The band The The is performing live for the first time in 16 years. So I snapped up some tickets and went to look for my old CDs of theirs in the basement (remember those shiny round things? I couldn’t find mine, so I am listening on an iPad). Going through their catalogue – primarily Soul Mining, Infected, and Mind Bomb, I am struck with how the despair these artists felt in the Thatcher/Reagan era intertwined with both an aching longing and a sense of hope. And, how so many of those sentiments resonate once again in 2018. Top that off with some beautiful melodies (just take a listen to the simple riff the goes through Uncertain Smile on Soul Mining – it’s gorgeous – first on guitar, and then piano) and you have a recipe for something that speaks to me. Are these issues cyclical, or do those songs still ring true because the concerns over inequity, social justice, authority, and personal liberties have moved back to the fore? Did they ever really go away?
Probably not coincidentally, the book Long Shadows, High Hopes: The Life and Times of Matt Johnson & The The by Neil Fraser has just been released. It chronicles the background of the central figure behind The The. From an interesting childhood in the still WWII scarred East End of London with pub-owning parents, to the present. I am just getting into it – and really enjoying. I have a soft spot for behind-the-scenes books about music from when I was growing up. Books about bands that were on my stereo and in the periphery of my real life make me feel like I lived in the thick of it, and give me a perspective on how these artists were translating the zeitgeist into meaningful art. Touchstones, for me, in this genre are books like Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991 by Michael Azerrad, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, and See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody by Bob Mould.