As fate would have it, my first week on the call-center floor fell on a weekend, which is a casual dress period. I made friends as soon as I hit the floor because c’mon, who doesn’t love me?! The very next day I came in and did all the dapper bois proud. Black slacks, white dress shirt with a pink/black/white silk tie. Hair freshly twisted up with my shades on. And yes I turned many heads. I walked in and saw all the women in the office look over to watch me walk down the aisle. I got to my group and nobody said a word. And then finally one of the women supervisors said “Ooh I like your tie.” And so my journey as the first boi in began.
Of course, the image she puts forward here immediately reminds me of:
That kind of gender separated dress code — or even having an explicit dress code — is somewhat less common in the Netherlands and you see as many women professionals in what y’all would call pant suits as in skirts. The other uniform, common to women in non-representative roles are the slightly too short white leggings, which seems to be the fuck you, I dress for comfort symbol of the (older) Dutch woman. It’s ubiqitous enough and annoys enough people that it has had facebook campaigns launched against it.
Gruppo Sportivo, punk as fuck in spirit, but always just a bit too strange, too Dutch for the real punks. Not just one hit wonders abroad, but rather know for just that one cult underground “hit”, still plugging away, still making albums and touring long after you’d written them off. It would never be as good or fun as in those late seventies though.
I was reminded of this the other day, one of those late nineties hits you see on MTV every day for a month or so and then never again, making you wonder whether you dreamed the whole thing up. That’s Tony “the way to Amarillo” Christie doing the vocals, Jarvis Cocker who wrote it and All Seeing I what did the music.
And I met with AZAPO, who had a very frank conversation — I was talking to the translator — about whether they should kill me for even being there. That’s how serious they were about violating the boycott. I eventually talked them out of that and then talked them into maybe going kinda with my thing.
They showed me that they have an assassination list, and Paul Simon was at the top of it. [NOTE: In 1986, Paul Simon recorded tracks for his Graceland album in South Africa, in direct violation of the cultural boycott.] And in spite of my feelings about Paul Simon, who we can talk about in a minute if you want to, I said to them, “Listen, I understand your feelings about this; I might even share them, but…”
What strikes me almost thirty years later is how modern the Artist United Against Apartheid project was, especially compared to the other Big Cause projects (We Are the World, Live Aid). Much of that is of course because Little Steve was smart enough to bring hip-hop artists into project, not just pop and rock musicians. Also how much more and much more explicitly political. The famines in Ethiopia were presented as natural disasters, but Little Steve and co from the start made clear not only that the South African government was to blame for Apartheid and its evils, but also how much western support it received over the years. “Why are we always on the wrong side” indeed.
I’m mostly agnostic about ABBA: good pop music I’ve no real desire to put on myself but I wouldn’t turn off the radio if they came on. They were omnipresent when I was growing up and I know most of their hits. One thing I noticed a long time ago however is that they were far more sophisticated than their reputation as purveyors of plastic pop made them out to be. Many of their songs are actually deeply ambiguous about love and being in a relationship, even their most simple ones. The Joy of ABBA, shown above, is a BBC4 documentary which argues the same. I thought it might be interesting to look at some of their hits in this light.
Been hearing this song on the radio this week, from some American folk-rock band called Midlake, and I don’t quite know what it is, but it has a very mid-seventies feel to it. ELO by way of Gerry Rafferty if that makes any sense.