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The Law Of Sevens

Some time in (I think), the late 80s, I came up with one of those observational laws like Murphy’s Law or Parkinson’s Law, but a bit less… well, less. This was a simple idea that major popular musical movements happen, every decade, around the 7th year. It seemed like a pretty good law-

1957- Rock’n'roll
1967- Summer Of Love, Rock Music “proper” is born
1977- Punk
1987- Acid House/Rave

Now of course there are lots of different musical trends and styles appearing all the time, some become major fads and some don’t. But I felt that the “Law Of Sevens” described moments of defining change in popular culture. Nothing was ever the same again after each of my four examples. They each reverberated far beyond mere music, as part of a cultural revolution. I’m 43, so I don’t remember the 1960s (people say if you can remember them, you weren’t there anyway, haha) but looking at photos from that decade, the massive change between the first few years and the later years is glaring. One only has to look at The Beatles through their career, from smart lads in suits to long haired doped out hippies to see that. Everything changed. There was a culture shock.

Of course having declared my “law” it promptly broke down. There is nothing one can specifically associate with 1997. There was Britpop, but that was earlier, and Grunge, but that was earlier still, and no musical form really presents itself as defining the decade. 2007? Meh, again, no.

We might note that pop music as we know it today is primarily a British and American phenomenon, which might tie us into my anglospheric musings in other posts, since Britain and the USA are the two leaders of the anglospheric cultural hegemony. And we might observe that each of the four cultural moments I listed above rocked and shocked the ruling classes of those nations. Rock’n'roll seems mild today, but outraged the elders of the culture. The Summer Of Love, the filth and the fury of Punk, the moral panic surrounding Acid House- nothing is comparable in the 90s or 00s. In 1997 we didn’t get a music-driven cultural earthquake. We got Tony Blair.

It may just be that music ran out of new things to do. Or it may be that having shocked the world for four successive decades, the world became shockproof. But I wonder if something more unpleasant had happened. Perhaps we might say that Brit/American culture had reeled for four decades from an onslaught of social liberalisms, and by the 1990s that had been stifled. The ruling class had fought back, and won. Or, the revolutionaries of the past had got old and become the ruling class. I dunno. What one can say is that the anti-authoritarian spirit of each of those musical shocks, each in its own way, seemed to have perished. The barely organised chaos of, for instance, 60s rock festivals, 70s punk gigs, or 80s raves is absent now- the festivals are organised, corporatised and sanitised. Glastonbury is a little police state which people pay a great deal of money to enter, patrolled by policemen sporting CCTV cameras to spot the odd social degenerate who managed to get in and tries to smoke a joint. Our ability to mount a cultural revolt seems to have evaporated, or been utterly quashed.

It may well be relevant that the establishment reaction against the last of the sevens- Acid House- was, as Guido Fawkes pointed out in a Libertarian Alliance publication on the matter which I can’t find now, though it’s on the webs somewhere, based around a new tactic of Health And Safety. Raves were proscribed and regimented on the basis that they were not safe and approval by the powers that be must be obtained to safeguard their attendees. It’s very hard to be revolutionary when you’re surrounded by government inspectors and police demanding that everybody form an orderly queue and checking how many WCs per person have been provided. It was a very good tactic (from the point of view of those who dislike people dancing without a licence from the State) and, in retrospect, a foretaste of the social tyranny which now oppresses us all. I wonder how many social conservatives who cheered the health and safety crackdown on raves realised the same ideology would end up banning them from baking cakes for the church social because they aren’t state approved caterers?

I used to think the future was going to be a great place to live. Now it’s here, it seems a bit disappointing, to be honest.

15 Comments

  1. Pavlov's Cat says:

    I still want my flying car , they promised us flying cars!

  2. Nick M says:

    Fuck that Pavlov. Where’s my jet-pack or my city on the moon?

  3. Pavlov's Cat says:

    You’re right I’m sure Raymond Baxter told us we’d all have personal jet packs by now and PanAm would be running trips to the moon. Lying Bastard Tomorrows World

  4. IanB says:

    This is impossible to prove, like any counterfactual history, but it’s not unreasonable to suspect that had we not had the statism of the twentieth century, we probably would have those things. Except the jetpacks, which like hovercraft seem cool but aren’t really much use.

    I suspect that if we could peer into that other alternative universe- that had no socialism, no communism, no fascism, in which governments had been small and rejected being in bed with major corporations too, we’d be astonished at how wealthy and advanced it is. Though it probably also features a fairly high annual death toll from flying car accidents.

  5. Pavlov's Cat says:

    I suspect you are correct Ian, I have often pondered about the amount of money that was spent on the Cold War. what would have been achieved otherwise.

    good post BTW

  6. CountingCats says:

    Ian,

    Try this as a pleasant flight of fantasy.

    http://www.countingcats.com/?p=1046

  7. NickM says:

    I read somewhere that the Cold War cost the USA 50 trillion dollars (adjusted for inflation). Which is a heck of a lot of moolah in anyone’s book. Add in what everyone else spent and that’s replacing your local bus-stop with a space elevator.

