Friday, November 17, 2006

To ubiquity and beyond!

Well, the truth is out. We now know what the all-time best-selling albums in the UK are. It's a depressing trawl through the mediocrity and safeness of British taste, but that's what we've come to expect, isn't it? More to the fact, it's what we really yearn for, luxuriating in our sense of aesthetic superiority over the drooling tossers who prefer Robbie Williams (six albums!!??) or Robson & Jerome to, plucking a few names, Bowie, Prince and the Smiths.

But there is something interesting about the Top 10. Despite having been smitten by popular music since I was about 13, I've only ever owned three of those albums in any format. And yet each of them provokes a specific reaction, a Proustian babble of memories. They've become so tangled up in our popular culture that we develop responses to them without really ever knowing them.

The chart-topper, Queen's Greatest Hits, is all about summers; specifically lounging by the pool of my friend D's house when I was 15 or 16, flirting ineptly with the cute French and Italian students who brought a sorely-needed air of the cosmopolitan to semi-rural Hampshire in the mid-1980s. "Of course Freddie's gay," I said, a declaration that was met with a snort of derision from D, who now apparently lives with a gentleman friend in Switzerland. I'd always wondered why he never availed himself of the wiggly Eurobabes on offer. The Queen album was little more than background noise, but it's earwormed its way into my DNA, without ever persuading me to buy a copy.

Brothers In Arms, meanwhile, sums up my first term at university. Having endured so many years of philistine conformity, I was eager to plunge into a pool of creative insanity - a collision of Brideshead and Paris 1968 was what I had in mind, or something like it. I found myself in a house with 11 other wide-eyed newbies, every single one of whom owned a copy of Brothers In Arms, and thought it was dead good, especially the guitar solos. Most of them liked Phil Collins as well. This was going to be tougher than I thought...

Anyway, this spawns your task for the weekend. I crave your responses to a creative artefact that you only really know by reputation. Something you've never owned, never properly read, heard or seen, but provokes a specific memory or reaction whenever it pops up on the radar. Conceptual prizes await for the best ones.


patroclus said...

Gahhh - now there's a list of music for people who don't like music, if ever there was one.

Like the weekend task. I'll have a think about that while painting my stairwell (not a euphemism) tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

What amazes me is the affection Queen are still held in ... quite apart from making some of the most ludicrous and shite music ever, there's the not inconsiderable detail of them playing Sun City and just about every totalitarian state in Eastern Europe and Central & South America. Yes Freddie and his Sun City Stompers (copyright NME)helped keep apartheid afloat and supported Pinochet and friends. What utter, utter wankers.

Creative artifact?
I'd have to nominate 'Top Gun' ... never subjected myself to its slimy embrace but have a whole bag of opinions about it ... the humourless midget that is Tom Cruise posing as military beefcake, the fact that the whole film is an undisguised recruitment ad for the American Airforce (and by extension, decades of brutal foreign policy), the appalling 'Take My Breath Away' being inescapable for a while ... I could go on. And even more annoying is the metatext that has grown around it, Tarantino's riff about the homoerotic subtext, another example of the noisome Mr T's banging on about the absolutely bleeding obvious.

Spinsterella said...

I made the mistake of asking, in public, exactly what the phrase 'Catch 22' meant. I was 18.

"It's, you know, a catch-22 situation," my sister's dopey boyfriend unhelpfully explained.

For some reason, my boyfriend (the psycho) decided that that exchange had made ME look stupid and gave me loads of grief about it.

Still haven't read the book.

patroclus said...

Ooh, Spin, you *must*. It's brilliant. It's incredibly funny and sad and beautifully written and everything.

Yes, that did it no justice whatsoever. Can someone more articulate please describe Catch-22 for Spinny?

Anonymous said...

'Catch 22' is a novel of surreal black humour about a group of airmen during WWII, illustrating the truisms that war is hell and the phrase 'military intelligence' is a particularly bitter oxymoron.
It employs an antic strain of humour not disimilar to 'Naked Lunch', with a similar admix of absurdity and bleak realism, centred around the violence perpetrated by insane bureaucracies against human beings.

dh said...

In the interests of historical accuracy (and procrastination) here is the actual relevant passage from Catch was basically a futile attempt to avoid going on bomber missions using circular logic.

"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he [Yossarian] observed.
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed."

Annie Rhiannon said...

Interesting. I've never read it either.

I've also never read The Bell Jar, Naked Lunch, The Shipping News, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lord of the Flies, The Grapes of Wrath... and I never finished No Logo. I'll get stuck into them all once I'm done with reading blogs.

Can't think of a significant album in my life that I never bought but will have a big think about it on the plane tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

That one's got me thinking will return when I've thought of something.

Molly Bloom said...

I'd like to say that your question is just brilliant. Marvellous. I'd just like to say 'Mary Poppins' and 'Bambi' because whenever I say I haven't seen them, people say: 'OH. MY. GOD.' And just stare at me so long that tumbleweed rushes across my eyebrows. It's always really scary. And it has always put me off. Just the mere thought of La Poppins makes me feel queasy. I never, ever want to see it.

I don't think I've ever seen a Disney film all the way through. I know I should probably. People sigh with horror. Just trying to think....nope, never one all the way through.

