Golden Oldies: Can’t Stop the Music

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Nowadays the Village People are treated as something of a joke, as if they’d never been any more than a novelty act. It seems strange in retrospect, but for the couple of years following the break-up of Abba, the People were the top-selling pop group on the planet. Not just in the handful of floor-filling singles we remember today, either, but with a string of hit albums – Cruisin’ is perhaps the best known, but the connoisseur should seek out Live and Sleazy, which does what it says on the tin.

But what I want to turn my attention to is the Village People movie, Can’t Stop the Music, one of those films that was embarrassing for maybe twenty years but has vastly improved with age. Probably that has to do with a modern audience being more tuned in to its camp sensibility, maybe too with the anti-disco sentiment of the 1980s having died down.

We don’t need to bother too much with the plot, a heavily fictionalised account of how songwriter/producer Jacques Morali formed the People based on the fashions (I use the term loosely) he’d seen around the gay clubs in Greenwich Village. Here, struggling songwriter and DJ Jack Morell (Steve Guttenberg, who would go on to star in scores of Police Academy movies) and his platonic girlfriend Samantha (Valerie Perrine, generally seen in eye-popping profile shots) want a group to perform Jack’s songs, get some friends together, hold auditions to make up the numbers, then launch the Village People on an unsuspecting world.

Well, so far so straightforward. The film is a bit too long, at nearly two hours, and it takes quite a while to get to the group’s formation, but the song-and-dance numbers come at fairly frequent intervals, the camerawork stands up pretty well and the camp humour is, well, not uproarious but it does the job. (The period feel makes the campery much funnier today.) Plus, I can predict at exactly what point the first-time viewer’s jaw will hit the floor. That would be at one hour seven minutes, when the Leatherman sings “Danny Boy”, rather well as it happens, and your jaw will remain on the floor as this scene is rapidly followed by fun in the showers at the YMCA, and then the stunningly tacky “Milkshake” sequence.

The sexual politics of the movie have also improved with age. At the time, a lot of gay activists reviled CSTM as dishonest for failing to make any overt reference to homosexuality, indeed with stereotypically gay characters acting straight. The trouble with that is, the script is positively dripping with gay innuendo, so much so that nobody, except maybe those Midwestern farmers who still wonder why Will and Grace never got married, could fail to get the references. Another interesting point is that, as there was only one gay in the Village People (it was the Indian, since you’re asking) we’re arguably dealing not so much with gay characters being presented as straight (if you ignore the innuendo) as with straight performers camping it up in a celebration of the gay disco culture.

Yes, layer upon layer of sexual identity. Freud would have loved this one.

The Cornish unitary authority scam

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Last week, the Westminster government announced the creation of five new unitary authorities, which means in plain language that the district councils, standing below the county councils, are to be abolished. This includes Cornwall, where the Liberal Democrat leadership of the “county council” put in a bid for unitary status and got it approved by London.

The interesting thing here is that the Cornish Lib Dems are formally in favour of devolution, and have been for many years. As Mebyon Kernow leader Cllr Dick Cole points out, devolution was a cornerstone of the Lib Dems’ successful bid to win control of Cornwall Council in 2005. But pressing Westminster to surrender powers might have taken the Lib Dems out of their comfort zone, so what we have instead is a neat little bit of spin. Cornwall Council will indeed accrue extra powers – those of the existing district councils. It certainly won’t be taking powers off Westminster, not if central government can help it.

This really is pretty shabby, and it’s to be hoped that there is a serious mobilisation for a better deal. It’s quite recently that the district councils of Somerset organised a successful referendum to thwart the plans of the Lib Dem-controlled county council to turn Somerset into a unitary authority. It should be quite possible to organise something similar in Cornwall. The people may or may not want a Senedh Kernow with legislative powers, but at least they should be allowed to express a view.

Search of the week

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It’s the return of our ever-popular feature Search of the Week, and this week I notice several frankly obscene search terms for Gail Walker. Either somebody really doesn’t like the Belfast Telegraph’s star columnist, or somebody really likes her in ways I don’t want to contemplate. On a more pleasant note, Pingu remains extremely popular.

We do have a few crackers this week. I see we get shirtlifters lyrics, which puzzles me slightly, and Phoenix Nights Combat 18 – that would be the episode with Tim Healy’s racist folk band, yes? Also we have God’s little helper – take a bow, Jim – Donegal lapdancing video, Dome of Delight, and intriguingly, Marcus Brigstocke comedian Jews. Oh, and from aficionados of the Irish left, Jeff Dudgeon BICO and our old friend Kevin Wingfield SWP. Now to the podium:

In third place, Johann Hari Adrian Mole. It’s a bit cruel, but irresistible.

In second, boys wearing snorkel parka. Takes you back to the heyday of Militant.

