‘wawhat can a white boy do, but to sing for a rock and roll band?’
S. S. Sisodia, in Salman Rushdie’s politically incorrect Satanic Verses, stammers: “The trouble with the Engenglish is that their hiss hiss history happened overseas, so they don’t know what it means”. True enough, but this should in no way be mockery of stammerers, and I am discomforted by Rushdie now more than ever. Yet the point he makes about history is also relevant more now than ever. Sure the historical fault lies with education personnel and an administrators who have kept quiet about their Empire, or recruited pundits to excuse it (Simon bloody Schama, even now in audio book format), which – curriculum management enhanced strategy – buries any possibility of teaching that history critically with popularist flag-waving, dull media entertainments (variety quiz shows, Schama looking earnestly into the camera) and ball games (Empire games, Commonwealth Games – its hardly sporting old chap). Whatever Michael Palin might offer us on his travel tours, international working class solidarity is a more important a project, and an educational project that supports it, is crucial nowadays as ever before. The cotton mills of Manchester were closely linked to Calcutta, just as today’s MTV beams out to both cities regardless. We should watch these shows closely.
Maybe all we can achieve with (our) writing is to provide people with questions and ideas that allow them (us) to think through politics more clearly, more creatively, more. There can be no revolution without rev-revolutionary theory. There can be no rethinking without newnew thoughts.
‘ttttalking bout my generation’
Anglo interest in non-European music has a long pedigree, which it is no longer my job to trace, though I once thought it was. Suffice to say that my interest began as a very mainstream versionThe Rolling Stones, (especially Brian Jones e derived from the urban whiteboy blues of xplorations of Joujouka drumming in Morocco and an image of Keef Richards smoking kif in Tangiers); a passing acquaintance with experimental Indo-psychedelic music epitomised by such commercialisations as The Beatles Sgt Peppers’ and The White Album, and an early and never shaken interest in the writings of William Burroughs and Alan Ginsberg. This developed into an interest in why we are interested in Asia – and a book on budget traveller experience in Calcutta. Along the way an edited volume on the controversy surrounding Salman Rushdie’s celebrated work, and activist-led peripheral involvement in the music and rave scene in Australia, led me to various attempts to make sense of the ways English bands have included South Asia in their head space but not really got along with the politics, so, these notes for a paper on how white rock stumbled to the east.
“From Satanic Majesties to Satanic Verses: India in England yet again”.
The Rolling Stones, following The Beatles Sgt Peppers’ and the opening up of the India travel caravan (banana pancake trail with magic mushrooms), produced what some pundits label their least successful album in 1967: Their Satanic Majesties. It is a long way from the superficial Eastern flavour of that album too the burning of Rushdie’s Satanic Verses in Bradford streets a quarter of a century later, but despite the trite comparison of Jagger and Rushdie as public personifications of the devil (for different audiences to be sure), there are still interesting changes to be charted in the intervening years. Any attempt to comment on the relations between anglo interests and things Asian need to begin with an understanding of significant movements across the globe. Travel to India for the children of the English bourgeoisie has fluctuated from fashionable drug-scenery to adventure tour and on to military tours (Afghanistan has even generals sounding mutinous now), and important dynamics within the Sth Asian diasporic presence in Britain need to be lyricized. The success of Indian trinketry in the souvenir shops and fashion houses of the UK youth market might be contrasted to the flow of British based recordings into India – the mid-1990s success of Apache Indian and Bally Sagoo for example.
What might still be interesting would be to explore these cultural forms – from the Stones to Zadie Smith serialized on C4 – for evidence that could provide an understanding of the contemporary dynamics of neo-imperialism and global order as it changes and as its screened for us in Bliar’s Britain. Such a project might update and contemporise Said’s historical and nineteenth century interest in the traces of Empire in Dickens and his ilk.
There is much written on the phenomenon called Global Music. Of course there are ways in which this can be categorised as a commodification process intricately linked to the global spread of capitalist marketeering of all cultural forms. But within this there are demarcations to be made, and the relative silence still accorded the influence of politically charged South Asian creativities in the Global Music discourse might be indicative of more important politically potent occlusions. Where Blues and Reggae are well established as antecedents of popular ‘Western’ music, the influence of the East always seems to be presented as a peripheral, curious, or at best experimental aside, if accorded any centrality at all. Why? Since in terms of Empire India was so central, Calcutta was the second most important city in the world, so muck-much of European culture can be traced to Asia (from pajamas to umbrellas, goodness gracious me – see Hobson-Jobson). I keep on saying, what would it be to write the history of Empire from a perspective outside of Euro-America? Say from Calcutta, or departing from the disaffected experimental out-of-his-mindset of a stoned Stone or a migrant-resident Indglish Sisodia-stuttering Intefada cursed crossover (both after all go for market share, belong to a well-to-do class fraction, profess a certain degree of – Ltd – left politics, and have been labelled devilish)?….
Note 2009 – of course Ted already started out on this too: here.