Thursday, October 26, 2006

In praise of Low Brow

I've always liked pop - low brow as well as high brow - much preferring Madonna to Coldplay, for instance - but then again, I've never really seen the distinction. The pop I like is intelligent, feisty, meaningful, fun. So is the high brow stuff. So I was pleased to see that Sophie Coppolla's "Marie Antoinette" film is frothy enough to have "I want candy" and "Aphrodisiac" by Bow Wow Wow on its soundtrack. Bow Wow Wow are probably one of the ultimately great low brow bands - they were cynically manufactured by Malcolm Maclaren from the detritus of Adam and the Ants v.1.0 with the addition (after rejecting Boy George), 15 year old singer Annabella Lwin; were always too clever a concept to be as big as other "pop" bands of the time, but got big in America as one-hit wonders with "I want candy" and had enough about them to make their fans (I count myself one) cherish them even a quarter of a century later. What I don't like is earnest stuff - whether in literature or music or art. I'm not sure I'll ever get round to W.G. Sebald, too stern seeming, and I've a particular dislike for those furrowed brow poets who don't ever seem to be having fun (usually, they're academics.) I've far more time for a T.S. Eliot - old sourpuss being light enough to give his book of practical cats (never mind some of the music hall scenes in the Wasteland and elsewhere). But just as there's room for fun, and frivolity in even the most austere of lives, there's room for seriousness in the most frivolous - so though I don't expect Sophie Hannah or Wendy Cope to start doing blank verse a la Geoffrey Hill, its always nice when people surprise you. I once put together a cassette (it was a long time ago!) of "Cheesy Hits" on the assumption that even the most serious bands in the world had their cheesy moments (for instance, Velvet Underground's "I'm Sticking with you" or the Cure's "Caterpillar"). The only bands - even then who didn't have a comic side were Joy Division and U2. Probably the same, with Joy Division, you can probably let them off, but I'm not sure U2 ever had a cheesy moment - and they'd probably be better for it - you never know, Sophie Coppolla might use them in her next film. So far more exciting than compilations by Oasis, U2 and George Michael this Xmas, is the news that Girls Aloud have a best of coming out. But I suppose television is the best place to find the truly great low-brow in that in some eyes, its all low brow. And it can go very low. But I loved the first 2 episodes of Torchwood, the Dr. Who spin off (and how thick was I? I didn't even realise it was an anagram until someone told me), and not just cos I've always had a bit of a thing for Welsh girls. The second episode was, I thought, a little reminiscent of Harlan Ellison's classic sci-fi story, "How's the Night Life on Cissalda?", my favourite short story of the seventies. In Torchwood, an alien being is in gas form and inhabits a Welsh girl who works for a fertility clinic - it lives off orgasmic energy, the only catch being that whoever shags her, turns to a pile of dust on orgasm - Cardiff's make population was looking a bit thin on the ground at the end. In Ellison's story, a man returns to earth being made constant love to by an alien creature with many penises and vaginas. The alien telepaths to its fellows "we've got a live one here" and soon everyone on planet Earth is being shagged to death by aliens - except the original guy - who having been pulled off the alien, is the only being ever to reject the advances of the Cissaldan! What with Torchwood and Spooks, I've decided I definitely want to be a spy when I grow up. Definitely.


Stephen Mitchelmore said...

Are you suggesting that Coldplay is "highbrow"?

And you're wrong to think Sebald isn't funny. He just doesn't make it facile and crowd-pleasing.

BTW, can you suggest some "earnest" "furrowed brow poets" so we don't confuse them with straw man stereotypes?

Adrian Slatcher said...

I admit, I'm mixing everything up here - I'm sure Coldplay think they're more serious/proper than Bow Wow Wow. (Though "Yellow" was as light as marshmallow, where did they go wrong?)
In search of furrowed brow poets? I'd suggest anyone who has wrote a portentous prose autobiography about their childhood, or lectures in post-colonial literature, or writes books on how to write poetry. That should narrow it down a little. Jamming in a jazz band doesn't count .