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The Kids are Alt-Right: Eric Clapton & Right Said Fred [March 22, 1992]
Plus: CeCe Peniston, The Cure, Annie Lennox, and k.d. lang
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Welcome to the week of March 22, 1992, where the Top 5 looks like this:
‘Stay’ — Shakespears Sister (=)
‘Finally’ — Ce Ce Peniston (↑)
‘To Be With You’ — Mr. Big (↑)
‘Deeply Dippy’ — Right Said Fred (↑)
‘Tears In Heaven’ — Eric Clapton (=)
We’ll be exploring some of the Top 40 and listening to our Album of the Week, but first, let’s listen to…
This week’s Number 4: ‘Deeply Dippy’ — Right Said Fred/Number 5: ‘Tears In Heaven’ — Eric Clapton
Angela Nagle’s book Kill All Normies contains an interesting essay about the relationship between artists and left-wing politics.
In the 60s, Nagle argued, the revolutionary left became a powerful movement, willing to take on the establishment in the fight for civil rights.
Creative people, especially musicians, joined in this revolution. This meeting of politics and art gave rise to the counter-culture, a powerful force that played a role in the civil rights victories of the 60s.
As a result, a lot of people assumed that all artists are inherently left-wing.
On a surface level, the logic makes sense. Left-wing politics are inherently about empathy, and empathy is the key to great art.
But nothing is ever that simple.
Nagle argues that the counter-culture was always just a marriage of convenience. The left and rock’n’rollers both wanted to smash the system. But after the dust settled, the two sides began to realise that they didn’t agree on what to do next.
The left wanted to build a new, better system. Artists rejected all systems. Sometimes, that meant artists rejected left-wing politics entirely—and some even drifted over to the right.
And a lot of this was predictable. Many of our great artists (especially rock stars) are carrying on a creative tradition that dates way back to the Romantics, and those guys were absolutely not left-wing.
In fact, the Romantics were obsessessed with mythic nationalism and physical purity, and they helped to introduce many of the ideas at the heart of modern conservatism. Romantic thought is also the basis of all fascism, up to and including Nazism.
All of this is to say that it shouldn’t be a total shock to learn that some of our favourite artists are right-wing.
Take Eric Clapton, for example.
Clapton is, without a doubt, a phenomenally talented musician. That Beatles documentary has a whole bit where George Harrison talks to the others about how Clapton is the best guitarist in the world at that moment.
In 1976, Clapton went on stage and told all the foreigners in his audience to fuck off back to their native country.
He went on to say:
I don't want you here, in the room or in my country. The Black w—s and c—s and Arabs and fucking Jamaicans don't belong here, we don't want them here. This is England, this is a white country…We need to make clear to them they are not welcome.
I’m not saying Eric Clapton is a racist. He is so petty and litigious that you have to be careful when you say anything about him. But this rant (as well as David Bowie’s Nazi salutes) inspired the very successful Rock Against Racism movement.
Right Said Fred are best-known as purveyors of novelty pop songs. They are fun, camp, and silly.
During the 90s, Richard Fairbrass hosted Gaytime TV on BBC, which made him something of a liberal icon. He provided viewers with a proud, funny gay voice, and that’s important too.
But you can be gay and you can be an artists and you can still support a right-wing party like Ukip, which Richard Fairbrass started doing in the 2010s. The Freds went on to support Brexit in a big way. Their argument was essentially that the EU is a system, and all systems must be smashed.
Now, it’s not fair to say that all Brexit voters are nasty racists. But it is entirely fair to say that all nasty racists voted for Brexit.
As my nan used to say, if you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas.
Does any of this matter? What if we stopped looking at everything as left vs. right?
Oh, my sweet summer child.
To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut: thanks to the internet, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.
We are so polarised that even the coronavirus pandemic—a disease that has killed over five million people so far—became a left-right slapfight.
Ask someone what they think about the vaccine, and you will probably be able to guess their opinions on gender equality, Black Lives Matter, Trump, climate change, cancel culture, Brexit, wokeness, and immigration.
Anti-vaxxers are a broad church, but they generally agree on one thing, which is that THEY have gone too far and it is time for the people to take back control.
Doesn’t matter who THEY are. Corporations or Jews or the woke mob or whatever. Point is, they have to be stopped.
Time to smash the system.
Eric Clapton and Right Said Fred emerged as the musical face of the anti-vaccine movement in 2020.
Clapton has issued lots of rambling statements about how Covid is a scam and the whole thing is government-led mind control. He went on to record an anti-lockdown song with Van Morrisson, another person who was an untouchable genius in the counter-culture era but now radiates “your uncle who forwards you those weird emails” vibes.
Right Said Fred have made their entire brand about being anti-vaxx, sending dozens of tweets each day on the subject. Their attitude is a kind of playful “I’m just asking questions!” approach, but they’ve shown that they will uncritically retweet anything that suits their narrative.
Recently, they managed to (accidentally) promote a white supremacist neo-Nazi group. Oops!
Clapton and The Freds (along with Van Morrison, Morrissey, Ian Brown, Johnny Rotten, Russell Brand and various others) are just doing what rock’n’rollers have done for generations. They are rebelling. They are sticking it to The Man.
The problem is that the left-wing revolution doesn’t want to stick to The Man. They want to be The Man (and then change that to a less gendered term).
Left-wing politics is about building a better world. That means building better systems and taking positive steps to tackle injustice.
When it comes down to it, that’s always going to be at odds at the hyper-individualistic heart of pop music.
That raises a lot of questions about music’s ability to be a force behind radical change. I’m sure we’ll discuss that in future newsletters. But let us at least be grateful that Eric Clapton and Van Morrison failed to change anything with their hideous anti-lockdown single.
