Vicious but fair?

Desert Island Discs. We all do that thing where we pick our choices, yes? Or get part-way through, or come over all excited and find we’ve chosen twelve that absolutely have to be in there, before – having treble-checked with a responsible adult that it’s a relentless, brain-jangling, relationship-busting eight – we combust. Eight. Only.

Life lurches, again: this theoretical bastion of ease, this very symbol of Beebism and aural-pastoral reassurance becomes yet another bloody angst-apocalypse. Shit! Is this COOL ENOUGH? Are there at least two tracks here that only four people in the UK would have chosen? (In my case) given that I’m happy to sling out the universe of ‘classical’ – entirely through ignorance – do I have to give a wee nod to Free-form Jazz/Black Music/DEVO/Albanian Prog Rock? How much exactly am I performing here?

There’s something thrilling, maybe, about that rash and dangerous and in my case heavily instinctive culling of Stuff That Is Undeniably Wonderful. But that instinct does run up against both the maths – bollocks! Eight! – and the pictures that inevitably waft in. Palm trees. Sand. Lizards. Blazing mirages. How many mournfully introspective indie toons can I lever into this, realistically? Do I let the sunniness dictate – or the potential loneliness? (Confession: loneliness not an issue in my case). To what extent is this a practical choice, meant to ‘see me through’ and how much a validation, a deep, heartfelt pattern from the soul?

I’m a part-time supporter of plenty of stuff but maybe particularly Desert Island Discs. Occasional listener. Sometimes turner-offer, mid-way, too – or even earlier if the music is crap and the interviewee dull and posh – and *this happens*, right? (Here’s a brutal truth: there are a lot of oldish worthies on this programme. There is that sense that D.I.D does represent the Beeb in that most of the folks you’re gonna be listening to went to private schools then did something grand. That’s how the universe is, for sure but it’s a pret-ty significant turn-off for this particular listener).

But let’s get to the fun bit: the bit where we can argue. My choices. Will be trying not to overthink these but will undoubtedly fall right into that trap of making my case, for each. *Fatal*, I know.

Toon numero uno:

Nightswimming – R.E.M.

Don’t even think about arguing. One of the great, beautiful and (sure) most deeply melancholy noises ever made by humans. Needs to be there. Everything humans have ever been is in this. It’s a towering achievement.


Keys to your Heart – The 101-ers.

Yup. Obscurish but no apologies. The guitar sound and the understatement; the almost-acoustic thrum. The soul-punk heartiness of the Strummer vocal. The call to goodness. Joyful and invincible.


This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) – Talking Heads.

There are plenty Talking Heads toons I could have chosen – three or four from the unsurpassable ‘Fear of Music’ album alone. Gone for this because of its colour, its lovely meandering depth… and (maybe unusually for me) because of its sheer musicality. Speaks to something – to many things – close.

Disc four:

Poptones – Public Image Limited.

Political, in a sense. Metal Box is a truly extraordinary racket: provocative, difficult, rich. The veil through which we must pass is a real protagonist. Lydon is defying you to dare to walk on through. For me, that’s part of the brilliance – that these guys are seeking to go ‘right past music’. You might find it offensive or pretentious. People I like think it’s some sort of weird Germanic(?) Prog Rock… and hate it. The glimpsed-at imagery – forests, murderous intensity, ultimate banalities – shrieks genius, to me: likewise the trickling guitar and mad, subversive bass all over this album.

Disc five:

It Doesn’t Make It Alright – The Specials.

Loved and indeed still do love The Specials. Could have chosen anything from The Greatest Number One Of All Time (Obviously), Ghost Town, to the soaring Free Nelson Mandela. Chose this for its modest typicality and preciously non-precocious message towards anti-racism – which may be the message for the age, yes? Elsewhere the obviousness and ‘worthiness’ might be clunky: not with these guys. The Specials have truth and magic.

Disc six:

Transmission – Joy Division.

Something essential and pure and simple going on here. Something which destroys radios, or the whole concept of ‘air-play’. A riff, one of the great bass-lines, some strangely affecting vocals. A storm of purifying angst. Curtis paraphrasing and somehow raising the bar that Costello hoisted with Radio Radio: annihilating ‘the fools trying to anaesthetise the way that you feel’. Stripped-out, godlike; a new wave. Of its time, of course… but timelessly fresh, I reckon.

