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Tainted Love

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1970s.  Glam, Bowie, Bolan.  All that androgyny heading west for Ziggy.  Far bolder boys lipstick and eyeshadow proud, the confidence born in the imprint of cocksure Mark Feld, scion of hardscrabbled Hackney.  Proud to be…well, not that.  Not exactly.  Nobody actually said that then.  That would come later, with Tom Robinson, but this was still a place of masonic murk.  Mick Travis, battered, bewildered in this landscape of loss.  Bowie still flirting around the edges of an idea, but not saying it.  Everything implied, nothing admitted.

Hillbillies on celluloid, and power cuts in the air.  Poor Ned Beatty stigmatised in the backwater, ‘squeal like a pig’ the sadistic refrain of a thousand schoolyards.  And everything crumbling.  The state, the economy, perhaps too that earlier promise of ‘modernism’, the one that first propelled Feld to ‘face’ status, in a slipstream of Italian design and bespoke cruelty.

A time when we dreamed of Julie Christie, but for our sins, and impatience, got Maggie Thatcher instead.  When we finally let loose that primal scream, and our tribalism entered stage left, or as often as not, hard right.  Skins, suedeheads, soulboys and punks.  And on the terraces, Bushwackers and F-Troop, Mancs, Scousers, Cockneys and all the rest, every weekend a meeting of the tribes.  Then all over again on Monday at school, little big man rituals re-enacted in the real time of a failing I.L.E.A education.  Oh yes, I remember the 70s.

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Though who should crawl from the ruins but Lydon and the other urchins.  And by the Westway, something was stirring, too, in the vista from the the high rise where Mick Jones roomed with his Nan.  Those hardscrabbled boys we’d gawped at earlier were at it again.  And if not them, then something osmotic in the spirit of safety pins.  Bin liners finding more purchase on the human body than as temporary shelter for rats, as the winter dragged on, and the rubbish remained uncollected.  The sounds of the suburbs, Siouxsie and fetish-surly.  Or art-school literate, and no amount of phlegm and pogoing was going to change that.  On Mondays the angrier voices belonging to the newest army, Hersham proud.  But nothing Jimmy could do about how disunited the kids really were.

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The place falling apart.  Lewisham, Southall a chilling foretaste. The Front on the march and the boys in blue their passport to the inner city.  Belligerence in the air, a viciousness to the skirmishing mirroring the ‘action’ of the weekend terrace toughs.  And you were affiliated, and had your colours, or you were alone.  Either way, you’d have to fight.  Battle lines were drawn, and everyday life could be fraught.

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Then just as suddenly, Thatcher’s ‘swamp fever’ and her theft of the Front’s thunder.  Somehow worse than the rats, or the IMF loans, or even the skirmishing.  ‘It’s up to you’, sang Terry Hall the night before the ’79 General Election.  It was, and we failed.

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So why does it feel different now?  Why do such memories resonate almost fondly now?  Some of it, of course, has got to be down to age.  Time passes, life progresses – marriage, kids, marriage (again) – the whole gamut.  Births, deaths and, well you know the rest.  With dotage comes comfort and surely that takes some of the edge off things.  But deep down there’s the sense that it’s something more than that.  A kind of ‘tainted love’ for times which were lively, for sure, but often harsh and loveless too.

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‘Don’t forget the cannoli’, shouts Paulie’s wife just as he gets into his car with his would-be assassins in ‘The Godfather’.  And though it ends badly for him, we remember the cannoli – ‘leave the gun, take the cannoli’.  For this addict at least, quintessential 1970s Mafia hitman, Clemenza’s preoccupation with ricotta-filled Sicilian pastries (in one of the great movies of that, or any other, decade) unlocks the secret to some of the enduring ‘love’ for that era.

The 70s could be, and frequently were, terrible.  Unrelenting in their sodden, bankrupt, mustard-brown, Pinter-esque self-loathing.  A bent cop in every parish, and civic corruption as unremarkable as the rain or the new brutalism.  They ended badly too, with Thatcher in Downing Street, and more riots round the corner.  But for all the strife, and the division, this was also the decade that gave us glam and punk, two-tone and funk. Rich pickings in other words. Beyond that grey, damp surface, a ‘ricotta’ interior, if you like.  It gave us terrace wars which spilled over into the street but in Lewisham and Southall at any rate, for a few halcyon moments, ‘we fought the law’ and maybe, just maybe the law didn’t win.

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