Goddammit, I hate writing these things. The last few years have been pretty awful for music fans, so to hear of the death of Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley this evening was another bitter blow for many of us.
I’m not going to say any more, except to suggest that you hit play and turn the volume up very loud…
Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.
– as teacher John Keating in ‘Dead Poets Society’ (1989)
Advice for us all, however old we might be. And his life was extraordinary.
Robin McLaurin Williams: 1951-2014.
Rest In Peace, Genie.
Aw, damn. That’s the end of an era then – no more Ramones. Tommy Ramone, the last remaining original member and founder of the first generation punk legends has left the building, aged only 62 (some reports say 65). Admittedly, that’s a fairly good innings for a Ramone – of the classic, original line-up, vocalist Joey died in 2001 aged only 49, with bassist Dee Dee dying the following year at the age of 50 and guitarist Johnny following in 2004 at 55.
Born Erdélyi Tamás in Budapest, Tommy Ramone moved with his family to New York in the mid-1950s, where he met the three young men who were to become Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee Ramone. Originally the band’s manager, he ended up as their drummer because, as Dee Dee later put it, “nobody else wanted to”. Never the world’s most technical or complex drummer (which, quite frankly, didn’t matter one bit), Tommy provided a solid backbeat to the band’s first three classic albums, Ramones (1976), Leave Home (1977) and Rocket To Russia (1977), as well as handling co-production duties.
He left the band in 1978, ostensibly worn out after constant touring but really because the tensions within the band had become too much for him, although he continued in a management and production role with the band for some time after. He continued to play music and produce various bands until he was diagnosed with bile duct cancer. He died yesterday, at home in Queens, New York – and the classic line-up of the Ramones was finally reunited in rock ‘n’roll heaven….
The Ramones were one of those bands who had an enduring and powerful influence above and beyond their (lack of) commercial success. Never big sellers in their native America (their self-titled debut only went gold earlier this year!), but that debut album had a huge and lasting pivotal impact on the early British punk scene before being picked up by cult American bands such as Social Distortion, Bad Brains, Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, Ministry and Bad Religion. They’ve been cited as an influence by everyone from Evan Dando, Dave Grohl and Eddie Vedder to Green Day, Lemmy and Kirk Hammett – and the list goes on and on and on.
It’s easy to hear why they were (and still are) just so damn influential – particularly on those legendary first three albums. Their deceptively simple yet distintive and immediate sound is impossible to resist – or to replicate, although many have tried. It’s that unlikely and irresitable melding of 70s rock, 50s rock ‘n’ roll, girl groups, surf music, bubblegum pop, and classic protopunk bands like The Stooges and The New York Dolls that made them so utterly wonderful. For me, they were unique, one of the definitive punk bands with a sound and an attitude that still makes me smile every time I hear them. It is genuinely sad that they are all gone now – this really is the end of a great musical era.
RIP Tommy, Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny.
Gabba gabba hey!
Some people are born to be troublemakers – in the best possible sense of that word. The veteran Labour politican Tony Benn, who died yesterday at the age of 88, was certainly one such. The kind of trouble he made was the kind of trouble many more of us should make in this life: he was prepared to stand up and say what needed to be said, usually in no uncertain terms, and often much to the discomfort of the government of the day (and even his own party, at times).
While reading the many tributes that have been made to this principled man in the immediate aftermath of his death, I was reminded of the role he played in paying tribute to someone else, another determined and impassioned individual who stood up for what they believed in – the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, who is remembered by an unusual memorial plaque in the House of Commons (see text below). I first encountered the story of this once secret plaque and Benn’s part in it from the MP and ex-Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, who told it at a Climate Rush event commemorating the suffragettes in 2010, and it has intrigued me ever since:
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
EMILY WILDING DAVISON
IN THIS BROOM CUPBOARD EMILY WILDING DAVISON HID HERSELF, ILLEGALLY, DURING THE NIGHT OF THE 1911 CENSUS.
SHE WAS A BRAVE SUFFRAGETTE CAMPAIGNING FOR VOTES FOR WOMEN AT A TIME WHEN PARLIAMENT DENIED THEM THAT RIGHT.
IN THIS WAY SHE WAS ABLE TO RECORD HER ADDRESS, ON THE NIGHT OF THE CENSUS, AS BEING “THE HOUSE OF COMMONS”, THUS MAKING HER CLAIM TO THE SAME POLITICAL RIGHTS AS MEN.
EMILY WILDING DAVISON DIED IN JUNE 1913 FROM INJURIES SUSTAINED WHEN SHE THREW HERSELF UNDER THE KING’S HORSE AT THE DERBY TO DRAW PUBLIC ATTENTION TO THE INJUSTICE SUFFERED BY WOMEN.
BY SUCH MEANS WAS DEMOCRACY WON FOR THE PEOPLE OF BRITAIN.
Notice placed here by Tony Benn MP.
“I must tell you, Mr Speaker, that I am going to put a plaque in the House. I shall have it made myself and screwed on the door of the broom cupboard in the Crypt.”
It’s a great story, but it’s more than that. It says a great deal about the kind of person Tony Benn was. A tenacious and principled man who was happy to speak his mind, as the very fact that he was so determined to commemorate this event (even secretly) – and that he considered it to be important enough to memorialise – shows. Like many from across the political spectrum, I have long admired the principled stance he maintained all the way through his political life – and this memorial to Emily Wilding Davison is but one example of the way his democratic and socialist principles were so important to him.
