Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Golden Years

An unremarked phenomenon unique to the year 1982 was the seemingly accidental preoccupation, among many of the surviving groups that had emerged out of punk, with that most precious of precious metals, gold. Of course, it could be a coincidence, but although I don't believe in coincidences I'm struggling to explain the phenomenon. Perhaps, as the alchemical process views the auric metal as a symbol of completion, it was a subconscious acknowledgement that the punk vector had reached its denouement, that all its possibilities had been fulfilled. Certainly, it was downhill all the way for (almost) all of its protagonists.

When you think about it, gold is a fairly rare subject for pop music, despite its deep metaphysical significance, and its emergence seems particularly odd in the context of the Britain of the early '80's, which was experiencing another of its regular post-war step-changes into deeper decline, with unemployment rocketing and urban youth expressing its disquiet in regular rioting. And yet, this music, and the Klimt-esque artwork that encased it, evoked a halcyon feeling.

Actually the paintings of Gustav Klimt may give us a clue. After all, he produced his work during the decline of another empire, that of Austria-Hungary. The products of decline are not only poverty and misery, but a corresponding decadence, an aimless luxe. Punk always wavered ambivalently between them both, transmuting supposed street urchins into little princes and princesses.

Gold, with its imperviousness to adulteration, is also the tradtional nemesis of the financiers, who were at this very moment waiting in the wings to give Britain its final false boom, a thirty-year odyssey of delusion and waste. It would perhaps be a stretch to suggest that these evocations of gold, far from being celebrations of consumption, were attempts to project "wealth" as having a psycho-spiritual component. But in lieu of any better explanations, I'm tempted to go with it....


owen hatherley said...

here's another one, which seems more of a comment on the phenomenon than an example of it. Recently covered.

Phil Knight said...

Yes - there's also that whole "Rio" vs. "Luxury Gap" (fantasy vs. reality) critique that was also going on at that time.

As the sounds got more opulent, the question became "what is the real gold?".

(The yuppies gave us the answer).

David Kasper said...

Also gold became a big motif in rap a few years later. Even the most 'revolutionary' rappers mentioned it repeatedly. It was the most ubiquitous fashion statement on covers. Then it became brand-placement outright, until the present day.

David Kasper said...

And what started out as pop parodies of 'high society' glamour (probably starting with Roxy Music, but maybe earlier), ended up being intentionally (?) mistaken for the 'genuine article'. Chic come to mind, but it was definitely the case with New Romantics inspired by both bands. But that's what post-modernism was all about, I suppose: blurring the boundaries between the 'original' and its 'spoof'.

Phil Knight said...

Rap is ultimately about status though, so I guess the gold is inevitable.

I think the confusion is that in traditional hierarchical societies top dog status is usually dependent upon personal "quality" (courage, charisma etc.), whereas in covert-hierarchical late Capitalist societies personal "quality" is perceived as resulting from becoming top dog.

Things like gold retain their old metaphysical connection with higher human values, though they're frequently owned by people who do nothing more than trade stocks or dabble in property or insult rivals over backbeats etc.