I know I am not alone in feeling a creeping sense of doom brought on by the times we find ourselves living (hopefully) through. It is hard to define exactly, like the early pre-symptom stages of a cold, a general sense of impending wrongness. The thought is in my bones rather than in my brain. No, it is not a thought. If it was a thought I’d be stockpiling canned food and petrol, making exit strategies, that sort of thing. But it isn’t a thought yet, it’s not articulate enough to be a thought.
So I carry on more or less as usual. I still check my emails and listen to the demos. But I am increasingly dismayed by what is in my inbox. Don’t these bands feel the same way I do? Isn’t art supposed to heighten our sensitivity to this kind of global clench? Shouldn’t their antenna be quivering? Why am I still receiving ironic post-whatever songs about breakups? And the covering letters— christ. It’s like they’re applying for a job at Dixons. “I can compose songs under my own initiative but also collaborate musically as part of a team”. They all talk about the same thing: talent. Specifically deserving talent. Is there a more boring subject in this field? A singer-songwriter talking about their talent is like a painter telling you what kind of wood their easel is made out of. Who cares, just show me the art.
But what’s worse than the dreariness of this approach is witnessing the cloying insistency that talent will save them, like a helicopter dangling a rope-ladder over an exploding roof: “Save me I’m talented, much more talented than the other people on this exploding roof”. That’s the bit I really dislike. And that dislike is getting more and more poisonous the further we trudge into 2017.
Talent should not be a life-boat made for one. It should not just be your route out. When are we going to stop looking at ways our talents can help us escape our desperate surroundings and start looking around for ways to improve those surroundings for everyone? I’m sick of hearing about artists who deserve a chance because they’ve got talent. Everyone deserves a chance and everyone has talent.
The mess we’re in now (choose whatever mess is currently closest to you – Brexit, Trump etc) was birthed in the rancid quagmire of “that’s mine, not fair, I’m better, who do they think they are” reasoning. Most of the recent political debate about UK sovereignty might as well have been voiced by two worms sitting in the entrails of a dead cow. Everything is just so small and grubby and, damn it, what the hell is art for if not to explode this kind of caustic shrunken thinking.
The generation of men all but wiped out by the First World War was full of poets. Not just the likes of Wilfred Owen but the countless naive young Edwardians writing in 1913 about love and sunsets, clucking proudly over their pretty little turns of phrase a year before perishing in the trenches. I’m not saying we currently stand on the brink of something similar, I’m just saying that whatever happens, this world is in serious flux and if you’re writing jingly-jangly dreamy art-pop hoping some benevolent label will get it placed on an advert for highspeed broadband or corn flakes then maybe you should pause for a moment, step away from your glockenspiel, look out of the window or switch on the news and decide if you’re okay with that. Because creative, open-minded, energetic people need to stop building shrines to their own charming uniqueness and get together with other creative, open-minded energetic people and demonstrate to everyone with ears to listen that hate, greed and mistrust do not have to be the default human condition.
Music is such an incredible inclusive social force. Bands are always talking about “getting to the next rung on the ladder” – forget the damned ladder, there is no ladder, just a big grey wall.
And if history has taught us anything, it’s that it takes a lot of people to bring down a wall.