Skating around my enduring affection for verfremdungseffekt, I bumped into the marvellous vigintennial, or vicennial, meaning 20th anniversary.

As if that weren’t enough! Okay, delving into Stuff-Having-A-Vigintennial, I was delighted, but delighted, to see it has been 20 years since Quasi released the album Featuring “Birds”.

Quasi is a two piece, Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss. They used to be married, but, yeah, things happen… anyway, fortunately, they remained a musical item.

Featuring “Birds”, the duo’s third album, is a collection of lively yet lugubrious songs for roxichord and drums, with mordant, witty, often bleakly cynical lyrics. Thematically, they grapple with politics and relationships in particular.

Music lovers may recognise both names from other outfits – Weiss with Sleater-Kinney, for example. Quasi also toured with Elliott Smith, as support and backing band, which I was lucky enough to see in action. My then partner and friendship group found a rich seam of gigs In Them Days. We’re all largely scattered about the planet now, and breakups are never easy, but let the annals record those were also often the best of times.

Perhaps one of my favourite ever gigs was when we got to see Quasi do their own headlining set in September 1999 at the 13th Note Club in Glasgow… and here, he shuffled excitedly among his effects, is the set list:

…on lovely pink paper, you may just about discern.

The embedded tune is “It’s Hard To Turn Me On”, which came as an encore that night. There was Coomes, semi-seriously claiming to the rapt crowd to be running out of songs to play, when a slightly slurry Scottish voice suggested “Walt Disney!” He had to run it by them a couple of times, as I recall. “Walt Disney disnae make me happy!”. Quasi duly obliged.

Featuring “Birds”. Please seek it out and wish it a happy vigintenary year.

It had to happen. The last couple of years have seen the commencement of 20th anniversary celebrations that it was once easy to think were hundreds of years away from happening. The youth’s blithe ignorance of time. Pronounce that ‘ignore-ance’: it’s maybe not unawareness, just disregard.

Mainly this is misery. It’s manifesting in bands that once stood shirts open and lithe, pouted for cameras, smacked their pert bottoms insouciantly with microphones, made music to throw yourself about to, now become lumpen middle-aged leaden-footed parodies of themselves. Suede, Manic Street Preachers, I’m looking at you, but not too closely.

Apparently, (old man take a look at my life) watching chart shows and music pop tv, I’ve got this annoying trait of constantly referring to a pet theory of the circularity of culture, with conversational non sequiturs like “A pox on this cultural looking back… the 80s are now as the 60s were to us in the 80s,” or indeed the 90s, as it has now cycled on to. 20 years on, to use a phrase half as good as Alan Bennett’s. Bands sounding like older bands and the older bands coming out for a second or third crack at the whip.

In this scheme, nostalgia is exactly what it used to be. “Imagine how fans of the Stones in the 60s felt by the time Mick Jagger was gurning all over the 80s.”

jagger_bowie_gurning_doom

Terrifying. I dunno. We are almost constantly being disappointed by our heroes ageing, and trying to avoid changing, yet changing, and becoming disappointing, and how it reflects back at us. Wordsworth got it in the neck from Browning, and so back and forth.

However! Sometimes backwards-looking doesn’t end in catastrophe. Dazed and Confused, I just discovered, one of my all time favourite movies of all time, just celebrated 20 years of existence. I missed the actual anniversary, last year, but, uh, yeah. Yet when I saw it had was been thenly, I took the opportunity to have a re-watch for the first time in ages.

I still love it. That messy mass of characters, wonderful conversational non sequiturs, moments, inconsequential events, that, in fact, surely, have whole life consequences.

Here is something I discovered also while riffing around on Linklater and DAC. Quite very much enjoyed the song, and I love the “Not back on it… still on it” tone of the accompanying video. Plus a fine lyric:

“For once, once in your life
won’t you do what feels right
instead of waiting for the next big compromise?”

That’s what I love about movie characters: I get older, they stay the same age.

Previously, in The Mortal Bath: a post about The Stone Roses, in which I wrote of the pleasures to be found in driving out of cities on sunny days, blasting out music with great depths, emotionally and sonically. Sometimes you have to stop and enjoy the Roses, basically.

In getting that Stone Roses urge my psychic tendrils must have been twitching. For whodathunk, it was but three weeks later that The Stone Roses would announce their resurrection. The announcement was made to moderate surprise, and the crunch of teeth gnashing, through glee, through rage, perhaps through the use of powdered preparations. Moderate surprise, because John Squire had previously been unequivocal about the chances of a reunion tour taking place:

“I have no desire whatsoever to desecrate the grave of seminal Manchester pop group The Stone Roses” – John Squire, 2009

The words are often cited with a yaah-boo tone, by commentators in the happy position of never having changed their minds about anything. As Sean Connery, and Lani Hall, would tell you, to get mixed up with a man who says never may be big trouble. Life is too short. And, “in the current economic climate”, who among us can turn down a pay day doing something we love with people we work well with? Thuz: while I agree with Ten Minutes Hate – they are just a band, and nostalgia alone is a foolish malady – I echo also the Manchester music writer/maker/event John Robb’s personal responses to the news. The Stone Roses matter.