Anthony is always saying to me, 'What you mean you HAVEN'T read....'and then mentions something obscure like the study of Burroughs' fingernails or something. So, there are lots of things that make me feel inadequate.

And, you'll probably all cry with laughter here (the shame, the shame) I've never listened to The White Album all the way through. Again, it has that effect on me. 'What? What? WHAT? You mean you've NEVER EVER HEARD IT?' It's like you *have* to like it and that puts me off. I also think it's funny when people buy stuff and don't read it/listen to it, because they think they ought to own it. Is it the artefact that they want? I don't know.

I think I could probably list a whole load of stuff here. And probably embarrass myself even more Oh well.

I've never read 'Ulysses' either.*

*That one was a lie.

At least I have something I can be proud of I suppose.

Molly Bloom said...

I'd just like to say here, because I want to, that when I was in hospital...there was a man on the ward actually *called* Ulysses. How unbelievably cool is that? And what are the chances of that happening?

Tim Footman said...

I think the Disney films are a classic example - we see the classic bits of them (who remembers those celebrity-hosted Disney clip shows they used to show at Bank Holidays?) so many times that we think we've seen them. I'm still not sure whether I've ever actually seen Fantasia in one go.

Similarly albums - a couple of years ago, I realised I'd never actually sat down and listened to Dark Side Of The Moon (also on that Top 10) from beginning to end. So I did. God, it's dull.

Annie R - if you must pick one from that list, read Lord of the Flies. It's one of those books that defies easy description.

Anthony - I was chucked out of the cinema when I went to see Top Gun because I cheered when Anthony Edwards got killed. And can you name one film in which Val Kilmer plays a heterosexual?

Patroc - The stairwell thing has got my mind racing. I think that's a whole separate post - mundane household tasks that sound a bit intimate.

Anonymous said...

But the study of William Burroughs' fingernails are of huge importance to any understanding of 20C literature.

She hasn't really read 'Ulysses' y'know.

Yes, that Val Kilmer ... when's he going to comeout of that closet?

The Curve said...

'Trout Mask Replica' by Captain Beefheart. I have read so much about Beefeart's 'groundbreaking, 'lnfluential', 'masterpiece', that I always think that I own a copy when in fact the truth is I have never actually sat down and listened to it all the way through. I have never seen 'Citizen Kane' either.

Anonymous said...

The problem with this question is you end up to confessing to cultural omissions which turn out to be unforgiveable. It reminds me of a story of the English professors who did something similar with great works of literature. One of them confessed to never having read or seen Hamlet and was then ostracised by the others.
So bearing that in mind The Fall have been in the background for a great deal of my life and I have never bought any of their records or felt the need to.
*steps back and awaits the onslaught*

Tim Footman said...

Actually, Realdoc, as soon as I posted I thought of the Hamlet game. (I think it appears in a David Lodge novel, but I'm sure it's based on reality.)

But that isn't quite what I'm aiming at, although it's close. In a culturally fractured, post-canonical world, I think there are very few books that everyone is expected to have read (and if they are, they turn out to be very much of the moment, like the latest Zadie Smith, rather than Don Quixote or Moby Dick).

No, what I'm after is works that are so entwined in our culture that we feel we don't need to read them/listen to them, because they've permeated into our heads by some kind of intellectual osmosis. Curve's example of thinking he's got a copy of Trout Mask Replica is the sort of thing I mean. And, back to the best-seller's list, I always think I've got Abba's Greatest Hits, but I don't.

The other important thing is adaptations of Bronte, Austen, Dickens, Hardy, etc. I watched the latest BBC Jane Eyre recently, and I'm still not sure whether I've read it.

Annie Rhiannon said...

Oh of course, The Beatles. I don't see any point in owning any of their albums. I had Sergeant Pepper when I was a kid, and enjoyed that, but I was only 6 or 7, mind.

I have no clue which of their songs are on The White Album.

Spinsterella said...

I have never owned a Beatles album either - you don't really need to, do you? Head has been thoroughly permeated throughout my entire life.

Specific memories?

Dancing to 'Lets Do It In The Road' at a monthly Beatles-themed night in Liverpool in 1996 with a girl-from-work I was briefly friends with. She had a Mary Quant 'do and wore heavy black eyeliner and 60s clothes all the time...

Molly Bloom said...

I think the 'Jane Eyre' is a great example Tim. There are so many examples of this. The Scrooge myth. Did I read about Scrooge? Did I?

I remember those Disney clip-fests. They are really weird aren't they?

Molly Bloom said...

'Pink Elephants on Parade' seemed to be on continuously through the seventies. Every five minutes in fact.

patroclus said...

I always thought I'd seen The Empire Strikes Back, but then I saw it and it turned out I hadn't. I think it must have been because my brother had the stickers.

gregrandgar said...

They played "American Pie" so constantly that I avoided anything to do with Don McClean until years later I heard someone do a solo version of "Vincent" and learned what a disservice that early promotion of his work was for McClean.

Here in the days of rental DVD's I have often rented a movie whose blurb piques my interest and watch it damned near through before enough originality accumulates to trigger a déja vu experience suggesting I have been fooled into seeing it twice, but even the originality seems too ubiquitous to be sure.