Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon


A Light Bulb Goes On in my Mind

Posted in Books,Music,The Kinks by bourdaghs on the June 16th, 2019

I am reading Mark Fisher’s brilliant posthumous collection, K-Pop: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004-2016) (edited by Darren Ambrose, Repeater Books, 2018) and come across the following passage from his 2004 essay, “K-Punk, or the Glampunk Art Pop Discontinuum.” In the piece, Fisher is trying to define the position of glam rock (in particular, Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music) in a history of UK youth subcultures.

Here’s the passage that caught me up (p. 279):

After the Fifties, pop and art have always been reversible and reciprocally implicating in British culture in the way that they are not in America. […] British pop’s irreducible artificiality makes it resistant to the Romanticist naturalisation that the likes of Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs achieved in respect of American rock. There’s no way of grounding British art pop in a landscape.

Not a natural landscape in any case. […] in the late-twentieth century the ‘space’ of the internal-psychological was completely penetrated by what [J.G.] Ballard calls the media landscape.

When the British pop star sings, it is not ‘the land’ which speaks (and what does Marcus hear in the American rock he mythologises in Mystery Train if not the American land?) but the deterritority of American-originated consumer culture.

Fisher is guilty of a bit of over-generalization here, of course, but he’s also onto something. And the light bulb goes on in my head:

“We are the Village Green Preservation Society, God save Donald Duck, vaudeville, and variety” (“Village Green Preservation Society,” The Kinks, 1968)

“We’ll surf, like they do in the U.S.A.” (“Australia,” The Kinks, 1969)

“Cos I’m a Muswell Hillbilly boy/But my heart lies in old West Virginia/Never seen New Orleans, Oklahoma, Tennessee/Still I dream of the Black Hills that I ain’t never seen” (“Muswell Hillbilly,” The Kinks, 1971)

“Everything around me seems unreal/Everywhere I go it looks and feels like America” (“Working Man’s Cafe,” Ray Davies, 2007).

Of course, Ray Davies had this realization long before I did.

Americana. It started as a flickering light sending black-and-white images through an old movie projector. Faces of cowboys and Indians, superheros, the good guys victorious over the emissaries of evil. Then as I grew the music took over. Rock, jazz, skiffle…the blues…and country songs came to liberate me, a north Londoner, growing in [sic] up in the austerity of postwar Britain. The music gave me hope and feeling that I could express myself in song through this new art form called rock and roll.

(Ray Davies, Americana: The Kinks, the Road, the Story [Sterling, 2013], p. viii)

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