Tag Archives: George Orwell

Images Of England Through Popular Music

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Images Of England Through Popular Music –
Class,Youth and Rock’n’Roll, 1955-1976
By Keith Gildart
Palgrave Macmillan – £15.99

[…] the Sex Pistols themselves were the personification of particular aspects of Englishness that could be found in working-class radicalism, humour and populism. They shared Orwell’s view that England remained ‘a land of snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and the silly.’

The tension of class, authenticity, stardom and recognition were a constant source of tension between Lennon and McCartney in their formative years and throughout their subsequent career.

And so it came to pass that popular music as we once knew it turned into huge, regular dollops, of mere money-spinning horse manure.

Where once upon a time England actually had exciting, rebellious, inventive artists and rock’n’roll bands (The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie among many others), we now have far too many wailing tarts with microphones of whom all rather fancy themselves as Etta James; but are in fact, pure hogwash of the first degree (the ghastly Pixie Lott of whom, surely wails at the vanguard).

In essence, the country no longer has a music industry any more.

That there are but three main record companies left in London (Universal, Sony and Warner) should come as no surprise. They all subscribe subscribe to the ideology of Satan himself, Simon Cowell – which is to say, here today, gone tomorrow, who gives a toss about what it sounds like, so long as it generates money – and they all behave in such a way that is detrimental to music as we once knew. As depicted in this very readable book by Keith Gildart.

Its eight chapters capture something of a magical, bygone period in British music, a time when artists and bands weren’t being groomed by accountants, but by musical instinct (and in some instances, intellect).

Indeed, Images Of England Through Popular Music – Class,Youth and Rock’n’Roll, 1955-1976, not only traverses the musicality of said time period, but also the degree to which class and geography played a part: ”In the post-war period, North West England in particular became closely associated with popular music and produced a multiplicity of groups and solo artists. Some performers retained particularly northern traits in terms of accent, style, humour and an identification with the broader working-class that purchased their records and danced to their rhythms (‘Coal, Cotton and Rock’n’Roll’).

In three parts (‘Teddy Boy England,’ ‘Mod England’ and Glam/Punk England’), the book as a whole casts an intrinsically ideological net, which goes some way in deciphering how and why things came about the way they did.

A good example being John Lennon’s position within all of this, as addressed in the chapter ‘Liverpool, The Beatles and Cultural Politics: ”Lennon’s ambiguous position within the class structure of Liverpool was familiar to a generation of working and lower-middle class children who experienced social mobility through eduction, but retained an affiliation to aspects of working-class structure. His rebelliousness was rooted in his negative reaction to formal schooling and the class nature of the English education system […]. The division between rock’n’roll and jazz was demarcated through class lines in Liverpool and other English towns and cities. Some writers have tended to focus on Lennon’s art school experiences as his entry point into the more esoteric elements of American rock’n’roll […]. Yet they underestimate the resilience of class and locality in the roots of English popular music. Lennon personified the complexity of class identity with his bridging of both working and middle-class cultures.”

To say the above is a mere tip of the literary dissertation that this most worthy critique of (English) youth culture has to offer, is an understatement.

The more it unfolds, the more one is compelled to both read and investigate ever further.

David Marx

Jack London On Adventure

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Jack London On Adventure –
Words Of Wisdom From An Expert Adventurer
Skyhorse Publishing – $12.99

The thought of work was repulsive. I didn’t care if I never settled down. Learning a trade could go hang. It was a whole let better to royster and frolic over the world in the way I had previously done. So I headed out on the adventure path again.

                                                                        ‘The Artist As Adventurer’

Obviously written during an era when adventure was a complete and all circumnavigating way of life, one which was undeniably, deeply instilled within the fibre of ones’ being – rather than subscribed to by those who merely dabble in misadventure over the weekend – the writer Jack London certainly lived the life.

A life of his own design that is; which, regardless of how you care to look at it, was in and of itself, commendable.

Indeed, throughout his unfortunately brief life, he remained a free spirit of which Jack London On Adventure – Words Of Wisdom From An Expert Adventurer is something of a literary window, as the above opening segment wonderfully illustrates.

