Saturday, November 20, 2004

I found that essence rare.

This is the first paragraph of my current project

Honky Tonkin' in Leeds, Nashville, and Chicago: The Place of Punk in Alt.Country

Play my song on the Nashville radio,
My life will never be the same.
They threw me off the Grand Ole Opry,
Cuz I couldn't behave.
They don't play my songs on the radio,
It feels like I never was.
-"Nashville Radio", Jonboy Langford

Rivers Run Through Them
Many commentators have long noticed the connections between London punks and their West Indian reggae brethren in Brixton and Notting Hill (Coon 71, 79, Gray 229, Hebdige 25-9, Marcus 1993, 30, and Savage 330, 398, 488-9). But what of the Northern branch of punk rock with its roots in Liverpool, Manchester, and especially the Leeds art school production line of the Gang of Four, Delta 5, and the Mekons. Do they have a similar musical wellspring? Or more interestingly a distinctly different one? Both towns are sited by rivers. London exists at the first place the Romans could successfully ford the Thames and through the First World War was England's major commercial port. As Tom O'Rage notes in Mekons United:

Were it not for the river Leeds would not be there. At first only a rough Celtic settlement in the marshes - Leeds simply meaning a wet place - the conquering Germanic tribes from Saxony built a settlement where the parish church now stands and the river could be crossed. The a bridge was built across the Aire and it became a place.... A cross current at the heart of the heart of the country almost equidistant on a north-south axis from London and Edinburgh, and east-west from Liverpool and Hull, Leeds was made by the industrial revolution (15).

Two rivers, two cities, two different yet linked economies. Conversely, think of the potentially nice distinctions between cosmopolitan southerners and their linkage to urban decay, decades of immigration, and post-colonialism and provincial northerners and their roots in post-industrial blight, centuries of emigration, and the concomitant colonialism in the Americas and beyond. Contrast the vastness of London that infernal wen with the relative closeness of Leeds, which 'is like a small town with loads of industry....[[and] a big, huge university/polytechnic right in the center of the town ' (Hargus). These Northern punks then look to North America, specifically the southern United States (not the Caribbean) and country (not reggae) to express their outrage and politics musically. That's the kind of clever concoction Greil Marcus would make of Hank Williams, Bob Wills, and the Mekons. But, as Jon Langford himself might say in that South Wales accent whetted and hewn to a harder edge with some West Yorkshire lime, that story is a 'load of shite! ' Ever feel like you've been cheated?

UPDATE 1/18/05
The entire essay can now be found on my home page. Click on Writing Samples link.

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