The Passenger #4
You probably already know this—I’m sure these guys have been on MTV and corporate radio for months—but The Fratellis are just about the best thing going. Loud, brash, raucous rock music that you can dance to, with sing-along anthems made for football stadiums and showers. My mind in the last week has became an echo chamber of melodic choruses and scratching, jangling guitars, like a group of poolroom boys scrapping and chanting in my head.
There’s an energy in British rock ‘n’ roll that is mostly missing in America. It could be that the British have made rock music for dancing for nearly as long as it’s been around, with prime examples being the Manchester stuff in the eighties and nineties and the astounding success of the Arctic Monkeys today. I think, also, there is a rawness in the sound that has been ironed out of the sound of American bands, whose records are so slick you can hear every cello and sigh.
In listening to a band like The Fratellis, you hear the history of rock ‘n’ roll as music made by kids for kids. You feel that the band-members were all going to be blue collar workers soon enough, but for now, they were going to dance and drink and screw and someone was going to pick up a guitar and make the music for dancing.
In America’s land of opportunity, anyone can play guitar and everyone is entitled to be a rock ‘n’ roll star—but it’s all empty posturing. Corporations pick what gets played on the public airwaves and the best example of what it takes to be a rock star in America is Moby, who sold so much of his music for commercials that everyone knew who he was. You didn’t run out to the store to buy that Moby record because it was cocksure glory wrapped in cellophane; you bought it because it made you feel good about your choices as a consumer.
The Fratellis and Arctic Monkeys hit it big because there’s a purity in their music and the people respond to that. A band like The Strokes was made to star in a GAP commercial. The Fratellis want to make you dance, sweat, jump, and live for one goddamn minute on this earth, when your hair is long, your eyes are bright, and your blood is quick. (And if you’re not sure who I’m talking about, theirs is that song from the new iPod commercial.)
P.D. James took the premise of a world in which humans could no longer reproduce and set about describing that world in terrific detail. In The Children Of Men, she establishes a main character and an England that have lived without newborn children for twenty-five years.
The joy of the novel is in discovering this future history through her very British eyes. The same England that has seen its empire fall away now watches its future disintegrate. There is an acceptance of it, a calm dignity, and England soldiers on, as if, really, it were not happening, and the world were better off without children anyway.
One old Oxford professor says, with a stinging veracity, that, “For the last sixty years we have sycophantically pandered to the most ignorant, the most criminal and the most selfish section of society. Now for the rest of our lives we’re going to be spared the intrusive barbarism of the young, their noise, their pounding, repetitive, computer-produced so-called music, their violence, their egotism disguised as idealism.”
The world is filling up with old people, and they are all trying to remain comfortable. This is achieved by giving England over to a despot. He works to maintain complacency, and he’s a gentle sort of dictator. People are as happy as they can be with no future, and the government works to take care of them. And if this leader sends convicts and illegal immigrants to an unsupervised penal colony on the Isle of Man and treats the young of other nations as England’s housekeepers, what does it matter? It will all end soon enough, and there is no following generation to clean up the mess.
I am more than halfway through the novel, and I have only just come to the major plot point that centered the film and turned it into a chase through a hellish earth. I am glad of the differences between the novel and the film. They are two works on the same theme: the one, a British speculation on endtimes and especially a loving farewell to old England; the other, an urgent dystopian allegory on our own times and a wake-up call to the colonies.
I have had a busy time with television this week, and the only film I was able to watch was The Queen, my second time with it and my sweetheart’s first. I wanted to watch it with her because she is from the Commonwealth of Canada and has a different perspective on the royal family than my own American ignorance allows.
I have been fascinated with Britain’s particular style of government for a few years now. I have remained confused about it since I found out that the queen doesn’t actually rule the country—Parliament and the Prime Minister do. I have wondered why they keep the queen around. She seems to be quite an expense.
The film takes this ambivalence about the royals’ place in England and dramatizes it, using the period of Tony Blair’s election and Princess Diana’s death as its backdrop. It pits Blair’s landslide election and its promise of modernization against the queen’s antiquated traditions, and when England reacts to Diana’s death in a way that the queen is not prepared for, she begins to lose her grasp on her people.
The film is remarkable for humanizing the queen, turning her from the cold and distant antique of a long-abandoned age into England itself, the nobility and history that make it great. I would not want a Britain without a queen. She symbolizes its accomplishments and ties the nation to its past. A monarchy is a flawed system, but it’s a wonderful reassurance to have a human chosen by God to lead your country.
We spent the rest of the evening reading about the queen on Wikipedia. She’s had a fascinating life, and her role in the governance of Britain is larger and more important than I imagined. I come away from the film and my scant research with a great respect for the woman, and a renewed fascination in her.
I have mentioned my love for all things Gordon Ramsay more than once in this journal. I discovered the man a few months ago and proceeded to catch up on all the viewing I’ve missed in the last few years. He’s a captivating person, a strange mix of childish brute and virtuous wise man. I admit I harbor a bit of a boy crush on him. Apollonia must be terribly tired of him; I mention him five times a day, and impart advice I have learned from watching his shows, whether it is germane or not. How sick she must be of conversations that start out, “It’s just like I saw on Gordon Ramsay…”
After becoming one of England’s greatest chefs, he made his mark on the crowded TV chef scene, with numerous series and documentaries meeting with mixed critical reception and great commercial success. The best of these efforts, the documentary Ramsay’s Boiling Point and the series Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, are some of the best television I have ever seen. The lesser series make for uneven-but-entertaining TV.
His first American venture, the reality contest Hell’s Kitchen, is a poor example of what makes the man so appealing. It centers on his famous temper and high standards, but little is learned about cooking or running a restaurant or being human (all to be found on the aforementioned British series). Ultimately, it’s another reality TV contest, with the same annoying and human contestants vying for their dream escape; the same pounding, drama-heightening music; and the same betrayals, screaming matches, and sob sessions backstage. These days, there is one of these shows designed for every individual’s fantasy: that of being a singer or a dancer or a macho man or a chef.
The show is crack to me. I am writing this entry late tonight only because I have promised myself an episode when I finish. I have been watching season two all week, two or three episodes in a sitting. I don’t know what I’ll do when it’s over—it’s the only Ramsay stuff I haven’t seen yet.
I cannot recommend the show, though, unless you are a fan of either Gordon Ramsay or the reality TV format. Ramsay remains an inspiration to me throughout the series, infantile as he sometimes is. He’s a regular guy, funny, down-to-earth, and handsome. But in the kitchen, he’s not only a genius, he’s Caesar, rallying the troops and holding up the standards for a greater Rome. No dish leaves his kitchen without his approval, and he will not shy from meting out disapproval. He’s the uber-man, and all seek his esteem, myself included.