As opposed to being a mere linear overview of London’s entire works, this handsome little book is devised in such a way that it more dabbles and regales upon certain eras of London’s literary prowess: ”This gave them the seeming of ghostly masques, undertakers in a spectral world at the funeral of some ghost. But under it all they were men, penetrating the land of desolation and mockery and silence, puny adventurers bent on colossal adventure, pitting themselves against the might of a world as remote and alien and pulseless as the abysses of space.”

I have recently been asked to write the Foreword for a terrific new book on London entitled The Iron-Heeled Century: Rereading Jack London by the author, Anthony James; and amid my investigation(s), this is a fine and altogether brazen read – rather like the subject himself.

One which sheds oodles of light on an oft misunderstood, underrated writer (of whom George Orwell, among others, was a renowned fan).

David Marx

Orwell’s Faded Lion

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Orwell’s Faded Lion
The Moral Atmosphere of Britain 1945 – 2015
By Anthony James
Imprint Academic £14.95/$29.90

The later consequences of the Bush and Blair invasion of Iraq became clear in June 2014. The extreme group ISIS had conquered and occupied large swathes of Iraq, showing themselves to be considerably more ferocious, murderous and ruthless towards many Iraqis than Saddam Hussein had ever been, as well as a potentially far greater danger to the West. Tony Blair’s own self-justifying comments on this development were puerile and detached from reality. The one thing that Blair could never admit is how much the original American-British invasion had fuelled support for ISIS.

(‘Who Controls The Past Controls The Future’).

Having reviewed a number of books on Tony Blair over the years, I’ve always found myself being inadvertently confined to his way of thinking. To be sure, I’ve always found the tentacles of his varying in depth arguments and interviews inherently far reaching. Not to mention plausible, believable and down-right influential.

No wonder he made for such a superlative politician.

Lest it be said that to certain a degree, the former Prime Minister still knows how to cajole and hold-court; which is just one of the many, many reasons, why I really cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Orwell’s Faded Lion – The Moral Atmosphere of Britain 1945-2015 by Anthony James, is a tough, gritty, honest and at times, bleak overview of Britain’s political morass since the end of the Second World War. Although what accounts for its most readable quality (I couldn’t help but read the entire book in the best part of two sittings), is its clear and concise, rightful apprehension of the truth.

There’s no woolly, flim-flam, thank-you-mam approach to that of it’s political endeavour. Like George Orwell himself, hence the title, these 148 pages pack a super-suave punch, right into the smug and superfluous face of spin and impeccable lies.

For where else in this soulless day and overtly jaded age of social implosion, would you read: ”[..] with adult memories of Britain before 1979, I find it difficult as a parent to convey fully to my daughter […] the depth and scale of the changes in British society, many of which have turned out to be permanent and irreversible […] Britain after Mrs. Thatcher has been radically different and considerably worse and has not shown any sign yet that it can escape from the mould she imposed upon it […]. Her revolution, like all revolutions, was driven by an idea: you run the affairs of a country (it is not appropriate to say ‘society,’ the existence of which she denied) like a business, according to the instincts of businessmen and businesswomen […]. Although Mrs Thatcher lacked any understanding of the Marxism she hated, Karl Marx had given an enduring description of the spirit of her revolution in The Communist Manifesto, almost a century and a half earlier.

[Capitalism] has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’ It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. ‘It has resolved personal worth into exchange value… In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.”

(‘Who Controls The Past Controls The Future’).

Each of this books five chapters are grounded in such unwavering writing(s) as that above, which, regardless of political persuasion, makes for a thunder-bolt of an awakening call.

One of the most compact and satisfying of reads so far this year (I can’t wait for the sequel).

David Marx

Prepared For The Worst

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Prepared For The Worst – Selected Essays and Minority Reports
By Christopher Hitchens
Atlantic Books – £16.99

Apart from the fact that the standard of writing really is second to none, Christopher Hitchens, was, still is, renowned for taking his reader on a lively and most intellectual journey that can only be described as a combination of mordant wit and provocative prowess.

