Hearing the The Who close the London Olympics closing ceremony last week singing "I hope I die before I get old" I couldn't help but cringe and imagine several millions of people watching wittily remark - "well, that's ironic". But with this strange irony, Paul McCartney's weakening voice and the swathes of rejection the ceremony organizers received from various members of the 'old guard', I couldn't help but thinking that not only were The Who closing the Olympics, they were also closing their generation's pre-eminence within British culture and the British music industry. Have the Olympics and the Jubilee concert provided the last great public swansong for the swinging 60s?
In an Olympics that highlighted Britain's modern, post-fall-of-the-empire-melancholia-new-found-confidence, dynamism and secureness with its new world standing, the insistence on exhibiting the 60s-90s swells of British musical heritage seemed a bit out of place. Sure it was somehow apt that in an Opening Ceremony that wanted to display Britain's proud history as well as its modernity, nods and hints to our numerous revolutionary acts from ages gone by seemed somewhat apt. But the closing ceremony seemed at odds with the preceding two weeks of contemporary sporting and organizational brilliance, two weeks of contemporary national euphoria based on Britain's achievements in 2012 rather than age old institutions dating from before 1112 (i.e. the now seemingly annual Royal love-in) and musical movements of decades passed.
Priya Elan wrote in the Guardian's music blog to a similar effect that the ceremony's emphasis on the 90s was particularly striking - he compared it to a height of Britpop Brit awards doo and you can see why with the after party's photos of the sudden Spice Girls and Liam Gallagher love-in. But the general emphasis on Britain's musical past including and dating from decades beyond this is my bone of contention. I saw one 17 year old (I was a prefect for his yeargoup in my last year at school) post a Facebook status saying that he was fed up with the ceremony's insistence on being a "musical history lesson" and my immediate response was sheer anger - how can you be so foolish to not be contented with legends like Annie Lennox, The Who and Queen! But on reflection, he made an interesting point - the show could have done a lot more to advertise London in 2012, rather than London in 62, 72, 82 and 92. The Olympics itself didn't dwell on the past so why did both ceremonies (for the opening to do so was fair enough, but for the closing one to do so as well, did not).
Defenders of their generation may point to the disappointing performances of some of the contemporary acts - Emeli Sande has received some criticism for her perhaps flat performances, Muse's song was pretty dreadful and I will admit to finding Elbow underwhelming (they're not my favourite band I'm afraid). Despite this, the legends weren't that great either - George Michael outrageously took the opportunity to plug his new song, Lennox's entry on a gothic ship was bewildering and Brian May's self-indulgent guitar trickery seemed bizarre considering he now looks more and more like a professor from Harry Potter. Although many will complain about indulging tween pop acts like One Direction, Jessie J and Taio Cruz and many will not be enamoured by the various nods towards the UK grime scene, their appearances were ultimately successful, populist ploys - teenage girls around the world would have been screaming and swooning when Ed Sheeran came on stage and he should have been allowed to play his one of his own songs. More importantly, they represent London today - the aim of the games.
There is an abundance of current British music that the ceremonies declined to showcase to the world and which we generally decline to boast about in our general media and so on. Pioneering electronic acts like Burial, Aphex Twin and Four Tet, for example, would have been more reflective of Britain's current contribution to the contemporary music world (though the first two would definitely have declined such is their reclusive nature). Britain had the opportunity to show and market its current and upcoming musical innovators but instead they chose to showcase the innovators from eras gone by - a history lesson rather than preaching its current crop. That Danny Boyle chose to play multiple tracks by noise producers Fuck Buttons in the opening ceremony is more reflective of what Britain should be priding itself on music-wise in the 21st century - current innovators who highlight that great on-going British creativity.
This summer the 60s have provided that great proverbial pomposterous elephant that refuses to trudge out of the music room; its immobility somehow evocative of Cliff Richards' years of refusing to stop singing at Wimbledon before the roof thankfully spared us of his 'services'. It's pretty impossible to ignore it. The Beatles changed the face of pop music, The Who were the great proponents of youthful rebellion, Led Zep gave the world hard rock, Pink Floyd gave the world Dark Side of the Moon and so on. Britain can hardly be bashful about this grand pedigree and it was right that they were given their due consideration in the opening ceremony that boasted Britain's history as well as its present. Their popularity is still massive as well. Various bursts of retromania down the years have allowed their presence to always be felt and there is the age-old fact that good music, as any good art does, remains good despite the shifting contexts of history. In an era where entire libraries of musical periods and movements are available within a few clicks on the internet and often for free, the emphasis on when the age of the band playing and the age of the listeners has been much diluted and that is undeniably a good thing. Recently I went through a phase of listening to early 90s shoegaze rock despite the fact that it's all around 20 years old and was originally made before I was born, but this doesn't matter anymore - the entire history of music is available for music lovers to immerse themselves in and to fall in love with as though they were there, listening to their debut LP at the time. This of course has to be celebrated.
But while the music remains great and loved, the insistence on wheeling these grand old names out at any occasion becoming trite. They've established their place in our musical hearts and affections, so let new bands and artists do the same. That's what celebrating British music should be about. Continuing their pedigree and letting new generations have their own movements and hoping that these movements too can have a lasting legacy. Whether they do or not is irrelevant. The early 90s alternative rock band Pavement had a line in their great song 'Gold Soundz' that went "Because you're empty and I'm empty/and you can never quarantine the past". It is often difficult to do this - to 'quarantine the past' - such is the brilliance of these great old bands, but as this summer gradually fades into autumn, the Indian Summer years of these great bands should be allowed to gradually come to an end. Their legacy is made, we need not overstate it and allow The Who's lyrics to become more dated, Paul McCartney's voice frailer and we certainly need to prevent John Lydon from doing any more butter adverts. In an era when the Prime Minister is a Smiths fan, it has to be accepted that the youthful rebellion that these great stalwarts exuded has been diluted by their ages - The Who's generation are now mostly retired. "Hope I die before I get old" - you didn't die, you got old.
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