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Posts Tagged ‘Popular Culture’

Gerry’s Favourite Music of the Decade

Gerry Hassan

January 3rd 2020

My countdown of the grooves I was listening to over the past decade. First, this is my chart so the criterion is mine alone! It is dominated by new things from the last ten years, but includes compilations, reissues and even a few albums from previous decades. Second, nearly as important as what is in a looking back exercise such as this is what is missing. Thus, even though this is a fairly eclectic list it consciously has no Beyonce, Kayne West (his early promise degenerating into celebrity Trump apologist) and even Solange (although I have a bit of time for her albums and have even seen her live).

There are also many musical passions unrepresented or under-represented because they have not put out new or decent archival releases this decade. Hence, there is only one Frank Sinatra release – and when are the Sinatra estate going to start treating his back catalogue with the same importance as Dylan, Miles and Elvis? The same is true sadly of George Michael.

This is the second time I have done an end of decade review like this. I do it because it adds to my enjoyment of the music listed below and the many other great sounds that I considered for the list. Reflecting on this and the mindset of list-ism it is salutary to note the pros and cons of their ubiquity, and how it has the danger of levelling and homogenising culture, and possibility of reinforcing nostalgia and safe options. Read the rest of this entry »

Cultural Highlights of the Decade

Gerry Hassan

Sunday National, December 29th 2019

MUSIC

Elza Soares, The Woman at the End of the World/A Mulher do Fim do Mundo, Mais Um Discos 2016.

Brazilian music – from bossa nova to Tropicalia and present sounds – has always been a passion of mine. Elza Soares is a Brazilian national treasure and inspiration who was born in poverty in one of Rio’s favelas. She has had huge commercial success and now in her 80s a couple of years ago decided to make a contemporary album.

This is no nostalgic act or even Rick Rubin ‘uncut’ copy. It is a fierce, unapologetic call to arms. She surveys the world and Brazil in particular and embraces resistance, defiance, solidarity and sisterhood. The title track sounds like a mix of trip hop, Brazilian influence, the Pop Group and Gang of Four with her stunning ragged voice, full of power, insight and tenderness in equal measure. In other words – completely unique.

Its themes cover poverty, class, racism, hardship, heartache, men not living up to being men, getting older and the experience and resilience that go alongside. All this is sung in Portuguese – with the album notes providing English translations of everything. In a crowded, hectic music world of streaming and homogenisation, spend a few minutes with this and let it in your heart. It will change your life. Read the rest of this entry »

My Favourite Books of 2019

Gerry Hassan

December 22nd 2019

This is a list of my favourite books of the year. It is the fifth year in a row I have done this – and undertaken separate book and music lists – the latter coming in the next day. It is a totally subjective and idiosyncratic list: made up things I have read, come across, been involved in or inspired by and which have stopped me and made me think.

The biggest reason I do these lists is for my own enjoyment: looking back and reflecting on reading and listening, and making sense of these areas of culture. It helps me further enjoy and immerse myself in the books and music in question. And also it is great from the unsolicited comments I have got that there are people out there who get something out of this exercise. So without further ado ….

SCOTLAND: POLITICS AND CULTURE:

Jemma Neville, Constitution Street: Finding hope in an age of anxiety, 404 Ink.

This timely book is about place, people, voice and the fabric of democracy. Take one street in Scotland – Constitution Street, Edinburgh – and listen to the people there and use it as a starting point for reflecting about the wider canvas and environment we live in.

William Knox and Alan McKinlay, Jimmy Reid: A Clyde-Built Man, Liverpool University Press.

Jimmy Reid is a Scottish icon and inspiration and at last he gets a biography worthy of his life and impact. Well-researched and written, Knox and McKinlay throw fresh light on the journey of a section of the Scottish left and an extraordinary individual of his time but with lessons for the present. Read the rest of this entry »

Who postponed the future? Why the power of nostalgia can hurt us all

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, April 30th 2019

Last week I attended a talk about one of the seminal bands of late 1970s Britain – Joy Division – where the author and cultural commentator Jon Savage discussed at an event run by Monorail, a wonderful independent record shop in the centre of Glasgow, the band, their music, originality and enduring influence.

It was a mesmerising talk about the power of music, importance of place and of Britain – both in the late 1970s and now. In one observation, Savage spoke of Joy Division as representing (in 1979-80) what could only be described as ‘music of the future’. By this he meant that it was firmly located in its social and political realities – the grimness of 1970s Britain and post-war Manchester, but that it transcended this, aspiring to a timelessness and sense of prophecy.

Such a rich talk before a receptive, if ageing, audience got me thinking about areas beyond music. There is the power of the past, why the UK and most other developed countries increasingly seem shaped by what has gone before, and what this climate of nostalgia says about our societies in the here and now, and the consequences for the future.

It is important to understand that there are at least two types of nostalgia. Svetlana Boym in her 2002 book ‘The Future of Nostalgia’ identified two that she called restorative and reflective. The former ‘puts emphasis on nostos (rebuilding home) and proposes to rebuild the lost home and patch up the memory gaps’ – a kind of homesickness for the past. The latter ‘dwells in algia (aching), in longing and loss, the imperfect process of rememberance’; and unlike the former has the insight to know that we cannot go back. Read the rest of this entry »

The Future has been Postponed: Making Sense of the Age of Nostalgia

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, May 9th 2018

Nostalgia is everywhere. The past seems all around us – alive, noisy, ever-present, and more relevant and dynamic than the voices of today and the concerns of tomorrow.

Take a couple of examples. The British Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn seems to define its moral compass through a host of reference points from its past – from Keir Hardie to 1945. Then there is the regressive radicalism and conservatism of Brexit. And less seriously, there is how popular culture increasingly re-presents and repackages its past to the detriment of the present. Something is going on and should we be concerned with it?

Each of these examples tells us in a number of ways about the state of the present. First, the British Labour Party has, for much of its history, been shaped by its understanding and remembrance of the past. This includes past struggles, victories and defeats which have been experienced by the party, trade union movement and working classes. Read the rest of this entry »

The People’s Flag and the Union Jack: An Alternative History of Britain and the Labour Party
Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and thinker about Scotland, the UK, politics and ideas. more >
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