Each of Prepared For The Worst’s five sections is simply uber-jam-packed with the sort of dissectory analysis akin to that of say John Pilger, only without quite so much politicised, social commentary, and perhaps more flair for a variety of subjects that range from Graham Greene to Thomas Paine (”Merely by stating the obvious and sticking to it, Paine had a vast influence on the affairs of America, France, and England. Many critics and reviewers have understated the thoroughness of Paine’s comment, representing him instead as a kind of Che Guevara of the bourgeois revolution”), Pat Robertson to Albert Camus (”Camus had a knack for noticing grotesque things – not just in individuals, but in attitudes”), the questionably unresolved Watergate Scandal to Kim Dae Jung to one of my all time favourite writers, George Orwell, in an overtly thought provoking essay.

Aptly entitled ‘Comrade Orwell’) it begins: ”Orwell has been smothered with cloying approbation by those who would have despised or ignored him when he was alive, and pelted him with smug after-thoughts by those who (often unwittingly or reluctantly) shared the same trenches as he did. The present climate threatens to stifle him in one way or the other.”

This alone sets the literary, semi-politicised pace for what’s to follow, which, for all intents and persuasive purposes, is an essay littered with a number of sentences that are simply tailored made for academic questioning and further analysis:

”Orwell seldom wrote about foreigners, except sociologically, and then in a hit-or-miss fashion otherwise unusual to him; he very rarely mentions a foreign writer and has an excessive dislike of foreign words; although he condemns imperialism he dislikes its victims even more.,” – Discuss.

”It would be dangerous to blind ourselves to the fact that in the West millions of people may be inclined, in their anguish and fear, to flee from their own responsibility for mankind’s destiny and to vent their anger and despair on the giant Bogey-cum-Scapegoat which Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four has done so much to place before their eyes.,” Discuss.

”He was a materialist and a secularist – particularly hostile to the Roman Catholic heresy – but had a great reverence for tradition and for liturgy.,” – Discuss.

As Hitchens himself contends of this superb collection of essays: ”I suppose that, if this collection has a point, it is the desire of one individual to see the idea of confrontation kept alive.” And who, with the possible exceptions of George Osborne and those who work in either insurance or advertising, would want to argue with such razor induced profundity?

Prepared For The Worst is a terrific book and first of a number of Christopher Hitchens books I shall be reviewing in the near future.

David Marx

The Complete Works of W.H. Auden – Volume V

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The Complete Works of W.H. Auden – Volume V
Prose 1963-1968
Princeton University Press – £44.95

Having already reviewed the previous four volumes of W.H. Auden’s colossal body of work that Princeton University Press have published over the years; it should come as no surprise that I’d be more than compelled to write about this rather marvellous collection too.

Weighted in overt literary curiosity, my reasoning is such that almost all of Auden’s work, whether it’s prose, poetry or indeed, just about anything, remains so instantly enlightening. Not to mention consistently refreshing and invigorating to read.

In the words of The London Review of Books’ Frank Kermode: ”When you add in the volumes already devoted to plays, libretti, poems, it becomes hard to avoid describing the whole enterprise as heroic. In fact it could also be described as unique, for no other twentieth-century English poet has been so fully and patiently honoured.”

Indeed, it’s not remotely easy to even marginally fathom what makes W.H. Auden – Prose 1963-1968 so very readable. So very enjoyable; other than it being a darn good read of the highest (and I do mean the highest) calibre.

With the possible exception of only a handful of exceptional writers such as Burroughs, Camus or Orwell, where else would one read such colourful and quintessentially vital provocation in any other book’s Introduction – as any of the following: ”When in love, the soldier fights more bravely, the thinker thinks more clearly, the carpenter fashions with greater skill […]. It is quite true, as you say, that a fair principle does not get bald and fat or run away with somebody else. On the other hand, a fair principle cannot give me a smile of welcome when I come into a room. Love of a human being may be, as you say, a lower form of love than love for a principle, but you must admit that it is a damn sight more interesting […]. For millions of people today, words like communism, capitalism, imperialism, peace, freedom, democracy, have ceased to be words, the meaning of which can be inquired into and discussed, and have become right or wrong noises to which the response is as involuntary as a knee-reflex […]. Propaganda, like the sword, attempts to eliminate consent or dissent, and, in our age, magical language has to a great extent replaced the sword.”

