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Margaret Thatcher, Gang of Four

A.O.Scott has an article in the New York Times magazine, The Iron Lady as Anti-muse, about the english Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, aka The Iron Lady. She received that moniker for the way she ruthlessly took on the unions in Britain in the '80's while selling off our public companies to her friends in the City of London (our Wall St.) - sound familiar? Scott writes very kindly about my band Gang of Four and he echoes my thoughts about the riots in London last month - London Burning, Punk Rock and a Tea Party Dream Come True.

Here's an extract from Scott's article:


Punk was dead by the time she took office. Its iconoclastic fury mutated into the Manchester melancholy later popularized by Joy Division and the Smiths and into the abrasive dialectics of Gang of Four, whose 1979 album “Entertainment!" remains the most incisive expression of the political impotence and creative ingenuity that Thatcher provoked. The band’s name, the cover art (comic-strip panels turning a scene from a western into a tableau of imperialism) and the lyrics bespoke a clever brand of Marxism, which the record’s title and the infectious, jagged beats only partly undermined. The album was a trenchant critique of the commodity form in the form of an irresistible commodity. It told a story of alienation and empty consumerism that you couldn’t get out of your head: “this heaven gives me migraine.”

This was not protest music. There was some of that around, but much of it tended to be either overwrought or halfhearted. Or both: the signature anti-Thatcher ballad of the 1980s is probably Elvis Costello’s “Tramp the Dirt Down,” released in the last year of her term and in no small part a hymn to its own ineffectuality. The best the speaker can manage is to look forward to her death and to assess her legacy with the help of some dubious rhymes: “When England was the whore of the world, Margaret was her madam/And the future was as bright and as clear as the black tar macadam.” More characteristic, including of Costello himself at his best, was a critical intensity, a ruthless and creative anatomy of problems, individual and collective, coupled with skepticism about the possibility of solutions.


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