And our best search this week is middle class lefties + hatred of. That’s putting it a bit strong, don’t you think?

Derry goes gay-friendly

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I don’t go to Derry very often – rarely, in fact, if you discount passing through the place on the way to Buncrana. Partly it’s because if you go out after eight in Derry, you run a reasonable risk of being assaulted by the gangs of hoods that roam the place with impunity. The other thing I don’t like about Derry is the immense pretentiousness of the Derry luvvies, who see their town as the Athens of the North, in opposition to the Belfast Spartans.

But other than that, it isn’t such a bad place. And it’s cheering to be able to say something nice about Derry for once. Given Derry’s well-earned status as the gay-bashing capital of the North, we are pleased to note that to mark the fortieth anniversary of the legalisation of homosexuality, the famous Free Derry Corner is being painted pink. Isn’t that a step in the right direction? Hats off to whoever came up with the idea.

Save Our Barracks!

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Well, Shambo couldn’t be saved, but we are fast acquiring our own sacred cow in the unlikely form of a smallish patch of derelict land. This of course is the site of the now demolished Glen Road barracks. Having been put out to tender by the Department of Social Development, the plan is for an apartment complex to be built on the site. Nothing remarkable about that, you might think – West Belfast has an enormous housing list and tiny apartments are being built on every available scrap of spare ground. So how come the acres of coverage in the Andytown News, the black-and-white posters being plastered up all over Andytown decrying the “privatisation” of the barracks site, and the high-profile public meeting in the Felons Club the other night?

Actually, it gets curiouser and curiouser. When you look at who is mobilising against the “privatisation” of this little bit of land, most of them seem oddly familiar. In fact, most of them, or at least those most visible, appear to have insights into the thinking of either the Provos or the Socialist Workers Party, the latter wearing their People Before Profit hat. What is going on here?

The SWP, who are transparently obvious in everything they do, are easy to read. Their declared medium-term perspective is to get Andytown teenager Seán Mitchell elected to the council in two years’ time. They also have a ready-made template in the Rich Boy’s Save Our Seafront campaign in Kingstown, and have no doubt divined an opportunity to replicate it in the North with a Save Our Barracks campaign, which could raise the wee lad’s profile and propel him into City Hall. Lying behind that is an apparent assumption that they can muscle in on the Provos’ electoral base by, er, acting as factota to the Provos. Yeah, that’ll work. Who is writing the perspective these days? Elmer Fudd or Wile E Coyote?

The Provos are more difficult to read. They certainly have no ideological problem with privatisation or with development – after all, countryside czar Michelle Gildernew is promising to fix things so farmers can stick up bungalows wherever and whenever they feel like it. My instinct, and I have no concrete evidence of this, is that they may have had a favoured bid that wasn’t successful. This is based on the precedent of what happened when the Sticks sold the Suffolk Inn – the community was mobilised on a “Down with this sort of thing” basis, the winning bidder withdrew and the Sticks ended up selling the site at a knock-down price. That might not be the case here, but it’s a plausible scenario.

There are further, political benefits to a Save Our Barracks campaign. Encouraging small local campaigns against Executive decisions warms the cockles of Shinners who reckon that they should still be involved in some sort of radicalism. And it further enables pot shots at the Social Development minister, the SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie, who is the only minister they are rude about these days. The great thing about this campaign, too, is that the Provos can supply some modest resources but don’t have to do anything themselves, not when some gormless lefty dopes are willing to do the campaigning for them.

How is this going to pan out? Well, the land is lying there doing nothing, and something is going to be built on it. There haven’t been, as far as I can see, firm proposals from the objectors as to an alternative development. The SWP’s usual reflex is to call for a kids’ playground or something similar, but let’s get real here. The traffic in the area – right on the junction of the Glen Road and Falls Road – rules out putting up any swings or a football field. A community centre is a non-starter, just because the area’s coming down with them already. And if there was a proposal for social housing, local residents would be the first to object, what with that area being all private housing.

There have been some ideas floating around not a million miles from the Provos. The ex-prisoners are still quite keen to get an interpretive centre, or something showcasing the area’s radical past, for the benefit of tourists. And then there’s the long-running proposal to stick up a hotel in the area, to accommodate the visitors to Féile. What’s most likely is that the site will eventually become a bar or restaurant, if it doesn’t become a hotel.

This will not please those campaigners who are adamant that a community project of some description should go up there. But, if we are to have a development that benefits the community, why not rebuild the barracks? The den of criminality that is West Belfast could use it. Or, to encapsulate the spirit of the new Norn Iron, why not a lap-dancing club? Or, for something really useful, the Church could buy the land and use it to provide car parking for visitors to the graveyard. Now that’s a plan I could get behind.