That John Robb also makes music is worthy of note in understanding his enthusiasm. The continuing slow demise/re-ordering of “the music business”, the biz called show full of radio Joes, through the ongoing and closer embrace of self-organisation, the use of mass communication tools from the dreams of pamphleteers and artists, is bringing with it the punky/rave overthrow of established order that JCG at 10MH alludes to. It’s not going to be a Revolution Day to be enshrined in the calendar, perhaps, although 15 seats for the Pirate Party in the Berlin State Parliament election this year is pretty momentous, for a movement that grew out of a bunch of (music) filesharers. However, we see and continue to see a slow and certain slide away from centrally-imposed models of culture.

What Robb identifies as the crucial point to be got about The Stone Roses is that they facilitated this for a lot of people, back in the day. The subtext I get from Robb is a hope that The Stone Roses may once again awaken a slumbering generation. They were a homegrown joy, with all the horticultural connotations that phrase may evoke. They struck a (12 string guitar) chord: mouthy lads from the North saying things in their own voice, that actually sounded pretty inspiring and uplifting too. Fade to technicolor:

‘For a lot of people, this is the band that changed everything in their lives and was their portal into another world.’

– John Robb in the NME 29.10.2011

Their influence was beyond musical, and whether these Heaton Park gigs succeed or just suck is beside the point to an extent. No one who ever loved The Stone Roses was ever in any illusion on the point that live, The Stone Roses were sometimes to be found wanting. A superb review of a Stone Roses Live in Blackpool video from Select, I think it was, magazine, written by, I think, either David Stubbs or Quantick, held a phrase so perfect that I have remembered it ever since:

‘On record, Ian Brown sounds like a choirboy. Live, he sounds like Shaun Ryder falling downstairs.’

I never got to see them in the flesh, so can only base my judgements on footage. They were great on record. However, friends who saw them (at Glasgow Green and elsewhere) are quite clear on the transcendent properties of the occasion. Friends who were 16, 17… come on, life. Gigs that succeed are often nothing to do with the actual sounds occurring.

The Stone Roses also represented something lemon fresh in the air at the close of the 1980s and the early 1990s. It is crucial to see them in this context. As well as signing a portal into a world of dance music I and guitar-fan pals might never have opened otherwise, at the same time they provided another refraction of the light that seemed to be emerging from the cracks in the walls, off the bits of ice calving off the Cold War. The Berlin Wall fell, Nelson Mandela was freed. The Stone Roses were not the only guitar band to straddle and attack musical barriers, not the first nor last, but they were and remain quite open about, and undervalued for, their political influence.

Their first album cover art is called ‘Bye Bye Badman’:

…the lyrics of which song are about chucking cobbles at the Man. The lemons are a reference to a cheap defence against tear gas. Simon and Garfunkel pastiche ‘Elizabeth My Dear’ is unabashedly republican in sentiment, and more subtle than ‘God Save The Queen’. They laughed in the face of the BBC, calling them amateurs. Red white and blue warpaint stripes speak of liberty, equality, fraternity here, now, do it now…

One might go on. Anyway, the super spangly sugar spun rush of hope and enthusiasm that their sound was, sloping into too-cool-for-schule baggy trouser funk, off for a tab, spoke a truth to many people, on a level deeper than the music itself.

To return to the music for a few lines, when Second Coming came out, it was not ‘almost universally loathed’, as JCG puts it. Universally understood as disappointingly anti-climactic is perhaps more accurate, from me and the pals who were also waiting to hear it, anyway. Contextually, we’d had the First Gulf War, enmiring the sweet bird of freedom in thick, crude oil. Fools’ Black Gold. we were becoming used to disappointment. There were enough good, by which I mean exciting, not-heard-this-before, songs on it to rescue it from catastrophe – Begging You, Breaking into Heaven, Ten Storey Love Song. However, there were also lots of John-Squire-as-Jimmy-Page slide guitar blues licks that were not required. ‘Twas neither nowt nor summat, as we say on our side of the Pennines. Not dancey enough. A bit heavy on its feet. Fat second album, even the title a lazy joke at their own expense. The Stone Roses’ well-chronicled demise at Reading was to be honest actually a bit of a relief, when it came. We were ready to move on.

