Jon Savage

  • Hawking of Britain

    I RECENTLY RETURNED from the US to a British news media dominated by a by-election in the Northwest of England. The point about the Wirral contest was that 1) it was an ordinarily safe Conservative seat that seemed about to fall to Labour (which it did); and 2) it was the last by-election before the general election, which by law must fall at most five years after the last one (i.e., by this May). With the possibility that eighteen years of Conservative rule are ending, politics had suddenly become charged. I knew this when I looked at the Labour graphics on the telecasts, and there, right in

  • Top Ten (Plus Three)

    Real life 1996—thirteen dispatches from pop’s sex and perception wars: one for each full moon, including July’s second, the blue moon, which is thus at the year’s center. This selection, designed to be put on cassette and played in the car, is predominantly UK-based but contains a few wider premises: that multitime reference—sourcing recorded material from up to a hundred years back—continues to open up multiple possibilities; that electronic dance is still closer to my heart than guitar music, except for Nirvana, whose live album From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, in its ambition and sheer

  • Welsh Rock

    JUST A STONE’S THROW away from Joe Orton’s old stomping grounds, the four man, one woman group Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci take the small stage of the Garage in Highbury Park. Though they’re all in their early to mid 20s, they make no concession to the Britpop uniform of ’70s retro and sports stripes. Dressed simply in T-shirts and jeans, they dive straight into the twists and turns of songs like “Paid Cheto Ar Pam” (Don’t cheat on Pam), “Miss Trudy,” and “The Game of Eyes”—Brian Wilson–like melodies interspersed with moments of furious trance rocking. Singer Euros Childs tosses his head and pumps

  • Babylon Zoo

    THEY STARTED SHOWING up in mid-December. Posters featuring a larger-than-life graphic of an alien’s head—with large green almond-shaped eyes, machine-gun slit nose, and pesky eyebrows—were suddenly all over London. Bold and anthropomorphic, speaking a different language than most advertising, this unsettling image offered no clue as to what it was promoting, except the legend, “Beam me up I can’t breathe.” Yup, any of us smog-saturated Londoners can identify with that. Right on, whoever you are.

    Round two followed in the New Year: the same alien outline now overlaid with human hair, lank and

  • Pirate Radio

    BUILT IN A CLAY basin, London embodies claustrophobia as a way of life, but once in a while something happens that lets the air in, that makes you see the city in a new way. It happened to me just before Christmas: flipping the FM dial on the car radio, I was hit by a minimal, psychedelic jungle rhythm, over which the DJ was improvising, Jamaican dance-hall style, on the old Shirley Ellis “Name Game” routine: “doggie doggie bodoggie, banana nana bonana. . . . ” This went on, in ever more baroque variations, for at least thirty minutes. Instantly hooked, I felt as though I were a character in

  • the Britpop Scene

    LONDON, POP METROPOLIS, is periodically celebrated in song and lyric, which in turn redraw the capital’s psychic map. You only have to hear Kinks vignettes like “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” and “Big Black Smoke,” or Clash communiqués like “London’s Burning” and “White Riot,” to freeze the city in 1966 (the spiritual emptiness beneath the “pretty colored clothes”) and 1977 (inner-urban speed surfing, social/ political polarization). Here are the twinned totems of white British pop: Mod and Punk.

    In the last few years the inner city has been an unpopular pop location: those touched by the

  • the Graying of Rock ’n' Roll

    IN SEPTEMBER, Forbes published its hit list of “Top 40 Big Money Entertainers”—one guide to what’s really important in the music industry. Of the top five, three were group partnerships that, arguably, have done no work of value since the mid ’70s: at number five, the Eagles (1995 earnings of $43 million); at number four, the Rolling Stones ($71 million); at number three, yes, with the tag line “Guess Who’s Back” and a fetching pic from 1964, the Beatles ($100 million). Building on 1994’s internationally successful Live at the BBC compilation, all parties involved in item three have since gone

  • VITAL SIGNS: GILLIAN WEARING'S TALKING PICTURES

    YOU’RE WALKING DOWN A BUSY Central London street, hurrying through stress, noise, fumes, crowds. When a young woman comes up to you out of the chaos, you flinch; your first instinct is to brush past. But as soon as she begins speaking you realize she’s not hassling you for money or information—what she wants is more complex.

    Handing you a marker and a sheet of card, she asks you to write down what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling. Then she’ll photograph you with the card. How do you respond? Do you write the first thing that comes into your head, however banal, or what you think you ought

  • Jon Savage on Disappearing Acts

    COLUMNS|Exits and Entrances|5

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    of the population of the UK, on average, watches the national pop-music chart show Top of the Pops.

    This visibility pushed into a a paradigm of exposure. What youth is now, the myth has always gone, determines the

    future; thus it is a battlefield for every ideological power struggle. In the postwar period cept for the early ‘60s,

    when Hollywood was making teenage beach party movies and the Beatles were making themselves charming in A Hard Day's

    Night and Help!), the media's most significant treatment of youth has revolved around fear. Whose fear? Both youth's and

    everybody else's - their fear

  • Oedipus in reverse.

    RECENTLY, A CARTOON OF THE editorial pages of the English paper The Mirror showed a darkened room in which, in a high-backed chair, like Dorian Gray, sat the Culture Club singer Boy George, hunched cruelly into the configuration of an old man. His brother Kevin O’Dowd, recognizable through his trademark spectacles, was opening the front door to the Grim Reaper, handy with scythe and syringe. From behind his own dark glasses, George uttered, as if talking about the milkman or a foot-in-the-door reporter, “Just tell him, not today, thank you, Kevin.”

    This explicit image is a blatant example of the