Replete with philosophical undercurrent(s), the above quotations are equally cerebral and regal. Yet the tonality of the actual language used, remains nothing less than that which one has come to wholeheartedly expect from surely one of the twentieth century’s greatest of poets.

Yetr, what set Auden apart from so many of his contemporaries, was his uncanny and sometimes audacious ability to wax lyrical without ever falling into the trap of taking his eye off the ball. A facet of both thinking and writing, that still isn’t all too easy to accommodate. As not only was his writing simultaneously succinct and elaborate, it was anchored in being acutely fundamental: ”[…] ”there is no comprehensible relationship between the moral quality of a maker’s life and the aesthetic value of the works he makes;” the sources of every artist’s art ”are what Yeats called ‘the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart,’ its lusts, its hatreds, its envies.””

Suffice to say, the above is a mere tip of the extraordinary, literary iceberg contained within these 509 pages (excluding seven sections of Appendix, numerous Textual Notes and an Index of Titles ad Books Reviewed). From the very outset of Prose 1963-1968, Auden testifies to his own resounding translucent belief, where, in a Foreword to The Plough and the Pen: Writings from Hungary, 1930-1956, he writes: ”[…] in deceiving others, I cannot help knowing that I am telling a lie. I can, of course, choose to avoid learning certain facts because I am afraid of the truth and prefer to remain in ignorance, as the average German under Hitler, though he knew that concentration camps existed, preferred not to think about them […]. We must not, of course, imagine that political freedom in itself guarantees the creation of good art; indeed one of the most obvious characteristics of any country where there is freedom of speech and publication is the vast quantity of rubbish which gets spoken and printed. Persons with a love of and a talent to perceive and utter it are, unfortunately, a minority, but only under conditions of freedom can this minority develop its powers and have an influence.”

Hopefully, what I’ve written will give just some indication as to the sheer breadth and depth of W.H. Auden – Prose 1963-1968. To simply call it an altogether wonderful book could be construed as getting off too lightly, but in truth, that really is what it is: ”The articles will delight any reader with their wit, charm, and elegance (Charles Rosen, New York Review of Books).

David Marx

The Kingdom To Come

kingdom

The Kingdom To Come
By Peter Hennessy
Haus Publishing – £7.99

According to the Times Higher Education: ”Haus is to be congratulated for its courage in dusting off the political pamphlet format and publishing a series of essays, short enough to be read in one sitting, in the internet age.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Especially in this particular instance, where the essay has been somewhat entertainingly written by the Attlee Professor of contemporary British History at Queen Mary, University of London, Peter Hennessy. An astute and dedicated journalist, who has over the last twenty or so years, beguiled us with his more than informative writings in such publications as The Financial Times and The Economist.

Already on n page seventeen of The Kingdom To Come – Thoughts on the Union before and after the Scottish Referendum, he writes: ”There’s lighting and heavy rain over the Palace of Westminster. We wonder if this is God showing he’s a unionist;” which, in the big scheme of what could quite easily have been construed as an all too dry and rather didactic subject matter, once again, beguiles the reader unto reading more.

This ought hardly be surprising, because it is after all, Hennessy, who , in this pocket-size book’s Introduction (‘Thoughts from South Ronaldsay: Hope, anxiety and the shadow of Orwell’) writes: ”Pessimism is not my strongest suit. Quite the reverse. I possess perhaps excessive faith in the UK – that we will find a way through with out allies whatever we are up against, whether it be the Kaiser, Hitler or Stalin and his successors – or any ‘ism,’ person or country likely to threaten our existence or the special cluster of characteristics and practices we bundle together inside our borders.”

Given the current migrant crisis, the final sentence of the above (cryptic and colourful) quote, is surely capable of triggering another Haus pamphlet in its own right?