Bloo-dee Nora – disc seven:

Trying not to let the clamouring Bunnymen and Cure and Nina bloody Simone, fer Chrisssakes(!) in. So actively disallowing too much historical, proportionate consideration. Instead, going back to Poor Old Soul – Orange Juice.

Another understated worldie. Ridicu-literate and jangly and full of that utterly authentic integrity that Proper Songwriters can find and can offer us. Defying the tsunami of pap and of casual, idle affairs. Strumming towards something crystalline and gobsmacking.

Then charging on… to disc eight, where it does get scary.

Except I’m re-committing to this idea that on another day five of these get changed, so all pressures are off. And it doesn’t matter that this dates me. I can surge on, irresistibly and fearlessly. I can and am going to tell you that Radiohead have been the greatest rock and roll band of the last twenty-plus years… and that therefore I must and can and will go to their stack of stonking, enriching missives.

Going for No Surprises.

Those words; those chimes; that worldly, artful irony. Squeezing out sparks, squeezing out the essence of where we’re at. Somewhere dark, thin, bland, un-worthy.

A heart that’s full up like a land-fill

A job that slowly kills you

Bruises that won’t heal.

Hardly a laugh a minute, but there is plainly, obviously, undeniably beauty and insight and truth, here… and therefore protest. Could be I’m saying (with these choices) that folks who are somehow active are my chosen company for a spell on a desert island. Make of that what you will.

Now. Who comes with you?

Oof. Just been asked which one I keep. In the spirit of punktastic and diabolical cheek… I’m keeping Whiteman in Hammersmith Palais, The Clash!

In a similar spirit, can see me adding Things I Forgot to this *definitive list*…

Multifarious apologies for any cruelly intrusive adverts that may interfere with your listening.

A loaded gun won’t set you free.

There’s something about the moment that brings Joy Division to mind. It might be autumn; or the desperate cynicism around politics and society; the suspicion that something’s falling away – something profound, like goodness, maybe?

Lots of things feel hollowed-out or skein-like or like some web you want to wipe away… and the things that often mitigate against all that – arty stuff? Sporty stuff? – are kinda being psychologically outgunned, or disproportionately swallowed under by the Looming Dark.

Blimey. It’s come to something when a wee something on Utd City starts out like that. But, laughably or not, it does feel like legitimate context, because Mourinho, because Crass World Pressure, because Rooney, because there are stats all over indicting Guardiola(!), because The Death of Caring is upon us.

We don’t care about big things like human decency so why would we care about footie? Football doesn’t care about us, so why we would we bother back? What further proof could we need that the world is bollocksed when it *does appear credible* that Wayne from Toxteth, the last of the street footballers, might be off to China to rot in his armed apartment? How much  more can our idealism be snuffed out, when it’s so dead?

Something about Manchester United used to speak against this. Something in their redness, their pace, their invincible energy.

We all know half the world needs to hate them but even some of those guys felt the surge when a bloke name of Best ran with it. Then Bryan Robson and Cantona and Kanchelskis and Giggs. Charging. More out of instinct than instruction, more in joy than in calculation. This went right past tribalism: it was received as brilliance – something to be aspired to – okaay, maybe as well as hated.

Now, amongst other things, we have a manager who lives joylessly – ‘disastrously’ he calls it – in a posh hotel. And he daren’t go out. Throughout the Premier League we have poisonous rather than inspirational expectation and a kind of moronic appeasement to yet dumber, broadly ever more unaware players and agents. (Of course there are honourable exceptions but players generally must take a lump of blame for the utter separation between themselves and the fans).

Players seem greedy, lazy, arrogant and more-or-less dishonest. More interested in getting their opposite number red-carded than scoring. More interested in drawing a pen than scoring. Staggeringly unaware of how ordinary they actually are. Staggeringly not bothered.

This is somewhere between a cruel view and an average view of football’s things, I think. Maybe I should add that I grew up in a football family and that my grandfather was an MU player before injury cut short his career. So I’m not entirely an outsider, railing with neither authority nor understanding. I get football: I do not enjoy drifting from it.

On Mourinho I’m more dispassionate than most, being clear that he has been a great of the modern era but not hugely enamoured of his playing style. I think the possibility he may have wanted to be at United ‘all along’ is mildly fascinating and that *whatever happens* he must get three years, if he wishes it that way. However, whilst accepting that despite the obscene transfer spending before he arrived, there were faaar too many players at the club simply unworthy of the shirt, I am shall we say concerned(?) that he has not yet addressed that fundamental imbalance: more – that he may not have improved it.

