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The Clash, the dawn of neoliberalism and the political promise of punk

There are few bands that have enjoyed as much adoration or endured as much criticism as The Clash. Emerging originally as a principal voice in the burgeoning mid-1970s London punk scene, The Clash would soon cast off the fetters that restricted many of their peers, their musical tastes becoming ever more eclectic and their political field of vision ever more global. In the process, the band would widen the cultural and political horizons of their audience and would for many come to exemplify the power of popular music to change minds. While The Clash would attract a great deal of critical acclaim, this would always be less than universal. In the eyes of their many detractors, the radical political stance of the band was little more than self-mythologising posture, neatly serving the culture industries in their perennial goal of ‘turning rebellion into money’. In this collection, scholars working out of very different contexts and academic traditions set out to examine this most complex and controversial of bands. Across a dozen original essays, the authors provide fresh insights into the music and politics of The Clash in ways that are by turns both critical and celebratory. While the book seeks to locate the band in their own time and place, it also underlines their enduring and indeed very contemporary significance. A common thread running though the essays here is that the songs The Clash wrote four decades ago to document a previous, pivotal moment of geopolitical transformation have a remarkable resonance in our own current moment of prolonged global turbulence. Written in a style that is both scholarly and accessible, Working for the clampdown offers compelling and original takes on one of the most influential and incendiary acts ever to grace a stage.

The Smiths, the death of pop and the not so hidden injuries of class
Colin Coulter

The songs that The Smiths committed to vinyl underscore not only the essential virtue of being working class but also its abiding and essential indignities. Indeed, this distinct sense of ambivalence often appears in the same lyric. This is arguably the case in the track 'I Want The One I Can't Have', which features the remarkable lines: 'A double bed and a stalwart lover for sure / These are the riches of the poor'. The sense of personal humiliation and ontological damage that pervade Morrissey's singular lyrics clearly chime with the concerns that appear in the writings of the sociologist Richard Sennett. The words that Morrissey added to the incandescent music of Johnny Marr deal with the themes of disease, decay and despair. In the songbook of The Smiths, the abiding psychological scars that are the often concealed and unspoken wounds of bourgeois society begin to flail into public view.

in Why pamper life's complexities?
An introduction
Colin Coulter

The introduction sets out in part to locate The Clash in their own very specific historical context. It is argued that the band offer one of the most compelling cultural documents of that moment when the crisis of social democracy paved the way for what would in time be termed the ‘neoliberal revolution’. While The Clash may well have chronicled the political defeats of the past, the body of work that they bequeathed to us represents perhaps one of the resources that might facilitate a rather more progressive political future. There has been no time since the band parted company when their songbook has seemed more relevant. It is acknowledged that there are certain dangers in seeking to take radical artists like The Clash out of their own place and time. Not the least of these is the possibility that we might mimic the culture industries in canonising the band in ways that airbrush out their critical political perspective. The chapter concludes, however, that there are theoretical resources that allow us to avoid this pitfall and to embrace The Clash as though they were a contemporary band, documenting our own current period of global economic and political crisis.

in Working for the clampdown
The Clash, left melancholia and the politics of redemption
Colin Coulter

The appeal of The Clash often seems to hinge upon the band’s passionate denunciations of a world ever more animated by the impulses of profit and war. While the band are well known for their sense of passion, this chapter suggests they should also be remembered for their profound, but often overlooked, sense of pathos. This thread of melancholy is traced to twin principal sources: the autobiographical detail of the peripatetic and abandoned figure of Joe Strummer, and the ever more despondent geopolitical context in which the charismatic front man crafted his indelible lyrics. While the songs that The Clash committed to vinyl might well be heard as documents of political defeat, it is perhaps that particular feel of pathos that lends them their abiding, maybe even contemporary, political power. Drawing on the work of cultural theorist Walter Benjamin, it is argued that the vein of ‘left melancholia’ that courses through the band’s back catalogue identifies them as resources for political struggle in the here and now, requiring us to act as ‘ragpickers’ gathering the cultural tributes from our dismal past that map a path towards a more progressive future.

in Working for the clampdown
Essays on The Smiths

This book seeks to offer a rather wider frame of analysis than is typically adopted in accounts of the nature and significance of The Smiths. It focuses on the Catholic and broader religious dimensions of The Smiths. The book explores the theme of suicide in the songs of The Smiths. It also seeks to examine how the kitchen-sink dramas of the early 1960s influenced Morrissey's writing. The book proposes that beyond the literal references in his lyrics there lies a sensibility at the heart of these films akin to the one found in his poetic impulse. The book expands the argument with some concluding thoughts on how cinema has 'returned the favour' by employing The Smiths' songs in various ways. It examines the particular forms of national identity that are imagined in the work of The Smiths. The book ranges from class, sexuality, Catholicism, and Thatcherism to musical poetics and fandom. It then focuses on lyrics, interviews, the city of Manchester, cultural iconography, and the cult of Morrissey. The distinctive sense of Englishness that pervades the lyrics, interviews, and cover art of the band is located within a specific tradition of popular culture from which they have drawn and to which they have contributed a great deal. The book breaches the standard confines of music history, rock biography, and pop culture studies to give a sustained critical analysis of the band that is timely and illuminating.

An introduction to the book
Sean Campbell
Colin Coulter

Amid the ascent and ubiquity of dance music in the early 1990s, The Smiths-who had disbanded acrimoniously in 1987, appeared to have become deeply unfashionable. The fading reputation of The Smiths during the 1990s might, therefore, be attributed to the actions of fans and critics alike. The advent of the twenty-first century has signalled a remarkable reversal in the fortunes of The Smiths. The resurgence of guitar-based music, heralded by bands like The Strokes and The Libertines, has ensured that the Manchester group is now deeply fashionable, even more so perhaps than in their 1980s heyday. The increasing influence of The Smiths has stretched of course well beyond the parameters of popular music. When invited on the long-running BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs, David Cameron selected 'This Charming Man' as one of his indispensable recordings.

in Why pamper life's complexities?