People like me don’t leave France because of taxes. We leave France because the moderns lost. Because Finkelkraut won. The dark side of France… God save the Queen, and fuck Finkelkraut!
I wrote here about Joy Division, the dark side of my generation. Now, I have to talk about the bright side, and no others symbolise this bright side as New Order. It had to!
New Order is a survival, the forces of life overcoming the forces of death. This is Joy Division transfigured as something new without never forgetting what it was.
Maybe, I will say maybe, if there was a Divinity of Rock and Roll, Ian Custis had to pass away, becoming the necessary sacrifice to remind us that whatever happened in our future life would be stronger than anything else.
And my generation would soon have to face that defining moment when this belief would be challenged by reality…
I saw New Order in April 1982 at Theatre Le Palace, in Paris. I was 16. It was their first concert in Paris as New Order. Ian Curtis died in May 1980, Closer released in July, and instead of splitting, the band started to work on a new album, Movement, and renamed itself as New Order.
Movement is irrigated by the spirit and the soul of Ian Curtis. Just listen to Doubts Even Here, I am used to say this could be the best song by Joy Division… But at the same time, changing their name meant the band would experiment a new path, and so did it.
From the darkness of Joy Division and the survival path of Movement came light.
As I said about Echo this week, between 1981 and 1983, all major new wave bands tried to do dance music, mostly with a generous use of synthesisers they had been using for years in a more experimental way.
So did The Cure. But can we really call them The Cure, knowing that the dictatorial and narcissistic personality of Robert Smith left the band near death in 1982: only two members remained from the group of 5 of Easy Cure in 1977. It must be said that the near end happened after the band produced the definitive opus of the New Wave, the one record once been made nothing much had to be add, Pornography. I will write about it soon, because it is very difficult to understand nowadays the importance of Pornography, its real meaning. But to write it quickly, let’s say this is the testimony of the New Wave, its farewells.
The same years, what I am used to call the Second Wave, started to gain importance.
The difference? The New Wave bands grew with 1960’s and 1970’s bands in mind. The Second Wave grew with those New Wave bands in mind, like The Cure, Joy Division, The Opposition, Devo, The Buzzcocks, XTC, Siouxsie and the Banshees… The second wave would be The Dance Society (influenced by Simple Mind), Cocteau Twins (The Cure), Dead can Dance…
Regarding New Order, the perspective is completely different. In fact, this approach towards dance music came as an opportunity at a moment new technologies spread and started being used not only for disco and electro-pop, but also for American black musics. Fusion was possible, and at that time fusion was regarded as a new type of experiment.
Blue Monday, released in 1983, became very famous immediately, giving New Order a larger audience. The same thing happened to many bands, and basically in 1983/84 started the « Depeche Mode / The Cure » craze as well as the « gothic / batcave » mania. Even if Joy Division was generally regarded as THE unreachable horizon of the New Wave, New Order never got much attention from this new audience in search of more and more « spectacular for the spectacular ». To make it shorter, let’s say New Order was too clean. Too « New Wave ».
At this moment of the eighties, France was changing extremely fast, especially its culture, becoming more opened to foreign influences, especially British, but not only. The presence of larges communities of Africans and North African coming from the ex-colonial empire, but also the beginning of a more visible gay culture, with its clubs and its DJs extremely curious about new musics, all that mixed with the energy of the time started to produce a strong youth culture which can explain why France got so strong in rap and house music in the next decade. This trend was helped with the beginning of the « radio libres », a boom in private radios after the end of the state monopoly.
All that was not only supported by, but helped by the socialist government whose ministry of culture had its budget more than tripled. A more opened country, eager to cultural experiments started to emerge. At least, this is what we were dreaming of, a jealous eye on the rival and model, London.
In France, there always has been a distinction between a serious culture and a popular culture. An elitist vision of education is viewed as a way to escape the lower classes references, considered as bad, to reach the altitude of the culture of the upper class. In this traditional vision, opera and classical are on the good side, pop is on the bad side, and there are huge debates among specialists to evaluate the quality of the singers, divided in too groups, those singing « chansons » on the good side, those singing « variété » on the bad side.
The eighties is a moment when the fight between the « anciens » (defending that vision) and the « modernes » (defending a plural and open conception of culture) turned to be won with an incredibly ease by the moderns, at least until the National Front reminded us all the country was not ready for such a shift toward a cosmopolite culture based on an assumed multicultural and urban society, opened to more Anglo-Saxon influences, and, worst, until the French style neo-con pseudo-philosopher (recently promoted by the French Academy) Alain Finkelkraut decided to mock this new culture in a piece of garbage of 250 pages, « La défaite de la pensée ».
The book adopted a ironic tone to criticise multiculturalism and Anglo-Saxon influence in griming a left wing style attack of the mercantile aspects of this new culture.
For example, by saying that according to this new Canon, Coca Cola would be as “ beautiful ” as Michelangelo. Of course, the real debate was about the degree we accept multiculturalism, cultureS with an S, which already meant talking about Islam…
It worked, and the debate slightly deviated in this direction, echoing the National Front, and thereafter politicians trying to “ fish ” its electorate. At the beginning of the 90’s, multicultural, energetic and creative France was only a souvenir. And nowadays, the National Front way of thinking is adopted by a majority of politicians and France is a more and more conservative country, thanks to this piece of (whatever you want, just flush) and pseudo-philosopher and real neo-con or simply con Alain Finkelkraut and his followers, all in love with what they call La République and forgetting every democratic principles.
Nowadays, it happens demonstrations can be forbidden. In France, can you believe it?
I decided to talk a little about that because at that time, the creativity was extremely intense, a continuation of the vivacity of the counter culture of the 70’s with the energy of the New Wave. Basically, in Paris in 1980/1984, it felt like everything was possible, we just had to do it. It was interesting to see this energy was not only in music, but in fashion, magazines (fanzines), concerts with performances, parties.
One magazine emerged from this effervescence, Les Inrockuptibles, a fusion of several independent magazines. Black and White (the real colour of 1980’s Paris), with a lot of « white pages ». Very, very, very into the world of New Order. In fact, when the magazine completely changed several years after, people would say they wanted to erase their « New Order » esthetic for something more diverse, less “ white ”. White people always have a strange way not to talk about racial issues and to find solutions by themselves to the problems they define by themselves.
A beautiful and glossy Black and White magazine, plenty of beautiful pictures, well written articles mostly about Brit Pop and electro-Pop, Les Inrockuptibles. The new version has simply no style, and since then, in France, we are obliged to read British magazines if we want to read something beautiful… The old version was a timid hope that we could do something beautiful and intelligent.
There might be a finkelkrautization of France, after all…
On the bright side of my generation, there is this incredible energy, this creativity of a decade, it’s modest hope, not of a revolution, but of tangible changes we could make. An energy which would explain the incredible success of Act Up Paris when HIV started to be an issue, an organisation which members always mixed messages with a sense of aesthetics. Act Up was clean.
On the bright side, there is this beautiful peace of pop, True Faith, released in 1986, the total resurrection of the band.
In the UK, you can listen to pop with pleasure, and then go to The Prom listen to a recital by Emma Kirkby and Anthony Rooley before ending the night completely queer at G.A.Y. It is not a big deal, pleasures are different. In France, we are back to this incredible separation between a good culture and a bad culture. Guess who wins?
People like me don’t leave France because of taxes. We leave France because the moderns lost. Because Finkelkraut won. The dark side of France… God save the queen, and fuck Finkelkraut!