The very crudest view would suggest that if you have a practically unlimited budget you should be able to straighten things out. Crude but trueish. And Mourinho may. He may, though, need more time than many of the proponents of that view might imagine, or allow.

It’s absolutely right that we plebs holler for some accountability or value – Pogba cost how much?!? – we’re entitled. We aren’t responsible for the monstrous salaries so we feel we have moral superiority over and above the usual shareholder/propper-upper stuff. This judgemental fervour is surely both contagious and dangerous – hiking up passions from the reasonable to the wild.

In this context it’s asking a bundle but us fans might still need to consider our contributions – vocal or otherwise. We need to think about how essential it is that players feel good, in a role, in an environment.

Bringing us back – in the United case – to Mourinho. The manager is the environment. His job is to select, after providing some tactical input and (mainly) creating an understanding; a zone of comfort in which players (sorry but this is still the best phrase) express themselves.

Mourinho has traditionally found a way – often magnificently, through sheer force of personality and brilliant proactivity – to win through, here. Sometimes via adversarial routes, sometimes by getting players (and fans) to love him. Intriguingly, right now, the universe is for the first time doubting his virility. It’s threatening to de-Specialise him. Tonight, against City, becomes a meaningful test.

Or it would if (sor-ree sponsors!) this cup meant anything. We saw from Liverpool Tottenham that it’s become a reserve team fixture. Plus, in this case, a bit of family malice. They’re’ll be a lot of hot air but this result does not matter: performances will.

Haven’t seen the line-ups yet (6.20pm) but hoping on the one hand for Mourinho to think more Fenerbache than Liverpool and unleash – or at least offer the possibility for – some Manchester United football. For me this means no Fellaini. (Fellaini goes, from Old Trafford, along with Memphis and Rojo and the others on your list, right?)

Longer term, there’s a slate to wipe clean. Ibra was always a short-term fix, the Rooney Question needs to be addressed and half the defence needs shipping out again. I think Shaw – if he can ever stay fit – is a player and Bailly was looking good but I am not convinced Smalling, however much this goes against the grain of contemporary thinking, is good enough for a proper, elite-level MU. Sorry but I’m just not.

Whilst we’re into the radical sweeps I’d like Mata and Herrera to get a generous run together. If this squeezes out Lingard for now, fair enough. Pogba stays in there. Rashford plays often – rotating with Martial and Ibrahimovic. Crucially, they are freed up, to dash, to charge, to play without fear – because they are Manchester United.

And now, as we fizz or freeze… kick-off.

Joy Division; we are all Joy Division; I am all Joy Division.

It was a great name for a band, though some felt it unwise and still do. But for a band that shimmered and boomed and clattered alarmingly close to some edgy uber-achievement, some penetratingly cool triumph – or deathlike collapse? – it rings. As do those occasional mournful reminders… 10 years since, twenty years since… and on.

This last week there was another anniversary of the suicide of Ian Curtis, singer with Joy Division. And because he – Curtis – in particular was a full-on icon of my youth, a real marker for profound and unchanging things, like innerness, abandonment, my contribution follows. I note in passing this is my 100th post and I wanted to rise to that (ha!) by

a) as always scribbling too unplanned upon something I care about

b) by amongst other things contradicting those slack notions around great music necessarily ‘lasting’ or sustaining through the aeons. I’ve always been repulsed by the conservatism implicit in this argument; great music is often about the NOW and this may not always transfer to some ‘classic’, longevity-dependent scenario.

Joy Division were stupendously and really massively of then and I don’t give a toss if that, for some, hasn’t lasted. More generally, is it not true that one of the more unassumingly heart-warming features of fabulous music is often, surely, a lack of pretensions towards posterity? (And yes, I am making an argument for Joy Division being unpretentious in this respect because… Curtis responded naturally. That he did this with both poetry and via Manc-centric or actually Macclesfield-rooted prickly heat is a gift, not some pose or contradiction).

So this gangly Northern Gang were intense and yet possessed of a panoramic range; they were magnificent and yet live, relevant, supra or anti-pompous in their stridency. In that wonderful accident of young, unlimited, searing, utterly compelling boogie – either bass-heavy or driven with swinging but nail-sharp guitar – they found something special and yeh, expressed it. Easy; when the blood is pumping with chemicals and confidence; easy.