Pootsie the Gaeilgeoir

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If you were watching the news last night, you’ll have seen the PSF delegation, headed by Grizzly himself, going to talk to our new culture minister, the DUP’s Edwin Poots, about the implementation of the Acht Gaeilge. I fear they didn’t get very far. Pootsie, as his performance over the national stadium saga demonstrates, is a master at buck-passing and stonewalling. The situation currently is that, of the 4000 responses to the original consultation, the overwhelming majority were in favour and only a small number hostile, which confirms my view that most Prods don’t care much about Gaelic one way or the other. However, since the issue became a unionist hot potato, another consultation was called, and the DUP was properly mobilised this time. But fear not – our minister holds out the prospect of taking some unspecified non-legislative action for Gaeilgeoirí, just as long as it doesn’t get him into trouble in the Assembly.

But it was encouraging that Pootsie managed the traditional cúpla focal, thus proving, as the minister joked, that he knows as much Irish as many nationalist MLAs. This is probably true – Caitríona Ruane is a good speaker, and Barry McElduff can (and frequently does) talk Irish till the cows come home, but that’s about it. There can be few more painful experiences than going to a republican meeting and hearing the speaker read out a Gaelic text that neither he nor 80% of the audience understands.

Rud eile: Readers will be aware of the Stormont Executive’s campaign to encourage inward investment by lowering corporation tax in Norn Iron. Now comes word that El Gordo has a better idea: lowering the minimum wage. It’s plausible, I suppose, that London workers should get a premium, but what kind of cracked redistribution is it to further lower the wages of workers in what is already the lowest-paid region of the ‘UK’?

Jack Barnes’ property ladder

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A thousand thanks to the reader who emailed me this New York Observer story about Jack Barnes, Maximum Leader of the US Socialist Workers Party.

Communists Capitalize on Village — Get $1.87 M. for Loft
by Max Abelson

If bow-tied, cigar-mouthed Republicans can have nice seven-digit, six-room co-ops, don’t a few old Manhattan communists deserve multi-million-dollar real estate, too?

A two-bedroom loft at 380 West 12th Street, a 109-year-old building on a cobblestone block by the Hudson River, was sold by American socialist leaders Jack Barnes and Mary-Alice Waters. Their buyers, Sony BMG Music Entertainment vice president Ole Obermann and his fiancée, Stephanie Jakubiak, paid $1,872,500.

“I don’t want to hurt the sellers’ feelings at all, but they definitely had a funky style in terms of how they did the apartment,” said Mr. Obermann. That means there are sliding stained-glass doors, plus a wall of bookshelves. (Ms. Waters is the president of publishing house Pathfinder Press, which publishes Marx and Trotsky, and Mr. Barnes, too.)

“Personally, our tastes are different and we’ll probably do something different,” the buyer said. “It will be open, airy, simple, whereas when it was done 15 years ago there was a lot of light-colored wood shelving.” He’s adding six or so wireless speakers, “a nice music system.”

Edward Ferris of Brown Harris Stevens was the listing broker.

It isn’t clear when Mr. Barnes and Ms. Waters bought the place or how much they paid, but city records date back to 1993, when apartments were massively cheaper.

Unlike most people in six-room lofts, Mr. Barnes once met with Kim Il-sung, the late North Korean president. The leader “conversed with the guests in a cordial and friendly atmosphere and arranged a lunch for them,” a report published by the BBC in 1990 said. “US Socialist Workers’ Party, led by its National Secretary Jack Barnes… presented him with a gift.”

So what is the couple like? “We only met Mary-Alice, and she was incredibly friendly, interesting, had a nice warm way about her, seemed like a very nice woman,” Mr. Obermann said. “She mentioned she really liked to cook, they would have friends over—it’s like a social space.”

Nice one Jack! I should point out that I’m not a hairshirt socialist. If Jack Barnes wants to own a Manhattan apartment, or even make a profit selling one, that’s fine by me.

That’s not to say that there is no issue here. The late Jim Cannon, whom Jack professes to follow, used to be very hot on the idea of communist leaders setting an example for the rank and file. So there is, and let’s be kind here, an itty bitty tension between leading a group that fetishises “footloose revolutionaries” and discourages comrades from owning property, and dabbling in the property market yourself.

Then again, maybe Jack is onto something. After all, this is the guy who was perspicacious enough to dump Trotskyism for Stalinism just as the latter entered its period of terminal decline. Perhaps Jack’s latest wheeze is the Sarah Beeny road to socialism.

 More on this from Louis.

National treasure re-elected to useless talking shop

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I haven’t been paying much attention to the Seanad election, for the very good reason that nobody really takes the Seanad terribly seriously. It is though interesting to see the Labour-Provo pact holding up, with Pearse Doherty topping the poll on the Agriculture panel. That will put some smiles on Donegal faces. It’s also instructive that FF, despite their horrible result in the 2004 locals, are not doing quite as badly as predicted.

