of age in the blighted landscape ofthe mid to late-70s. In the 80s they forged ahead. their paths still parallel. but gradually diverging. Come the turn of the decade these former brothers in arms had reached some sort of mid-life crisis. At the age of 37. Tony Parsons and Pop Music

finally fell out.

‘l wasjust on the lTN news arguing with Jonathon King.‘ says Tony Parsons. the teenage punk scribbler for NME turned biographer of George Michael and sometime contributor to Arena and the Telegraph. ‘His point is that great pop music is still out there. it‘s just harder to find than it was. He‘s missing the central point of what I’m trying to say. I‘m not talking about good music good music is still around and will always be around. But pop as the touchstone of what it means to be young in the western world. I think that‘s over. That unified culture that really began with Elvis and ended with The Smiths. I think

that‘s over.‘

Elvis Presley's first UK hit. ‘Heanbreak Hotel'. charted 37 years ago this month. The Smiths‘ last single proper. ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me‘. hit number 30 at the end of 1987. The 30-odd years in between were pop‘s hey-day. reckoned Parson‘s in Saaled Our. his contribution to Channel 4‘s arts strand Without Walls. This was a


time when pop was a force to be reckoned with and a pivotal pan of the process of growing up. The rock of ages. This is pop music and all manner of life is here. ‘Pop music once had rnelodramas. poems and novels that told every secret of your heart and mind.‘ he

' enthuses wistfully. ‘with melody to force the

: meaning home. ‘People say that pop‘s been killed by video games or dance music has killed it off. I don‘t really think they're the causes. I think they‘re the symptoms. ‘The reason why pop‘s gone is that these are less

' idealistic times. People don‘t really believe in anything these days. When pop thrived. in its golden years in the 60s and 70s. and to some extent even in the early 80s. it was a time when people had beliefs. Now there‘s a litany ofthings that people don't believe in. They‘ve lost their faith in socialism, the Royal Family. they don‘t believe in God. It‘s an age without faith. I feel it in myself. Pop needed that

; wider optimism to sustain it. A lot ofthe stuff is ambitious. David Bowie was trying to change people‘s perceptions of sexuality. Bob Dylan and The

{ Byrds were social protest. Even up to punk they posed as nihilists and anarchists. but they were

. protest singers really.‘

Bah humbug. it were different when l were a lad and

it were all fields round here n’all. But he‘s right.

Where before. pop’s heart pumped idealism and

I hedonism in equal measure. the idealistic vein has

dried up, salted up by the brine of the times and finally choked by a decade-plus of stultifying political/social malaise on both sides of the Atlantic. This post-pop generation is also post-politics and post any sort of coherent cultural movement that

binds the young. ‘Life is too complicated. ? information is too transient. technology is too fast

and money is too short for music to be the focal point

I it once was.‘ So writes David Toop in the current

issue of Arena (in which Parsons also pops up. probing the mind of Sir D. Bowie. one of Parsons‘ pop icons). A generational malaise that has become degenerational. Even the radical ‘musical‘ tumult fighting through in the shape of Huggy Bear and Comershop disappoint in their promise of pop that‘s

_ really saying something. Laudably reacting against

the blank-faced indie/dance scenes with venom and attitude, they fail to convince because their slogans are too crudely carved, their manifestos too vague. their music too crap. This time the revolution will be unlistenable.

‘I think you‘re right,‘ nods this veteran ofthe punk wars. ‘The Sex Pistols were drunk and abusive on the Bill Grundy Show. But they were also making great

records . . . It‘s okay having worthy attitudes and

aspirational times.‘ continues Parsons. ‘these are less 7

wanting to stamp out homophobia and sexism and racism. but people are not gonna listen to bad music. When pop has been powerful in the past. when it’s been a force for all different kinds of social change. it‘s been great records.‘

But at the end of the day. how does this near-40-year-

old father of a teenager and long-time observer of the l music scene separate his disillusionment with the

E sounds of now from just the crankiness of the

i curmudgeon? Bah humbug indeed.

‘I try to separate it!‘ he laughs. and admits to loving the recent Suede and PM Dawn albums (although this is ‘music for today that‘s built on the past‘ in both cases). ‘l do get excited, it‘s not that l‘m completely jaded and can‘t enjoy new music. And I‘m looking for it too. I wanna hear it. But I do feel that although there‘s still good music around, that sense of unified culture has gone. and it‘s gone forever.‘

. Aye. they don‘t make ‘em like they used to.


Art on the airwaves

When BBC Radio Scotland started their previous arts programme Queen Street Gardens, cynics suggested that there wouldn’t be enough material to fill the four-and-a-half hours per week. flow that this myth has been laid to rest, the station is about to make a serious bid to win a loyal arts audience. Not only are they giving their new magazine show The Usual

Suspects a high-profile night-time

slot, five times a week, but the station is, for the first time ever, to have a permanent ‘story‘ slot.

The format of The Usual Suspects will be a mixture of studio discussion and debate, reviews and location reports, and up-to-the-mlnute coverage of arts events as they happen. Late night reporters will be able to sprint round to the studio to relate their thoughts on the latest theatre offerings before the newspapers have a chance to sneeze.

A whole army of presenters have been assigned to the programme - hence the title - including familiar faces like lfB’s Janice Forsyth and Pat Kane of llue and Cry. If this borders on the multi-voiced mayhem of ‘zoo

radio’, Storyline, according to producer David Jackson Young, ‘is radio in its purest form - just the voice telling a story in time-honoured fashion. It’s one of the most difficult things for an actor to do well, but we are working with some wonderful people and we are very excited by what we have recorded so far.’

For fifteen minutes after the midday news there will be daily readings of short stories and serialisations of longer works of fiction, travel writing, biography and so on. The series will kick off with excerpts from George MacDonald Fraser’s classic Flashman, read by Iain Cuthbertson, which will be followed by line McLean’s narration of A. l.. Kennedy’s short story “The Role Of


Notable Silences In Scottish llistory'. The last week of May will feature a reading of iforman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, recently filmed to great acclaim by Robert Redford.

Both shows evidence a major revamp of Radio Scotland‘s schedule, and the time is undoubtedly right for provocative, informative and entertaining airwave arts programmes for Scotland. With these two new series the station seems to have finally underscored its commitment to Scottish culture. (Margaret O’Connor, Catherine Fellows)

The fiscal Suspects is on BBC Radio Scotland five nights per week at 10.10pm. Storyline runs daily, 12.03-12.18pm. Both start on Mon 17.

The List 7—20 May 1993 77