26 January 2008

...if you're tired of politics...

Crass Art by Gee Vaucher

‘Are you for CND?’

It must be about 1982 or 1983 and I’m seven or eight years old. I’m in the playground of Oystermouth Primary School in Mumbles, the small fishing village on the outskirts of Swansea, Wales. I’ve just been approached by three of the more lively lads in my class, all of who have older brothers. I have older brothers also but mine don’t live with me and have not provided me with any ‘political instruction.’

‘What?’ I reply.

‘Are you…’ dramatic pause ‘…for CND?’

‘What you on about?’ I shrug my shoulders.

‘Just say yes or get punched.’

‘All right yes, I am.’

‘You are what?’ ‘I am for CND… but What’s CND?’

‘Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament. Right, Pete come with us.’

And with a welcoming arm placed around my shoulders, I’d been accepted, for that day at least. And now it was my turn.

‘Are you for CND?’ I asked a small unassuming boy.

‘Not sure.’ He replied.


‘Now you are.’

Of course CND was a pacifist movement but eight year olds had to have the pacifism beaten into them.

Many years later, I understood that 1980s Britain was a pretty fascinating time and place. At the time, all I knew is that my teacher’s went on strike and I got to stay home, or that because of Maggie, we no longer had free milk at lunch time. I remember seeing striking miner’s fighting police up the valleys, on the telly. I remember worrying about my dad getting called up to fight in the Falklands. I remember seeing CND peace symbols and Circle As spray painted here and there but had no idea what they meant or who was doing it. I liked the Circle A because Rik from 'The Young Ones' used it a lot, although I wasn’t allowed to watch 'The Young Ones' that much, and that was my principle concern.

I moved to Bahrain at age nine and would not get a chance to figure it all out for nearly a decade but, piece by piece, I began to discover the music, culture and history of '80s Britain with my own political awakening. Through the 1980s and most of the 1990s, the forces of globalization were still relatively weak. Coca Cola and MacDonald’s had yet to invade Bahrain and neither had the youth and alternative cultures of the UK or US. Well, they did but in bits and pieces and incredibly diluted and out of context.

Of course, recently arrived expatriate kids would bring snippets of the culture they left behind and we’d lap it up. Then we’d search the bootleg tape shops for the bands they told us about. Soon, I had quite a collection of tapes including Dead Kennedy’s, The Stupids, DRI, Corrosion of Conformity, Suicidal Tendencies, The Clash, Agnostic Front, along with the heavy metal and rap that was a bit easier to find. I kept reading about the this thing ‘punk’ in some of the magazines I’d get my hands on and was curious as to what the hell it was, not knowing I was already pretty deep into it. Then things went shitty and all my friends got more into the metal thing. I dug the crossover stuff and Bay Area thrash bands but I had to draw the line when people started getting into Motley Crue, Poison and WASP. I wasn’t sure why but I knew it was wrong. Then I went down my own little indie rock path. With the introduction of CDs it was now easier to get a Pixies disc than it was a rip-off Minor Threat tape. Anyway, I’m not trying to write a punk rock 'High Fidelity' here…

Upon return to Wales, as an eighteen year old, I was be-friended by a group of people who unlike myself had been able to live through the entire era and dwell on its historical context and significance.
The day, my parents dropped me off in Aberystwyth, we drove past a young man with dread locks down to his rear end, skin tight black jeans, combat boots and an oversized army jacket with a large Crass logo painted on the back. My dad turned to me and shook his head, ‘What is this country coming to?’ I was little intimidated also but my dad’s comment really irked me so I responded, ‘Well, there is every chance I’ll end up sitting next to him in an English literature lecture.’ And I did. But it was a little while before we became mates.

First I met my friend Craig. Craig had stopped me in the street because I was wearing a pair of vans that were barely hanging onto my feet. ‘You skate?’ I was not sure what the appropriate response was but affirmed ‘yes’ noticing his own pair of vans (not quote as worn as mine). But it wasn’t skateboarding camaraderie that attracted me to Craig (we were the only two enrolled in the University of Wales Aberystwyth as far as I knew) it was the political and musical education he soon provided. Craig was a vegetarian and I’d been contemplating it, so he invited me around to his place for a vegetarian curry. In his room, I saw posters for Anti-Fascist rallies and fox hunt sabotaging and numerous punk LPs and lapped it all up, like a little innocent thirsty kitten. To be fair, I was already pretty aware of this stuff but coming from a privileged middle class white expatriate existence
, I needed someone like Craig to help me connect the dots. Craig gave me the liner notes of Crass' 'Christ The Album' to read, 'Last Of The Hippies' by Penny Rimbaud. Was I too middle class for this shit? I wondered to myself. By the time I’d finished I knew the answer was no and my political fate had been sealed (for the time).

...to be continued...

For now here is Penny Rimbaud being interviewed by Ian Svenonious on Soft Focus (VBS.TV). Whether you know who they are or not its pretty much essential viewing. Sometimes, the internet proves its worth.