The Age of Apathy?

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Growing up in the Eighties may have meant listening to some of the best music ever, often whilst wearing some of the worst fashion ever, but it also meant having an awareness of and an opinion on what was happening in the world. It wasn’t only what we saw on John Craven’s Newsround or, as we got older, the “real” news. Sometimes, events reached our consciousness without us even realising, via the music we were listening to. Whilst the lyrics of Special AKA’s “Free Nelson Mandela” and Billy Bragg’s protest song “Between The Wars” made the subject matter of the songs very clear, how long did it take us to realise that Ultravox’s “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes” and Nik Kershaw’s “I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” were about nuclear war?

Regardless of how we knew, the fact is that we tended to have a fair understanding of the issues of the time and, dare I say it, actually cared about them. Whether it was war or strikes, apartheid or famine, local issues or international affairs, we knew enough to know whether something was right or wrong, and when it was wrong, we wanted to change it. So what’s happened to that generation of kids who didn’t only think they could change the world, but who went ahead and brought about some of the biggest changes in living history?

I was saddened, but not really surprised, by the lack of response to a Facebook status I posted recently. Linking to a report about the fact that, on average, one Nepalese worker dies every other day, whilst working in Doha on World Cup-related construction, I had commented about the indignity with which the bodies of these men were then returned to their families. The news report had shown family members wheeling the coffins of their relatives out of the airport, across two baggage trolleys, as the authorities had made no other arrangements. Shocked that these men were being treated no better than excess luggage, I had asked “where is the dignity and humanity?”. With only three acknowledgments to that post, I wonder more so now.

We live in a world where information and news are more easily accessible than they have ever been, so ignorance cannot be the reason for lack of interest. Neither can it be that it’s too difficult to make yourself heard. Gone are the days wPoll Taxhen the only way of having a voice was mass protest, or raising a petition by physically traipsing around gathering signatures, both of which I had done by the age of 14. At the end of 1984, I had organised and submitted to Downing Street a thousand signature petition against VAT being charged on the original Band Aid single, and the following year taken part in a protest march against the Channel Tunnel being built. Being part of a like-minded crowd, shouting “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie – Out! Out! Out!”, as the Prime Minister arrived just feet away not only gave this teenager a sense of belonging, but a sense of purpose too.

As it turned out, neither petition nor protest was successful, if judged on their outcomes, but both helped to strengthen my beliefs that you should never be afraid to stand up and be counted, and that there is indeed strength in numbers. I don’t think I am alone in those beliefs today, just that somewhere along the way priorities seem to have become skewed. When Jeremy Clarkson lost his job at the BBC earlier this year, over a million people signed an online petition calling for him to be reinstated. Around the same time, only half that number of signatures were gathered for a petition to “save the NHS”. Similarly, little more than a week before my post was met with underwhelming apathy, my Facebook newsfeed had been awash with comments and opinions on Sepp Blatter and FIFA corruption. So, it’s not that people don’t care, just that focus needs adjusting.

What’s the answer? I honestly don’t know. I’m not suggesting we take to the streets in mass demonstration every single time we feel strongly about an issue – that part of me departed around the time that Ben Elton stopped referring to “Mrs Thatch”. But surely we can find time in our busy lives to consider what is happening behind the headlines and scandalmongering, and act on what really matters to us? I understand that this happened on social media, which often equates to videos of fluffy kittens and ridiculous selfies (both of which I confess I’m guilty of posting), but surely social media should also be a reflection of our wider social lives? This is no different to discussing current affairs down the pub, or a friendly debate on the latest hot topic, is it? Although, if our current affairs are what is happening between the cast of TOWIE, and the latest hot topic is who’s between the covers of “Heat” magazine, then I guess we’re all doomed!

I am really interested to know what everybody else thinks about this; whether I’m alone, stuck in an 80’s nostalgic timewarp of beliefs, or whether there are others out there who still care and believe that we can make a difference, who will restore my faith in this race that’s supposedly human.

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Well, I’ll Be Damned!

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As a huge fan of the Eighties, it is fair to say that my familiarity with music from that decade can sometimes border on the obsessive. From stellar writers and performers such as Elvis Costello and Paul Weller, to the cheesey tracks that drove us all crazy (St. Winifred’s School Choir’s “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma” immediately springs to mind!), if it relates to the 1980s, chances are I know some weird and wonderful fact about it. My brain is crammed full of 80’s trivia I’m often not even aware I possess, until it sneaks out in the guise of “interesting fact” or a quoted lyric I feel to be pertinent to the conversation (some, nay most, friends may disagree with my interpretation of pertinent!). If the discussion happens to actually be about music, rather than one I am attempting to steer that way, as is my habit, then so much the better.

It was during one such chat about music, that I recently discovered a gaping hole in my knowledge of the era’s sounds. When a friend stated that his favourite band of all time was The Damned, I was at a bit of a loss how to respond. Of course, I remembered their 1986 hit “Eloise”, and then managed to dredge “Grimly Fiendish” and “Is It A Dream?” (both single releases from the 1985 album, “Phantasmagoria”) from the recesses of my mind, but that was all I had. So, when he offered to educate me in the melodies of Mr. Vanian and Co., I jumped at the chance.

As the CD I had been given began to play in my car stereo, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My recollections of The Damned were of a band that was almost a parody of Gothic culture. I needn’t have worried, as any preconceptions I may have had quickly evaporated, shortly after the first track had begun. What I should have been worried about, was the fact that a band like The Damned had previously bypassed me! As the hauntingly exquisite “Sanctum Sanctorum” resounded throughout my little Suzuki, I found myself on an emotional rollercoaster of angst and elation, the intensity of which I had not experienced since my teenage years. Seeing as I went on to play the song on repeat for half a dozen times, and have been loath to stop playing it since, it also appears to have made me revert to teenage behaviour (let’s hope the acne and door-slamming tantrums don’t return too!).

My reaction to “Sanctum Sanctorum” is similar to the first time I heard Ultravox’s “Visions In Blue”, on their “Quartet” album, thirty years ago. I will always be able to recall exactly where I was the first time I heard both songs, so profound has their effect on me been. The whole of “Quartet” was played excessively during my youth, but “Visions In Blue” was played so much, the vinyl on that track eventually became unplayable. That one song led me to become a big fan of Ultravox, and resulted in me owning every album and single they released. I can feel myself going the same way with The Damned, and have already begun to negotiate my way around their wonderfully diverse back catalogue.

Whether it is the theatrical drama, comparable to a contemporary Rachmaninov composition, of “Beauty of The Beast” (from the 2001 “Grave Disorder” album) or the student band charm of the lyrically questionable  “Shallow Diamonds” (from the 2008 “So, Who’s Paranoid?” album), with lines such as “compressed carbon is what they are, no more use than a candy bar”, I am having a lot of fun discovering this “new” band. The excitement I feel when listening to some of The Damned’s tracks is something I thought had deserted me at the end of the Eighties, and with more material for me still to uncover, there is plenty to look forward to. Although I have a sneaking suspicion that, as is often the case with the first exposure to any band, nothing will be able to surpass “Phantasmagoria” for me.

So, it is only right that I should end this piece by saying a huge “Thank You” to my friend, for bringing The Damned into my life. Not only have you led me to discover a new musical passion, you have made me feel like a teenager again, and that is no mean feat!