Thought For The Day
Thought For The Day
Goodbye C20, Hello C21!
So here we are, leaving C20, entering C21. For me, born in 1960, about to turn 40, the new year makes a clean line between youth and age. C20 is where I was born, where I was young. C21 is where I'll grow old and die.
But being a forward-looking kind of person, a person 'from the future', an early adopter and an Aquarian, I'm not sorry to see the calendar change. In 1980 I was extremely pessimistic about the future. I really thought there wasn't one. Now I'm much more upbeat. I can't wait for neural networks and genetic engineering.
When I look back at C20 I ask myself 'Am I ready to turn the big page on this stuff now? What, if anything, really moved me about this century? What do I feel partly responsible for or implicated in, and what begins to look barbaric and atavistic about it?'
Generally I'm quite happy to turn the big page. I think C21 will be an incredible place, full of interesting things. But I don't want to wipe the slate clean. There are a couple of things I'd like to keep from the chapter we're closing.
A Moon In The Man
I'm glad to have been alive and culturally aware in the 1960s. That's one thing about C20 I'm glad I saw. Most of my friends these days are people born in the 70s. They didn't sense at first hand and in real time the incendiary atmosphere of optimism, defiance, liberty, creativity and experimentation there was in the 60s. I think one reason I chose the work I did was that in the music industry it's the 60s forever. The 60s is where the youth counterculture really started, and as a pop musician you're a young rebel as long as you want to be. (In your head, at least.)
Of course, once you stride in with secateurs, trying to isolate the good things in history and snip out the bad, you realise that, as in a person, good and bad are totally intertwined. The creativity of the 60s owes a lot to World War II, for example. What we now call Globalism wouldn't have happened without that war and the huge movements of people it caused, or the later application to society of Frank Whittle's jet engine. We owe the 60s emphasis on creativity to the Cold War. When the Russians put Sputnik in orbit it was an incredible shock to the Americans, making them pour millions into scientific research and launch a thousand earnest enquiries into the origins of creativity. But creativity proved to be a Pandora's box. Yes, they put a man on the moon (I watched it live on a black and white TV in Montpellier, in the south of France). But they also put a moon in The Man. They 'opened strange doors that we'll never close again'.
The camouflaged idiots who brought us the imperialist debacle in Vietnam also gave us the internet. LSD, which totally changed the cultural landscape between 1960 and 1970, came into general use thanks to US military trials.
Make It New!
The good things in the 20th century are all tied up with the bad ones. In fact, they seem mostly to be unintended offshoots. But as people with feet in another century now, we can lean over into the 20th Century like raspberry-pickers, taking the fruit, leaving the thorns.
Another thing I would cherish from C20 is Modernism. By which I mean Picasso, Varese, Kafka, Stravinsky, Webern, Stockhausen, Cage, Duchamp, Eliot, Beckett... you know, all that stuff which swept away the pompous gestures, the potted palms and history paintings of the 19th Century and replaced them with something strange, hermetic, fragmented, radical and rootless, international, cold and scary, violent, risky, unpopular. Lorca, Miro, and all the C20 Modernists we've yet to discover. Ezra Pound's 'Make it new!' still means something.
Some Modernist artifacts are big, shiny and unloveable, like brutalist architecture. But I'm glad it all happened. I feel implicated. It's one of my things. I work in a medium where you have to be popular or die, and I could be accused of using kitsch to reconcile my values with those of the population at large. But I'm constantly drawing on the legacy of the Modernists, those fantastic risk-takers and rule-breakers. If it were still possible I'd like to be like one of them, austere, arrogant, almost scientific, inventing serialism or cubism. Of course, it isn't. Modernism is just a big chilly white museum now, a museum where nobody goes. Well, that's fine. I have it to myself. Good morning Arnold, good morning Pablo! Welcome to the 21st Century. It's a place where you are still important.
Queen Of New York
I have some personal ambitions for C21. I want to live in New York and be a British dandy in the manner of the late, great Quentin Crisp. I want to travel a lot in the Third World, because whenever I see places like India or, I don't know, Syria on TV I find them beautiful and exciting to look at. I think I've spent too long in a place (London) that I actually find aesthetically toxic. (But was that ugliness the motivation I needed to make music? Would art be necessary in a beautiful world?)
I want to create more elaborate worlds than I've already done in Momus records, in music but also in interactive multimedia or even books. I want to be a sort of Scheherezade or Baron Munchausen of the information age. I want to construct a baroque postmodernist castle above the clouds somewhere and live in it surrounded by delicate oriental girls. And make babies. I want to live in surroundings of chipboard, transparent plastic, fluorescent light, LCD projections and flat plasma screens. I want to wear ludicrously bright clothes with data conduits sewn into them by lower east side jewish tailors. And I want there to be great art, musicians and multimedia people and dancers and artists who astonish me and tempt me to copy them.
We're Coming Out
In fact, I want C21 to be nothing less than a second renaissance. I want cars and cigarettes out of the picture, and I want the polar ice caps saved. I want everybody to upload as much as they download on the internet (that's the new moral imperative). I want world peace, no more passport and visa boundaries, no more protective trade tarifs. I want the ideal of convenience to cede to the ideal of beauty. I want people to stop wearing black. I want television to get totally weird and unpredictable. I want everybody's IQ to increase by at least 35 points. I want the whole world to look a bit more like Harajuku, Tokyo, or Dante's Florence, or Shakespeare's London.
If the first half of C20 belongs to emblematic figures like Picasso (standing for a clique of risk-taking and iconoclastic mandarins) and Hitler (tomorrow's technology in the hands of yesterday's ideology, the idiotic application of industrial techniques to genocide), the second half is where we make our entrance; the self-appointed heralds and architects of C21, the geeks who will change the world.
Where did C21 begin? Ask the late Akio Morita of Sony, ask Steve Jobs at Apple, ask David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Laurie Anderson, Quentin Crisp and Wendy Carlos, Pierre Cardin, Bruce Haack, Buckminster Fuller and Archigram. Ask the Japanese at the ICA, ask Rem Koolhaas on the set of his Cities On The Move exhibition. (And ask him to design me a house in delirious Manhattan while you're at it.)
The straights, squares, fascists, anals, motorists, suburbans, breeders and Taylorists have had their day. We're the normal ones now. We're coming out.