Sunday, 29 July 2012

An Island Full of Noises

As everyone has been so effusive and enthusiastic about Danny Boyle's Olympics ceremony -- from the likes of Julien Temple at one end of the spectrum to Giles Coren at the other -- I thought I'd watch the remainder of it on BBC iPlayer last night, bolstered by a couple of glasses of pinot grigio. Maybe it did get better?  After all, most of these pundits seem to have enjoyed it despite their predisposition to sniff and to sneer.

No, I'm afraid I have to say that, for me, it didn't get better.  Sure, it was fun, clever, spectacular, and inclusive to a fault, and I did like the House of Pop projections. But is Britain really, in the end, nothing more than a ever-gushing cornucopia of pop culture?  Do we have no literary, scientific, political, commercial, or technological achievements?  Nothing to be truly proud of other than the Beatles and a tenuous multiculturalism?  I pitied poor Tim Berners-Lee -- revealed alone at his desk inside the House of Pop, like something hidden beneath a rock, blinking and mutely waving to the world under the spotlights -- the single representative of every other speccy nerd not invited to the hyper-jock party.

But I think the most irritating thing was the blithe postmodern cut'n'paste attitude on display.  Consider David Bowie's magnificent song "Heroes", played while the British athletes paraded for the cameras.  Yes, the word "heroes" does come up quite a lot in the song, and we all want "our" boys and girls to be heroes, don't we?  So what could be more appropriate?  Bowie gets a nod, everyone's emotions get tweaked (we could be HEROES, yay!), and Team GB gets a boost.  But the song is a song of defiance in the face of despair and inevitable defeat.  We could be heroes -- a pretend king, and a make-believe queen -- just for one day.  It is a spiritual descendant of Lou Reed's Perfect Day, another ironic de profundis song which is totally misunderstood as a nice, nostalgic song about a perfect picnic.

And, to cap it all, the entire show climaxed with "Eclipse", the final track of Dark Side of the Moon.  Yes, it has all the build and shape and all the right words for a hymn to the general rightness of the universe -- everything under the sun is in tune! -- but this is the final track of an album which is all about the futility and madness of modern life, and ends with the bleak cry, "But the sun is eclipsed by the moon!"  But eclipsed in a good way, eh?

But they're not concerned about any of that.  It's the general look and feel they're after.  Cut out the useful bits and stick 'em onto the collage.  Who cares what the whole song is about, just sample the good bits, the bits which are "on message", and toss the rest.  It doesn't really matter, does it, that Isambard Kingdom Brunel didn't actually kick-start the Industrial Revolution?  All because of some dream in which he, a monstrous slave to a magician, hears spectral music and sees clouds full of riches denied to him in his tormented waking life?  No, what matters are the words, "the isle is full of noises".  The rest?  Just give it some welly, Ken, and no-one will notice or care.

And it seems nobody did or does.  Arise, Sir Danny!


Gavin McL said...

I think you're onto a lost cause with that "pay attention to what the lyrics are actually about" thing. That war was lost when the BBC I think used "Perfect Day" to promote something or other.
Regarding IKB I was just pleased that a British engineer was recognised even if it was apparently for destroying the Arcadian idyll that was the British Isles and enslaving the population in some kind foundry/labour camp.
Have a good Holiday


Mike C. said...


Well, I like a good lost cause... And the irony of Team GB parading to "Heroes" won't have been lost on everyone, I'm sure.

Yes, IKB clearly has a lot to answer for, as well as that stupid hat.


Paul Mc Cann said...

Well there are three things I am currently proud of.
I never owned a shell suit (Ugghh)
I never owned a pair of grey shoes
I never saw a single bit of this extravangaza.

Paul Mc Cann said...

..and apart from the grouch I would just like to say I still read your blog assiduously and am ever appreciative of it. Many thanks.