Watch this space I guess.

David Marx

George Orwell – English Rebel

George Orwell English Rebel

George Orwell – English Rebel
By Robert Colls
Oxford University Press – £25.00

In ‘Last of England,’ the penultimate chapter of this refreshingly vibrant and all round excellent new book, George Orwell – English Rebel, its author Robert Colls writes: ”[…] Orwell’s best hope is a woman, and his England begins to look increasingly feminine after 1940. Being inside a whale (and what a whale) is like being inside a womb.”

To what extent the reader will emphatically agree or perhaps disagree with such a double-edged thought process – is surely open to debate. For like many an Orwellianism (and there were many), there’s no denying its translucent sentiment and quintessential complex clarification. What’s more, it’s just a tiny tip of a literary iceberg that readily brims with the ”crystal spirit” of Orwell’s idiosyncratic writing(s) and complicated, if not sanguine, personal life – a life delicately reflected upon throughout (”Their wedding menu was splendidly English: Roast Aylesbury Duckling and Sherry Cream Trifle. In 1938 they submitted photographs to the British Consulate prior to their trip to Marrakech. He looks handsome and she looks pretty, both in an an English film-star sort of way”).

Indeed, from his early frustrating days at Eton to the eye-opening five years in Burma; from his overtly influential Wigan period through to Barcelona and Catalonia; from the Luftwaffe filled skies of London during the Blitz to the twentieth century classic that is Nineteen Eighty Four, these eight chapters make for nigh mesmerising reading. And they’re so dense yet compact. So pivotal yet simultaneously objective.

Admittedly, I haven’t read every book on Orwell – who has? But English Rebel is as much a stimulating read as it is inspiring. Although more importantly, it’s acutely informative.

According to Melvyn Bragg: ”Rob Colls has taken on the man’s Englishness, his personality, warts and all, and the elusive notion that he was a rebel in his own land.”

I can’t help but agree, as from the very first chapter ‘Angry Old Etonian,’ the author immediately leans towards said rebellious notion wherein he most adroitly writes: ”He loathed nationalism, but defined Englishness for a generation. He was an enemy of the right, but had little to say in favour of the left. He was no friend of the left, but tried to work within it. He was violently opposed to totalitarianism, but had little interest in political parties. He didn’t write well about women but tried, in one novel at least, to write about being a woman, and in his last novel he invested his best hope, such as it was, in one woman and (almost) all women. He did not trust intellectuals, but mixed with them, was one himself, and never tried to pretend otherwise, though sometimes he conveniently forgot the fact.”

The final line here, does suggest that Colls isn’t afraid to shoot from the hip so to speak, although one cannot help but commend the ever so deft consideration of the above. As it’s all true.

George Orwell was, and to a certain degree, remains, all that which the author has written – and a whole lot more besides; which, in a round-a-bout sort of way, is re-confirmed a little later in ‘Angry Old Etonian’: ”Orwell was against all the major world systems of his day, including nationalism and Catholicism. Apart from an early gut attraction to a sort of folk Marxism where ‘the oppressed are always right and the oppressors are always wrong,’ he did not believe in political ideologies either.”

The latter is perhaps a little ironic, especially given that Orwell is still considered (by many) to be ”the most significant British political writer of the twentieth century.” In and of itself, this continues to be re-substantiated in countless ways. One of which is the simple fact that he has an entire square named after him in Barcelona – a wonderful, yet inexorable/political/contentious hotspot in Catalonia/Spain if ever there was one.

Replete with eighteen black and white plates in the middle of the book, these 235 pages are, to once again quote Bragg: ”full of zesty prose, fine insights, and a freshness of interpretation which made it a pleasure to read. It’s a major achievement and a major work on George Orwell.”

That, it most definitely is.

To say George Orwell – English Rebel packs a mighty mean punch to the political solar plexus of both naïve distraction and myopic conformity, is a colossal understatement. Then again, as a publication, it is helped along its way by the simple fact that it’s subject ”believed that telling the truth was a revolutionary act.”

David Marx