I, for one, followed them, wearing my bruised young-man’s passion for silently screamingly protest like a quietly treasured weal. Hidden to you dumbfuck passers-by, in this terrible bland universe, under my dead Dad’s old sports jacket; dotted with that tiny black badge of allegiance – the one that said Joy Division. A period picture finds me fully kitted-out for Misunderstanding – or simple exclusion – on the basis I appear to implode with fashionable sadness; I wasn’t kidding.

Ian Curtis was the epileptic, skinny-boy colossus of these great distracting issues; power, displacement, loss. Plenty of us in the Cult of The Aware knew he was going to die, somehow, in consequence. This haunting, uplifting stuff would kill him – soon. Because in the tradition of those who treat us to the enriching but violently selfless, in reduced fettle through excruciating and beautiful and heartfelt exposure, he broke against some unknowable dam. And if this in some ways glorifies a(nother) rock death, then so be it. Joy Division were, to me, on their A Game, absolutely glorious.

‘Transmission’ marked them out early on as uniquely achieving of both topical brilliance – annihilating the very idea of radio’s suffocatingly fraudulent liveness – and extra-dimensional grace. Dance dance dance to the radio immediately fired up the knowing, becoming one of the great and resonating refrains in a largely lazily masturbatory rock cannon.

Characteristically powered by sensational bass and the kind of joyfully lacerating guitar riff that in itself pissed all over the strawberries of the era’s alleged guitar heroes, this was and remains a truly towering single. Even now, when a phrase like that has lost nine tenths of its meaning. Curtis’ singing on this record is a kind of developing rage against everything dishonest ever in the universe. So perfectly natural to feeI both unsettled and humbled listening to it; (don’t worry).

She’s Lost Control (…er, who has, exactly?) was similarly electrifyingly on the pulse of profound shit and remorseless giving out. With Curtis intoning further motifs for all of our angsts against the backdrop of a sodumbit’sawesome chord sequence – one that my mate the best guitar player amongst us was deeply offended by. (Later, climbing higher on a high horse than I ever remember, I chastised him bitterly for failing to get that essentially punkish emotion, and for seeking (only!) to make decorative music for people to mindlessly adore. He had no idea what I was onnabout.)

She’s Lost Control was so obviously dark and its structure so utterly about those simple words repeated – dark-eyed and spookily serious – that following the singer’s death by hanging it may and does act like some rather crass but helpful ‘pointer’ dreamed up by join-the-dot rock-biographers. But Joy Division – despite the thematic grandnesses and presentational dodgy-pomp of the sleeves – were not essentially theatrical. They were way better than that.

Like a visceral Ian MacCulloch – whose Bunnymen shared some poetic sureness with their rivals in Northern Working Grandeur – Curtis told it like it was; lonely; cruelly difficult to bear; too much. Production values surrounding (often outstanding, in my opinion) were either a final touch of class or a whiff of seductive neo-fascism, depending on your point of view – or whether you actually liked Joy Division. I did and therefore am slightly troubled by the links made by some over the icy, marbled iconography and design of Joy Division things to suprematism of whatever kind.

Love Will Tear Us Apart can surely flush out most of these significant worries. As a wonderful sounding thing and an ode to sensitivities of the most truly human kind, it chimes for a deeply personal worldview. Incompatible, surely, with arch conservativism or any of that machismo-driven nonsense. Making it a triumph, a triumph for sadness and hurt and the sparkling but yes bruising bringing together of concerns upon love.

For me it’s right up there on the list of capsuled gems we humans might leave for funny green men to discover; after we’ve eaten all of our own heads to a soundtrack by Boston.

The production on this record – the words and the music on this record are inspired – absolutely inspired.

But maybe we should finish with Atmosphere? As the lights go out on human racing, how about some nuclear proofed record-playing robot-serf nonchalantly flipping on the 12″ vinyl version of Atmosphere by the mighty Joy Division. Somewhere in that austere, magic-filtered ease, with the synth and the voice and that perfect affirmation swelling and falling, walking in silence, I will be – and I hope you will be too – finding some words, proudly, tapping my toes, knowingly…

Walk in silence

Don’t walk away in silence…