All entries for February 2006

February 06, 2006

Growing up with Paul Weller

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/filmandmusic/story/0,,1700386,00.html

I've never thought of this blog as a place where I'd practice too much confession or biography, but I feel absolutely compelled (if only so that I have a place to preserve the web link) to link to, comment upon and quote from a piece written in last week's Guardian Film & Music by their brash music critic John Harris, who I like a lot.

The feature is partly a review of a new book by David Lines, 'The Modfather: My Life With Paul Weller'. I've read many of the Weller and Jam books and none of them have captured for me the feeling which must come across in the Lines book and certainly came across in the Harris article of exactly what it was like to be in your teens, and captivated by The Jam, at the beginning of the 80s. With each new paragraph of the article, I felt like I was reading my own biography (and even my old home town of Falkirk gets a name check).

Three paragraphs in particular stand out. Firstly, the big picture:

Between their decisive breakthrough in 1979 and that final, wonderfully brutal act of what is now known as "moving on", the cult of the Jam was an immovable part of Britain's cultural map. Superficially, it may have all been about white socks, bowling shoes and a mercifully brief mod revival, but something altogether more interesting was afoot; particularly in Britain's small towns and suburbs, their songs became a kind of folk music, treasured by exactly the people that Paul Weller had a habit of writing about. In such songs as Saturday's Kids, Town Called Malice, Man in the Corner Shop and That's Entertainment, there lies a kind of poetically rendered social history, written just as the postwar consensus was shoved aside by the arrival of Thatcherism.

Secondly, David Lines comments on how his love for The Jam affected what he read and what he wrote about at school. This is almost exactly my own story:

"Weller started talking about Orwell, so I read absolutely everything," he says. "The same went for Colin MacInnes. There was one time I got bollocked in class and as punishment the teacher asked me to write an essay about a book I was reading. I'd read a Weller interview in Smash Hits where he'd talked about Hugh McDiarmid, the Scottish socialist poet, and ordered a book by him from the local library. So the next day, I brought in 1,000 words on Hugh McDiarmid. And, of course, the teacher just wouldn't believe that I'd been reading this. I was sent home to get the book: there it was, on the kitchen table. That was all because of Paul Weller."

Finally, such influence persisted, and could be followed to extremes, after The Jam:

The accent on self-improvement was only heightened during the first phase of Weller's post-Jam enterprise, the Style Council, whose tangle of often esoteric reference points – jazz, socialism, French cigarettes – left many of his audience trying desperately to keep up. Impressed by his new group's claims to be "New Europeans", I foolishly took both French and German O-level (and dropped the latter within weeks); in his book, David Lines recalls obediently switching from Silk Cut to Gitanes and "spending the next six months peeling bits of tobacco – and skin – from my bottom lip".

February 2006

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