I was watching a documentary about Ken Dodd the other day that made me think a bit about British popular culture. It coincided with a news story about Alan Bennett’s fear that working-class kids are being put off going to university. And while (quickly) thinking around this I came to the unscientific conclusion that British popular culture is at its best when the working-class has a big input into it.
If you think about some of the great figures that emerged in post-war Britain you don’t have to go too far to come up with a list of culturally significant people from working-class backgrounds: Spike Milligan, Harold Pinter, The Beatles, Galton & Simpson, Tommy Cooper, Morecambe and Wise, The Sex Pistols, Alan Bennett, Alan Sillitoe etc. The question, I suppose, is: where are these people today? Not literally those people, of course…
While listening to this song recently I had quite a Proustian rush, transported back to when I was fifteen-years-old and a massive Smiths fan. The immediate appeal they had for me was similar to that of The Fall – a band that, while rooted in the gritty, almost kitchen-sinkish, reality of the working class experience, also had a strange, other-wordly, quality. They were quite magical. As an inner city working-class kid who was unsure of my place in the world, this stuff was a reminder of how rich my own background could be. As daft as it sounds, The Smiths – or, rather, Morrissey – helped me to realise there was potentially more to my life than what my immediate surroundings suggested.
Which is all very romantic and nostalgic.
I haven’t listened to The Smiths in years and I think I’ve been a bit guilty of undervaluing them simply because of the fact that every idiot and his wife loves them. Which is odd, because I’m not at all a music snob. (It may have something to do with the fact that I have a very low opinion of Morrissey’s solo career.) It could possibly be that because my love of them was quite intense, and because they were of such value to me in those adolescent years, I regarded them as being very much of their, and my, time. Something like that.
It’s been good though listening to them with fresh(ish) ears. I could have chosen many of their songs for this post. I’ve gone for Suffer Little Children because it seems to me, 25-odd years later, to still contain those qualities of magic and strangeness, even despite the subject matter. And for those who weren’t there at the time, I reckon it’s a good way of getting a sense of what a thoroughly odd and beautiful band they were.