And let’s be even more grateful that Right Said Fred didn’t record one.
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Elsewhere in the charts
Number 2 (↑ from 6): ‘Finally’ — CeCe Peniston
The 90s were a golden age for amazing Black women who dropped exactly one perfect, smash-hit club anthem.
‘Finally’ is quite possibly the best of them all. It’s got everything: thumping beat, irresistibly hooky chorus, and the utter joy of CeCe’s delivery. A highlight of the 90s and a feel-good anthem for the ages.
Number 8 (New Entry): ‘High’ — The Cure
Releasing ‘High’ as the first single from Wish feels like the band were deliberately trying to create a bridge between Greatest Album Of All Time contender, Disintegration, and their new album, Wish.
Because instead of ‘High’, they could have just released ‘Friday I’m In Love’, which is such an obvious pop classic that everyone must have known it was going to be a hit.
But jumping from ‘Pictures of You’ to ‘Friday I’m In Love’ would have been too much for the poor Cureheads. ‘High’ is a very good halfway house, very much classic Cure, with sweeping guitars and plaintive lyrics about never letting you go.
Number 9 (New Entry): ‘Why’ — Annie Lennox
Hey look, it’s Annie Lennox’s first solo single! We’ll take a look at her album Diva in a couple of weeks.
Incidentally, Dave Stewart co-wrote Shakespears Sister’s ‘Stay’, which means that technically the Eurythmics are in this week’s Top 10. Kinda.
Number 12 (New Entry): ‘Breath Of Life’ — Erasure
The fourth single from the album Chorus, ‘Breath of Life’ is a decent dance track, but it was somewhat overshadowed by the other hits. Plus, Erasure will release the Abbaesque EP in May, which will be a career-defining success for them.
Number 35 (New Entry): ‘Bitch School’ — Spinal Tap
Mockumentary pioneers Spinal Tap made a bit of a comeback in 1992. There was a full album named Break Like The Wind, and this nice rock song about dog training.
They also popped up in an episode of The Simpsons, which makes sense, seeing as Harry Shearer is part of the cast. They also played the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, which made no sense at all. Maybe Freddie was a fan?
Album of the Week
Ingénue — k.d. lang
“Where is your head, Kathryn?”, sings k.d. lang on ‘The Mind of Love’’. It’s a good question. Where was Kathryn Dawn Lang’s head at in 1992?
k.d. lang (always in lower case, like e.e. cummings) had spent much of the 80s learning her trade on the country music scene. Shadowland, an album of cover versions with guest appearances by country legends, had earned some attention. But lang was still waiting to announce her true self to the world.
Ingénue was the first full-length studio album of original k.d. lang compositions. The album was the first time that the world got to hear her properly. During the promotional tour for Ingénue, lang told a reporter that she is gay.
To understand what a bombshell this was, you just need to scroll up and look at what’s going on in the singles chart this week. Erasure and Right Said Fred—two explicitly queer acts—had both put out videos that featured them with girls, implying that they were heterosexual.
Many gay performers weren’t in the closet as such, but pop culture in 1992 had a kind of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Talk About It Before The Watershed policy.
So, when k.d. came out, the world went a bit bananas. It was a little like the Seinfeld “not that there’s anything wrong with that” episode, where straight people tried to be supportive but weren’t quite sure how. Vanity Fair put together a slightly bizarre photoshoot where lang (wearing a full suit) got shaved by Cindy Crawford (wearing very little).
All of this palaver might prepare you for Ingénue to be a tortured, harrowing album.
About ten seconds into the opening track, ‘Save Me’, you realise that nothing could be further from the truth. The slide guitar rolls along gently, like waves on a moonlit beach, and lang’s seductive, mellifluous voice just embraces you.
Ingénue is so precise, so assured that it feels more like a tenth album than a debut. lang never puts a foot wrong, whether she’s doing late-night blues like ‘Wash Me Clean’ or folk singalongs like ‘Season of Hollow Soul’.
Officially, her key influences are people like Patsy Cline (to whom lang considered herself an heir). Unofficially, you can hear lots of her fellow Canadians on the album, including Leonard Cohen and the entire Wainwright family. You can also hear how she’s influenced Rufus Wainwright, so I guess the connection goes both ways.
The biggest single on the record—and of lang’s career—is ‘Constant Craving’, which sits at the end of the record, almost as an afterthought. Or possibly a label-mandated single.
Now, ‘Constant Craving’ is a very good song, but it’s also slightly bland and doesn’t really show off lang’s personality. If the whole record sounded like ‘Constant Craving’, she probably would have vanished into the crowd of similar singer-songwriters.
A more expressive single is the follow-up, ‘Miss Chatelaine’. It’s also a very 90s song, in the sense that it’s steeped in around 20 layers of irony.
lang really was voted Miss Chatelaine (to be precise, she was voted Woman of the Year by Chatelaine magazine), and the song is a tongue-in-cheek celebration of an award she found slightly baffling. lang is a musical magpie with an eye for vintage styles, so here she adopts the most luxurious style imaginable: 50s champagne music.
The video is the most ironic thing of all. lang’s public image has always been on the androgynous side, but here she dresses up in an evening dress and beehive wig, presenting herself as an uber-femme.
Was that video ironic? Or were the record label trying to straightwash her? A little of both, perhaps?
Anyway, it doesn’t matter. When you’re listening to Ingénue, nothing outside of Ingénue matters. This record feels like a comfortable room with the doors locked and the curtains pulled. Once those first guitar chords kick in, everything else disappears.
I suppose a rock’s out of the question?
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