The reunion gigs might be awful, they might not. I’m not that bothered – I know what they done for me with the records. Listening to Paint It Black, I don’t think of Mick Jagger on the Steel Wheels tour. But, and it is riffing on various articles what has sparked off most of this consideration, there seems to be an idea that The Stone Roses are tainting their own discography and, more widely, culture in general by succumbing to the same nostalgia that has pickled their twisted lemons. That they should be giving up the space for other, younger bands. Why are we even writing about this bunch of old timers?

"...tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today."

I think the problem here, if there is any problem, if ‘here’ can be understood, briefly, as a specific point in a specific cultural field that is forever northern England, and full of music obsessives, the problem is not The Stone Roses. It is one of, in the British media, critical poverty. There is the intrusion, or sustaining, of a kind of glib, unrigorous academic what-to-say mentality, that the hapless Sam Wolfson refers to when he writes of legacy journalism. Lists, articles and hagiographies written by single-idea people to fill magazine inches, increasingly desperate measures to retain the kind of consumers they think read magazines, who they think think in inches.

And it affects all the other writers clamouring for inclusion in that sphere. It turns them into the kinds of writers that complain glibly of unwanted Revolution In The Head-style detail yet offer no counterblast. The kind of writers who neglect to offer the bands with which their g-g-generation will short the nostalgia circuits: will it be titans such as Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, The Ting Tings? The kind of writers so culturally conservative that even their oppositional rhetoric of change and variety is based in a cement of cosy assumptions: that the Reading festival, or equivalent, will continue long into the future, that they will sire children to go to it, that their offspring will be ‘post-GCSE’ educated, that they will be educated at all…

The kind of view set out by Sam Wolfson represents a real decay of critical inspiration, replaced by digital facsimile. In one obvious sense, the article is a decoy duck deployed by the Graun to suck in comment and links, but it denotes also a wider malaise in writing about music, in the presentation of music. In the press, on the BBC, Channel 4, More music, Sky Arts 10,500, everywhere, one sees alongside dusty, Rock Family Tree received wisdom, pin-through-the-abdomen criticism, an unthinking acceptance of horribly vague models of musical history, from people who have just not read or listened widely or deeply enough.

Linear narratives nailed haphazardly across spindly struts. Supported only by scant attention paid to hundreds of iTunes folders full of one track. It’s irritating to listen to or read people who are clearly basing their opinions on such a shallow exploration. Wolfson, the DJs bringing you The Glastonbury Experience… it is nothing less than the near complete cultural dominance of people who know only what they’re supposed to say about stuff. People with almost precisely no understanding of what it is they’re talking about.

Quick pop quiz: If someone suggests a band references the 1960s in their music, which bits do they mean? 12 string guitars or 13th Floor Elevators? Sly and the Family Stone, Funkadelic? “Northern Soul”? The British Invasion? Bert Kaempfert, Long John Baldry, Engelbert Humperdinck? Albert Ayler? Woodstock, punk rock, disco, boogie, pop? When it ‘sounds like the Beach Boys’, does this mean surf guitar, theremin, vocal harmonies, orchestration or the crunching of vegetables? Name more than 10 bands from the 1960s that aren’t The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. Do you even MEAN music from the 1960s? Likewise music from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s. Be specific! Stop using cultural shorthand! And, incidentally, by ‘seminal’ do you mean original and influential, or dripping with spunk?

A fascinating article linked to by 10MH is to be found at the Collapse Board. Wallace Wylie dreams of a day when a proper history of the 1990s will expunge Britpop from the minds of the people. There already have been attempts. For one example, Ben Thompson gave it a go back in 1998 with Seven Years of Plenty. As well as Goldie, Aphex Twin and Portishead, and Blur and Pulp, he discusses Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Super Furry Animals and other bands that ploughed furroughs in fields quite different to those now being used for housing developments by halfwit journalists.

I’ll come back to Those Other 1990s bands, perhaps. It’s already there to be discovered, other narratives written, different dubs plated. One has to maintain abandon to a sense of wonder and exploration. Ian Brown, at another much-discussed gig, said:

‘The time, the time is now, do it now, do it now.’

Everett True’s review wants to know what to do. ‘Do exactly what?’ he wonders. Here, exactly, is the nub of the crux, the problem with a certain type of criticism. Brown was not saying what ‘it’ is, nor should he. He might have meant get drunk, get high, dance, sit down, buy our records, make your own records. Take up triathlons. It doesn’t matter what he meant, it’s what he did. That’s what he was saying: You know. It’s your thing. Get on with it. Immerse me in your splendour.

THAT is what I got from The Stone Roses, why they matter. Now, come on – we’re wasting our time.