Friday, August 05, 2005

They Sing in Their Own Accents

Today I was writing something about regional accents in rock here, and how annoying the idea of it being cooler to sing in your own accent than in some other accent is. The problem that I hit is the same one I usually hit when I'm trying to write anything; whether it's an essay about the various possible interpretations of 'Ode to Nightingale' or a blog entry. I never actually bother to think through my argument before I start. I try and write on the fly, go with the stream of conciousness and write down ideas as they lead on from one another. The thing is, if you haven't explored the subject that you are about to begin rambling about very well, you can end up writing around and around until you defeat the argument you started with. This often causes the tragic realisation that the premise you began with was ultimately pretty unsound and badly thought through. I had that today writing about the whole regional accent thing. I started a little something like this:

I was listening to the Beatles today - as you do - and I was thinking about something that I remember George Galloway saying at Glastonbury this year, when he was asked what bands he was going to see. He replied something about going to see a band that were singing in their own accents rather than pretending to be american. He was talking about Maximo Park (I think) but it's a phrase that gets repeated over and over again by cultural commentators and music buffs. They see the regional accent like some badge of credibility; they talk about the uniformity of most singers, how all the bands on the radio sound the same. I don't understand what difference the accent sung in is supposed to make to the credibility of the music.

It's starts OK, in a bad sort of way. I'm rambling about music again but this time I've put it in some kind of context in relation to my own life. I've also made a statement, singing in a regional accent makes you no cooler than the next man. The problems struck, however, when I tried to explain why this was so.

Unless you've been singing since before you could talk and hadn't heard anyone else sing, your singing voice will be something that you've decided on; whether it's 'I want to sound like Robert Plant', 'I want to sound like I'm 50 and I've been smoking Malboro Extra-Chunky since I was five' or 'I want to sing in a northern accent'. I think the reason that singing in a regional accent is considered better than singing like Little Richard or whoever is the idea that it is original, that these people are doing something no one has ever done bef

It was at this stage that I realised that the point I was making was not, in fact a particularly good one. I should have instead pondered why this is such a big thing, why people from the UK assume that all Americans sing in the same accent just because they can't tell the difference between Wisconsin and Florida and how this is a bit of evidence that George Galloway's America bashing is a rather deeper hatred than mere political anger. Instead I was trying to say that singing in your own regional accent is no more original (and, by extension, cool) than copying the singing voice of someone else. This is a fairly thick thing to say really.

I realised that the germ of this idea, explaining the opening line about the Beatles, was from listening to Sargeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and thinking about how Paul McCartney used to sing in a regional accent and that it's nothing new.

That, I see now, meant that all I was doing was not some profound social statement about traces of nationalism and cultural identity in rock music but the standard music nerd game of 'Be into a much older band that you can claim did everything better and first'. A game which, as my friends will know, is one I play well, occasionally even on unarmed civilians; a technique banned for all purposes exept impressing 'the ladies' (this doesn't work - but it least it prevents more nerdspawn).

'Cool Fights' such as this become less common as you get older but are a major source of conflict among smug little indie teenagers at parties. What happens is someone says a band, someone names an older band who influenced them and basically it's whoever says the last band wins.

It is a game of great tactics. You can't usually involve youself in a game more than once (i.e you can't say a band, have it out-knowleged and then out-knowledge the other persons band - you'd look thick) but at the same time you don't want to use a trump card willy nilly as then everybody knows it and your mystique is broken. For example; if someone says 'Eric Clapton' then the trump card is obviously (although this can be contested ad infinitum) 'Blind Lemon' Jefferson. However the the next guy (yes, it is always guys), in accordance with the rules, will say someone like John Lee Hooker, B B King or, if being played amongst professional nerds, Leadbelly.

Bonus points are awarded if someone asks who they are talking about (especially if it's a pretty girl - although this only happens in the indie kid's fantasies) and the person can actually explain. Bonus points are also given to the guy who says the 'old Favourite' (one that in most games is the winner) for example in the Eric Clapton battle this one is, of course, Rob Johnson - Most players will only consider going for the trump card after the old favourite has been played, although only after assuming a sufficiently knowing and superior air.

Now this game, as anyone who has been stuck in a room with a pair of battling nerds will tell you, is a very tedious thing to put into writing (although I'm sure that plenty of people do) So I decided to stop.

And so I ended up here, rambling aimlessly about nothing in particular, having made no real point at all and wasted a lot of my time.

oh well. it's better than touching myself.

One day I might think of something interesting to say here, but I wouldn't get your hopes up.