Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Depeche Toi, Suckers!

Edgy (n):  nervous, apprehensive; creatively challenging; cutting edge; leading edge; on the edge between acceptable and offensive; pushing the boundaries of good taste; dodgy.

Edgy.  It’s such a horrible word.  Applied to a person it usually means that they’re rude or irresponsible or both (no thanks!)   Applied to anything else it usually means “If you don’t like this it’s because you don’t understand it – and I can’t explain it to you!”  And, yet, it’s increasingly being used as a word to describe the best in our society and our culture.  I call foul.  J’Accuse, if you will!

I’ll start by describing a friend of mine called Neil.  There’s absolutely nothing edgy about Neil at all.  He loves football, music, his missus and his kids.  And yet he is one of the funniest, most intelligent, most creative individuals that I know.  I have stood at gigs that his band did and alternately laughed at the humour and marvelled at the skill.  And I wasn’t the only one.  In fact, the people in Cramps T-shirts, standing po-faced at the back were in the minority.  I felt kind of sorry for them, really, because we were all having such fun!  (For anyone who scoffs at the idea that fun is the primary concern here, I would like to quote the greatest living American writer, John Irving – “Life is serious, but art is fun!” and “Keep passing the open windows!”)

That’s not to say I don’t like a challenge, because I do.  There are so many things that amaze and delight me with their uncompromising creativity.  Some examples?  Oh, go on then!  Sylvia Plath’s masterpiece, “Daddy”, in which she describes her father as being like a shoe that she has lived in “like a foot for thirty years, poor and white, barely daring to breathe or achoo” and then, by the end of it, you don’t know whether she is talking about her father or some other man.  Stunning.  Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse 5” which totally rewrote the rules about what the narrative of a novel should look like and, at the same time, STILL managed to be the most chilling indictment of mankind’s evil in war ever put down on paper.  Joanna Newsom’s “Peach, Plum, Pear”, with that ratchety voice and  the harpsichord being almost strummed like a guitar and God knows how many time signatures going on at the same time.  Anish Kapoor’s 2009 Royal Academy Exhibition, with that thing that looked like a giant red lipstick violating the whole space and leaving it’s red spaff all over the R.A.  These are all wonderful things.  And, in their time, they were all brand new, untried, untested and unswervingly avant garde.

And they weren’t brain farts.

It amazes me today that so many people think it is okay to cannibalise what other people have done before them.  Not reinvent those things – but literally just appropriate them. They wear Ramones T-Shirts and sneer at all the people who wore them last time and have no desire to wear them anymore.  They mix rock with electronica and pretend they are doing something really brand new - never mind that Van Halen did it nearly 30 years ago (and it didn't work any better that time round).  They work the "drunk punk" act (and apart from the drunk bit, it *is* an act) in just the same way that I did when I was 22.  I’ve had a 21 year old come up to me and tell me I should not be listening to Lady Gaga – and I wouldn't do if I had  ever listened to early Siouxsie and The Banshees?  Or Brix Smith era The Fall?  I couldn’t reply to that.  The words stuck in my throat and wouldn’t come out – but here they are: 

“Yes.  I have.  Many times.  Many times before you were ever born.  And I am delighted that you now love that music – but please don’t try to offer it to me as though you were one of the Three Wise Men bearing gifts.  And, as you may one day realise, Lady Gaga is part of the legacy of Siouxsie and Brix… and Deborah… and Annie… and Madonna… and, yes, even Britney, whether you like it or not!”

Anyway, that’s maybe (certainly) youthful folly.  And what does it all matter in the end?  Not a jot, actually.  But what does matter is when this desire to be seen as uncompromising spills over into real life.  Then it gets dangerous.

There’s too much attitude around these days.  People even talk about “having attitude” as being a good thing.  It probably is a good thing if you’re Billy Idol, but if you’re a shop assistant or call centre worker living in Northern England, then it’s a pretty bloody unattractive characteristic.  If you sneer at people, call people out for all their faults or insecurities, lamely insult them for laughs, refuse to compromise to make everyone’s lives easier, that doesn’t make you edgy – it makes you a cunt. 

Similarly, it’s possible to love and defend your friends without having to deny the fact that they, like everyone else, have fallibilities and make mistakes.  You can be part of a cohesive group without behaving like a shoal of anchovies, with one direction and one common purpose.  What the hell is edgy about that?

I know gay people who actually relentlessly bully other gay people for being too gay.  Or for shopping for clothes at ASDA.  That absolutely beggars belief in my opinion (and all of this, like every other entry on this blog is just my opinion, after all).  They’d deny that they’re bullies – but they are.  I’ve seen it in action.  I’ve stood back and watched while a well known alternagay on the Manchester Scene mercilessly reduced another gay man to tears.  And it was over a shirt.  And when, sometime later, that gay man retaliates, he will be reduced to tears again by that alternagay’s snapping shoal of friends, swimming like anchovies in his direction.  Or should that be piranhas?

I want everyone to get on.  Equally I won’t hold back from exposing hypocrisy and cruelty when I see it.  I want to wear the clothes that I think are pretty.  Or flattering.  I promise not to criticise your clothes if you don’t criticise mine.  And by the same token, you can enjoy all the cultural delights you like without any interference from me, as long as you leave me to enjoy Plath and Vonnegut and Newsom and Kapoor in peace.

And (although, thankfully, this last sentence is barely needed), whatever you do, if you value our friendship, don’t call me edgy.

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