NME at its most pretentious – 1981


NME
We read it – but did we understand it?

We’d all taken to the streets and rioted in 1981 – or so you might have believed reading the NME.  In fact most of us were in the boozer saying ‘you heard where there’s a riot this weekend then?’ with no intention of actually going and observing.

Truth is, we’d all gone a bit narcissistic and poncy by the end of 1981 – eye liner, big fringes (Human League or Spandau) and even though the economy was shot to pieces, people pretended to be decadently rich….on the cheap.  Or as Ian Penman of the NME put it…

“This was a year when our narcissism was indiscreet; it moved out from beyond our keyholes and openly solicited us with its gaze.”

Yeah, just like I was saying.  Ah, the NME was going through a bit of a wordy, pseudo-philosophical, deliberate purple prose phase.  And none of us could be spared the ramblings of their scribblers.  In the normal three page article on some cultural aspect, it would take at least five or six paragraphs before you had the faintest clue what was being written about.  Almost as if the subject of the article was a total drag.

So Penman continues with this…writing at the end of 1981 in his wrap of the year:

“Nineteen hundred and eighty one divided into two clearly separated but separately ill-defined worlds, both lost in narcissism. The only dangerous intimacies took place in the scenery between these two worlds – but we shall take stock of these later.  For the time being – two views.  Or, if they are indeed narcissistic in nature – two sets of views.”

OK – anybody understand what that actually means!!!   And he then went on to analyse the Adam Ant video of Stand and Deliver.

“Adam stops brandishing his highwayman’s pistol in favour of a hand mirror; this is the point at which we cease to be unmentionable scared.  From anyone else it would be sexually hilarious, this switch from gun to gaze, but with Adam the threat is nothing more than a double entendre with no real punchline.”

Etc…

Spandau Ballet – all about the trousers


Cartoonist Serge Clerc interprets the Spandau Song ‘I don’t need this Pressure on’ by showcasing the baggy trouser chic of 1981.  The year when you could just about walk down the road with a sixteen pleat or more pair of ‘Bowies’ – unless you encountered a gang of heavy metal fans, in which case you were severely beaten up.  I saw this happen to one New Romantic at a club on the Kings Road.  His head audibly cracked under the bovver boot of a rocker – still makes me shudder to this day.

80s bands that toyed with Nazi-era references – but weren’t Nazis


hitler youth
Hitler Youth – not New Romantics

Punk and its aftermath was all about transgression – embracing things that shocked or violated normal codes of behaviour.

And just three to four decades after World War II, you could always rely on employing Nazi references to shock and disgust public opinion.

Whether it was Sid Vicious wandering around off his head with a Nazi emblem or bands adopting names that related to the Third Reich – anything to do with Hitler still touched a very raw nerve.

There was also an embarrassed fascination for Nazi style and art. Far from being seen as vulgar, philistine and oppressive – the fascist aesthetic was viewed as stirring and provocative by people whose political views might actually be quite liberal or left-wing.

So, you had the band Joy Division – naming itself after the sex slavery wing of Hitlerite concentration camps. Heavy metal bands were never shy about using the Iron Cross or stylised eagles. Artists might casually praise the buildings or films of that era. And David Bowie’s wave to fans was characterised by some as a fascist salute – vehemently denied by the man himself.

When one New Romantic band decided to call itself Spandau Ballet, that sent a journalist at the Record Mirror into a spin:

Unfortunately, the element of this project which I find disturbing, threatening and worthy of debate lies not in the music itself, but in the premise upon which our young warriors have erected their grandiose musical/lyrical edifice.

The journo went on to note that the album was white-on-white with a muscular naked form.  And the scribbler was rattled by a quote inside the record sleeve – “…the soaring joy of immaculate rhythms, the sublime glow of music for heroes…stirring vision….journeys to glory…”

The Record Mirror fumed that this linked Spandau Ballet to an ‘Aryan Youth ideal’ reminiscent of the Hitler Youth.  The review then went on to make it clear there was no linkage to far right groups being suggested just a deep sense of unease.

The journalist suggested to readers that they play ‘Muscle Bound’ back to back with ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’ from the movie Cabaret and observe how the ‘mood’ is the same.

“Tread very carefully for all our sakes,” the magazine warned the band.