But I’m immensely cheered that our leading Joycean scholar, gay rights campaigner and most flamboyant senator by a mile, David Norris, has strolled back in the Trinity count. In my humble opinion Seanad reform is decades overdue, and the Trinity rotten borough a standing disgrace. But as long as it keeps electing Norris, I’m in no fierce hurry to see it reformed.

Remember, you have to hit through the ball

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The News Letter puzzles me in a couple of ways. One puzzling thing is its swanky new office suite behind City Hall – ostentatiously swanky, in fact, for a paper that’s rapidly going down the tubes. The other puzzling thing is the actual content of the paper since Darwin Templeton took over as editor.

Darwin, if you recall, was the wunderkind, the crack hack from the Sun, the man who would turn the ailing News Letter around. But while the old News Letter was coolly partisan – a sort of Orange equivalent of the Morning Star – the new paper is distinguished, quite obviously so in our New Dispensation, by a slide into gibbering incoherence. It reads like, let’s be honest, a Tory boy’s idea of what mad loyalists would like to read. Hence the screeching headlines on the front page, over reports of something Willie McCrea said in an Orange Hall last night. To be frank, I’d prefer a paper written by mad loyalists.

The paper’s response to events at Carnoustie is a case in point. There was a huge splash on our golfing hero – not Pádraig Harrington, but Norn Iron’s Rory McIlroy, who came forty-second and won the silver medal for highest-placed amateur. Well done to young Rory, by the way. And at the end of the article, a tiny sentence mentioning that, oh yes, an Irishman won the Open. You know, an Irishman from that foreign state next door. Now, if mad loyalists were running the News Letter, they would have splashed on Harrington. Loyalists, after all, love their golf, none more so than UDA emperor Jackie McDonald, who when visiting Áras an Uachtaráin likes to squeeze in a round with President McAleese’s consort.

Which brings me to the loyalist feud sweeping the badlands of Larne and Carrick, between Jackie’s “good” UDA and Tommy Millions’ renegade South East Antrim brigade, the latter augmented by the Shoukri gang from North Belfast. Two images stood out, as the very public faces of armed loyalism sought to project a good image. One faction doing a Reservoir Prods-style formation saunter across a Larne car park, which unfortunately made them look like the gangsters they are. And the other faction all dressed up in green blazers, looking for all the world as if they’d just come off the links.

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Maybe this explains the supine response of the RUC. No doubt our police force was under the impression that this was just a dispute between two rather boisterous golf clubs.

Gail Walker Watch

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This week, Gail eschews the obvious target of the BBC and turns her attention to dope-smoking Labour cabinet ministers. There is little to say about this, except to draw attention to Gail’s hilarious stoner dialogue. Do us a favour, love, next time you want to cover drugs, either watch Up in Smoke first or don’t do the stoner thing at all.

Gail also covers Harry Potter. I have no interest in Harry Potter, being an adult, so I don’t know if the books are the “garbage” Gail claims, but I tend to think that anything that gets kids reading can’t be all bad. Gail responds to this by pouring scorn on the idea that kids will automatically move from Harry Potter to classic literature. Well, duh. There isn’t anything automatic about it. I don’t for a second imagine that young men reading Andy McNab novels will spontaneously exclaim, “Ooh, I enjoyed that. Now I think I’ll try some Kazuo Ishiguro.” What depresses me a little is that Gail’s idea of classic literature is The Great Gatsby and fucking Catcher in the Rye, which I assume is what Gail read for A-Level English. I think that if kids are going to study the American novel, we should give them Philip Roth. God knows, Portnoy’s Complaint should have some appeal to teenagers.

Finally, Gail addresses self-publicising loyalist Willie Frazer’s plan for another Love Ulster march in Dublin, and urges the punters to stay away, although she does this in her usual aren’tchasickofit onelot’sasbadastheother style. I note also that Gail repeats the canard that the last Love Ulster march was ambushed by “dissident republicans”. Well, I know that RSF called for a mobilisation, but I’ve seen RSF in action and I don’t recall zimmers being used as offensive weapons at Love Ulster. Nor does looting the Nike store sound like republican behaviour. Besides, I distinctly remember the gardaí arresting two Lithuanians and a Georgian – were they recruited to dissidence at a Wolfe Tones gig in Minsk? Actually, the debacle of Love Ulster in Dublin proves very little about the strength of dissident republicans, but it does prove two points. One is that loyalism isn’t very popular in Dublin, as Harney (of all people) was savvy enough to pick up on. The other is that Dublin is full of young people who would jump at the opportunity to have a pop at the cops. But then, if you accept that you can’t very well take the even-handed “mad loyalists versus mad republicans” line. Hence the Libertyvalancisation of Love Ulster.

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