I never met the man himself, but I saw and heard him speak at countless rallies and he was always fascinating. I suspect we might not always have agreed on everything had we ever met, but, quite frankly, that really doesn’t matter. The accounts I have read over the last twenty four hours from those who did meet him all point to a man who was fascinated by people and who would always find time to speak to those who buttonholed him – and, unlike most modern politicians, who would really listen to and absorb what he was being told, whether he agreed or not.
Tony Benn was the kind of politician you just don’t see any more. Writing in The Guardian yesterday, Gary Younge points out exactly what it was that made Benn the kind of politican we should see more of:
He advocated for the weak against the strong, the poor against the rich and labour against capital. He believed that we were more effective as human beings when we worked together collectively than when we worked against each other as individuals. Such principles have long been threatened with extinction in British politics. Benn did a great deal to keep them alive.
And it’s now our job to continue to keep these principles alive in the face of the current political climate…
As we’re now well and truly into the party season, here’s some very good advice on how to get the best out of your festive bash from the late actor and professional hellraiser Peter O’Toole. Does this perhaps describe your work Christmas party?
Fornication, madness, murder, drunkenness, shouting, shrieking, leaping polite conversation and the breaking of bones, such jollities constitute acceptable behaviour, but no acting allowed.
I’m sure O’Toole both hosted and attended many an epic party along such lines, although I’m not sure he’d remember much of it the the following day – after all, this was a man who once self-deprecatingly said:
I loved the drinking, and waking up in the morning to find I was in Mexico. It was part and parcel of being an idiot.
Idiot or not, he was a great actor in his time, and the worlds of theatre and film are lessened by his passing – they don’t make them like Peter O’Toole any more. Raise a festive toast in his memory at the next wild Christmas party you go to…
No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
Nelson Mandela 1918-2013
A remarkable, inspirational life well lived.
Rest In Peace.
She believed in genuine inspiration and was able to write quickly because she was so talented, but she never just knocked something off. She had real craft as well.
She wasn’t a good musician technically. She wasn’t interested in mastering an instrument, but she was great at putting chords together. Her expertise was melody, lyrics and harmony. She’s one of England’s greatest ever pop lyricists, she believed her songs should be almost like mini-novels, and she was a fucking Jedi at harmony… She had her own system that was all her own […]
She came from Stiff records and she was well suited to that no bullshit mentality: “A good pop song, get it right, don’t fuck about, we’re not hippies”. She was no nonsense, but at the same time she believed in magic. A true artist, in a class of one, and irreplaceable. – Johnny Marr
Twelve years ago today, the music world lost one of its most original and memorable talents to a tragic and completely avoidable accident. The untimely death of Kirsty McColl on December 18th 2000 came as a shock to music fans everywhere – her witty, wry and honest songwriting and endearingly distinctive voice had gained her many admirers over a twenty-plus year career.
Born into a musical family (her father was the legendary folk singer Ewan MacColl), Kirsty started her pop career – like so many of her generation of musicians – in a punk band. Although this project was unsuccessful, it brought her to the attention of the influential Stiff Records who signed her to a solo deal.
Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard… (X-Ray Spex – ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’ 1977)
Like many punk fans of all ages – and although I never met her – I was genuinely upset to hear of the untimely death yesterday of the former X-Ray Spex vocalist Poly Styrene at the age of only 53. Tributes have been springing up all over the internet to an inspirational, much liked woman from fans and fellow musicians alike. Ex-Slits guitarist Viv Albertine was one of many who tweeted a poignant memory of her friend:
Much like The Slits’ inimitable Ari Up, who died last October, Poly was not afraid to speak her mind. A feminist and a supporter of Rock Against Racism, she wrote fiercely impassioned songs about consumerism and the environment – the lyrics to early single Oh Bondage, Up Yours! were about “being in bondage to material life. In other words it was a call for liberation” she told punk chronicler Jon Savage.¹
Regular readers will be aware that I’m not a great fan of politicians generally. However, there are the odd one or two who somehow manage, against all the odds, to stick to their principles and hold firm in the face of our deluded political system, and it is they who have my respect and (in some cases) even grudging admiration.
Michael Foot, whose death at the age of 96 was announced today, was one such who fell into that latter category. A left-wing politician of the old school, who – unlike today’s rabble – was an idealist and a principled man, Foot was one of those rare politicians who did genuinely manage to stick to those principles, right until the end of his long and eventful life.
Like a lot of Labour politicians and commentators of his generation, Foot came from a relatively privileged background. Born into a Liberal and non-conformist family at Plymouth in July 1913, politics were almost a part of his genetic make up; his father was twice elected MP for a Cornish constituency, his three brothers were all involved in Liberal politics, and Foot himself became a Socialist during his time studying at Oxford.
The importance of those Socialist beliefs were forcefully brought home to him after his graduation when he spent some time working as a shipping clerk in Liverpool; an experience which exposed him to the realities of contemporary poverty and the social inequalities that were part of many ordinary people’s everyday lives. It was here, in 1934, that he joined the Labour Party and determined he would stand for Parliament.