Saturday, February 29, 2020
Earlier this month Andy Gill, the guitarist and - in the band’s own words - “supreme leader” of Gang of Four died. I’ve been trying to write this blog post ever since. I couldn’t really come up with a good ending for it. I’ve also always wanted to be able to write like Greil Marcus, and while this had usually resulted in me writing things that I don’t properly understand, it also puts the pressure on when you’re covering a subject that he did really well.
I first heard Gang of Four’s music in the early 2000s, put onto them by the post-punk revival that was on at the time (although those first albums by The Liars and The Futureheads are a lot less impressive when you’ve heard the real thing). What worked for me about Gang of Four was something that also worked for me about the writing of William Gibson (particularly the short stories collected in Burning Chrome) which I’d encountered only a few years before.
As a lonely young man, and increasingly as a lonely older man, what Gang of Four's music and William Gibson's short stories gave you was not just something that invoked your loneliness. Like Gibson's prose, the dissonant waves of Andy Gill's guitar, matched by Jon King's vocals, gave you an expressionist representation of how you felt (for this the live version of What We All Want was never bettered). Loneliness took on a texture, a shape. But what was most interesting with Gang of Four was that they provide you with an explanatory theory of why you felt that way.
In their most popular moment of the late 1970s and early 1980s, their preoccupations were with the shock of the transition between the postwar consensus and the new neoliberal economy, a world of unemployed factory workers and supermarket advertising slogans. But 2011's Content took place in the world of capitalism's social media age. Now we're all just each other's content - another unsatisfactory product - so how could anyone really want you?
Occasionally you will meet someone and there will be a shock of recognition. Now you don’t see them anymore, but somehow you can’t forget their lonely face.