    But in a sense that’s not really the point. The real cost of the Cold War was not pecuniary at first order. The real cost was the continuum of statism from WWII and corporatism. BAE Systems is now a “private” company but the RAF need a new plane, the RN a destroyer or the Army a tank who gets the call? If BAE don’t then there will be howls about “British jobs for British workers”.

    If we had not travelled this path then God alone knows where we could be. And I might have my holiday home on Titan.

  8. Infidel753 says:

    I read somewhere that the Cold War cost the USA 50 trillion dollars (adjusted for inflation). Which is a heck of a lot of moolah in anyone’s book. Add in what everyone else spent and that’s replacing your local bus-stop with a space elevator.

    Nah, we’d have spent it on porn and big-screen TVs (mostly to watch the porn on).

    As for new waves of music, I think the escalating-shock thing was short-circuited by the rise of [c]rap music. Once “lyrics” like “Oh you muthafuckin muthafucka you go fuck yo muthafuckin mutha” are all over the place, there isn’t really any further to go and “shock” simply becomes banal.

    Also, technology has fragmented the market. Instead of huge fads sweeping the world you have many small preference groups. New forms can emerge but they can’t become as dominant as they once did. A lot of the big stars we do have are holdovers from before that happened — Madonna is still going, and Michael Jackson would be if he hadn’t transformed himself into a space alien.

  9. [...] expounds his “law of sevens” here. Now I read that and I was thinking, “but…” and Ian did not disappoint. Because, [...]

  10. RAB says:

    Well being a bit young, at 15 in 1967, for the sex and drugs, I filled my boots with the music instead.
    Apart from Sgt Peppers, there was Safe as Milk, Captain Beefhart, Piper at the gate of Dawn, Pink Floyd, Hendrix, Dead, Airplane, Electric Music for the mind and Body, Country Joe and the Fish, I could go on forever, there was so much amazing music coming out every week.
    This was all part of the so called Alternative Society of course, and music was one of the main planks of connection and communication within it. Everything we did, we did to music.

    Now there are no Youth movements to speak of. It is the computer age, the game age, as Nick is outlining in a thread above.

    Because of downloads and no top 20 chart to focus on, everyone has retreated into their niches.
    Music is just another commodity, delivered electronically.
    Hell even the artwork on the cover of an LP was almost as important as the music within.
    All gone now alas.

    I’m not moaning you understand, things move on, but I am sorry for you younger folks who didn’t have times like that to live through, when everything was fresh and ever optimistic.

  11. NickM says:

    There are folks my age who still rave about vinyl. About the *thing* itself. My wife (30) doesn’t know how to play a vinyl record. We grew-up in the age of cassette singles (remember them?) and CDs and the thing is unlike “proper” records these were not things to cherish and it prepared us for music becoming 1s and 0s via the torrent or Sky or whatever.

    I mean these days a decent turntable, amp and speakers costs more than an iPhone so whaddya gonna do?

    I do though recall Top of The Pops and actually knowing who was #1. I haven’t known that for over a decade and neither has my wife or my pals or her pals. It is quite remarkable. During my lifetime it went from being really important to being utterly irrelevant because I am two clicks away from Bach or Cash or Kylie or whatever.

  12. Infidel753 says:

    Because of downloads and no top 20 chart to focus on, everyone has retreated into their niches.

    I was thinking more of the triumph of diverse individual preferences over mindless herd behavior.

    I always knew what I liked or didn’t like, but even back in the day, I never knew or cared who was in the top 20. It bewildered me that anyone did.

  13. IanB says:

    Well, when I were a lad…

    LPs were objects of desire. They were expensive, and you thought a lot about what you wanted, and you’d ask for a specific LP for christmas and have the thrill of playing it on christmas morning. On the one record player. In the living room.

    I don’t know what point I’m making. I’m just being a dewy-eyed old nostalgist.

    Dewy-eyed old nostalgists were much better in the old days, of course.

  14. RAB says:

    It’s all very well you saying you knew what you liked and didnt like Infidel, but you had to be able to hear it first to decide, and that was bloody hard back in the sixties.

    There were just 2 tv channels and about 2 hours, what could be called pop entertainment on.
    On the radio, monopolised by the BBC, there were 4 hours over saturday and sunday, and that was it until the pirates turned up (god bless ‘em!)

    So you did all your searching by word of mouth.

    Whenever you see a documentary about how the old pop groups like the Beatles and Stones met each other to beginwith, you always get the…

    Well we both had a mate who had a Sonny Boy Williamson album, so we cycled the ten miles over to his place…
    We had to make a real effort to get to the good stuff.

    It was possible to just watch telly in the 60s and believe that Kenny Ball and his fuckin Jazzmen were the be all and end all of that genre. Which is why I never liked it.

    Then someone played me a Miles Davis album and blew my mind!
    Now I love it more than any other category.

    Now, in the digital age I can pick n mix as much as I like, whenever I like, but I have to know where to look.
    There is no shop window to look in as it were, anymore..

  15. IanB says:

    It’s an interesting example though of how free market economics is correct, as pertains to value. That is, the more supply there is, the lower the perceived value. Now that music is easily accessible, it just doesn’t seem so valuable any more.

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