Desert Island Discs: Part Five – “Wichita Lineman” (Glen Campbell, 1968)

It is, perhaps, unsurprising that a genre of music as broad as country and western should be dismissed by as many people as it often seems to be. After all, there is an awful lot of stars & stripe-toting, “you’ll prise my gun from my cold, dead hands” espousing glop out there, and this can make it easy to mock. However, from the slickly polished – and, might I add, devilishly witty – likes of Dolly Parton at one end its spectrum to the troubled likes of Gram Parsons at the other, country music is a stylistically broad church, with an influence that continues to brush against the popular music mainstream to this day in a multitude of different ways. That it does so should hardly be surprising to us, because when country music hits its heights, it soars.

“Wichita Lineman” has famously been described as “the first existential country song.” It’s a story, of sorts, of the longing of a lineman – a telephone line engineer – who the song’s writer Jimmy Webb described as “the picture of loneliness”, to be with his love, but this is no story in a conventional sense. Meanwhile, the violins and keyboards and guitar of the orchestra on the original recording of the song mimic these interference sounds that these lines produced. Webb, by the way, was an example of the extraordinary precocity that music can occasionally throw up. He was just twenty-one years old when he wrote this song, displaying a maturity and wisdom considerably beyond his years.

Glen Campbell, meanwhile, was already part of the soundtrack of the United States of America by the time he came to record this song. As a member of The Wrecking Crew, a group of session musicians who provided the arrangements to countless songs and films scores throughout the decade, his signature was already, albeit anonymously, written across the era. With a handful of solo hit singles already under his belt, however, it was his pairing with Jimmy Webb that took his music to another level. “Wichita Lineman” is played to a sparse musical backing, drums brushing like tumbleweed rolling across an empty highway and with the distinctive twang of a Danelectro six-string bass – played by Campbell himself on the original recording – pulsing over the top of it. When released as a single, the song went to the number three position in the Bilboard Hot 100 in America and reached the number seven spot in the UK charts.

Amid such fragility, it is hardly surprising that we should find possibly the finest single lyric in the history of popular music, a line so understatedly perfect that the first time I heard it I had to rewind it to confirm that I’d actually caught it properly the first time around:

And I need you more than want you,
And I want you for all time

For a split second, you consider that perhaps this isn’t a song of romance at all, that this anonymous lineman’s relationship is one borne of necessity than of any great emotional feeling, but then the second line hits you like a punch to the stomach. It is, in my humble opinion, the single most beautiful song lyric ever written, simple yet beautifully phrased, or to put it another way, as the singer and songwriter Billy Joel did some years later, “a simple song about an ordinary man thinking extraordinary thoughts.” And it’s in this simplicity that “Wichita Lineman” finds its voice. There is no beginning, middle or end to the story of the lineman. He doesn’t get home to the love of his life. For all we know, he’s still searching in the sun for another overload.

Glen Campbell himself succumbed to Alzheimers disease a couple of years of years ago, and its likely that “See You There”, the album of reworkings of his best-known songs that was released during the summer, will prove to be his last recordings. These re-recording albums that seem to be so commonplace can be hit and miss affairs, but “See You There” is a series of raw, touching reimaginations of his earlier works and is more than worth your money. But when his time comes, he will be able to sleep easy with the knowledge that he and Jimmy Webb gave us a song for the ages which cuts to the bone, without even saying so, of what it means to be simultaneously alone and in love. Four and a half decades after its release, it all rings as true as it ever did – the Wichita lineman really is still on the line.

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Desert Island Discs: Part Four – “Number One Song In Heaven” (Sparks – 1979)

In my younger days I played in a handful of bands, but I could never have dreamt of being in a band that was anything like Sparks. For many young musicians, the challenge of writing your own songs is trying to do something with the straitjacket that goes, “Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, verse, chorus” that hasn’t been done a billion times before. For Sparks, I rather get the feeling, the idea of music – idea of their very being as a band – is that the sounds and noises that you can manufacture in the process of producing a song is as broad a palette as your imagination can allow. It may not guarantee too much air-play or time at the top of the charts, but it makes for one hell of a musical legacy.

Here’s a fun game to play with people who know a bit – but not too much – about music: ask them to name which country Sparks are from. The answers you get will almost certainly be Euro-centric, but it’s almost a trick question. Sparks are the most Not American American band of all time. For people a decade or so older than me, their Top Of The Pops debut in 1974 with the mighty “This Town Aint Big Enough For Both Of Us” must have been a riot of confusion. Even singer Russ Mael operatting his way through it with that familiar strut so beloved of the frontmen of the early 1970s couldn’t steal the show from his brother Ron, who was sitting at his keyboard, eyes bulging with a menace that has surely never been seen before or since in a televised musical performance in this country. If you know somebody in their early fifties who suffers from some degree of deep-seated psychological trauma, this may well be the cause of it, but that song was kept off the top of the British charts, Lord preserve us, only by “Sugar Baby Love” by The Rubettes – proof, as if it were needed, that the universe can be an unkind and uncaring place.

Fast forward five years, and the average musical punter might have been forgiven that Sparks were yesterday’s news. As it turned out, they were tomorrow’s news. Giorgio Moroder is a rare example of a man for whom the word “legendary” seems like too much of an understatement. The producer, who may just have redefined the entire history of electronic and dance music with his production of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” in 1977, was brought in and he added a fine sheen of electronica to their 1979 album “No. 1 In Heaven” and this track, the title from the album was its glittering, shimmering jewel in the crown. Those who only bought the 7″ single version of it only heard half of the story. The first three minutes were lopped off, with the full song – and it is a complete piece, from start to finish-  was reserved only for those with the foresight to buy the 12″ version.

And, of course, it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard, either before or since. The eerily ethereal lyric about how close you may be to your own demise, the driving drum beat of a train hurtling you headlong towards your own mortality, the bleeps and the bloops of heaven imagined as a figment of the Maels’ and Moroder’s imagination. This is pop music as a piece of performance art, ambitious without ever seeming in any way pretentious, straddling and blurring the lines between rock, disco and new wave. It was the sound of the future three and a half decades ago, and I still believe it’s the sound of the future now, if for no other reason than that if this song isn’t played at my funeral, I will return to haunt whoever it is that organises it. And not in a good, “Patrick Swayze in ghost” way, either.

It would be remiss of me not to post up the two original versions of the song here. First up is the 7″ single edit with its accompanying video – and yes, Ron is still looking more than mildly unsettling – and this is followed by the complete song, in all its glory. Switch the lights off and wallow in its sheer, glorious opulence for seven and a half minutes. You’ll thank me for it.

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The Daily Mail vs Ed Miliband

Every time you thing they’ve plumbed the absolute depths of the moral barrel, somehow they manage to outdo themselves yet again. As you will probably be aware by now, at the weekend the Daily Mail – that most curious mixture of far-right paranoia, house price obsession and photographs of twelve year-old girls in bikinis – wrote an article about Ralph Miliband, the father of the leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband, tempering it by offering the leader of the opposition a right to reply to what concentrated smear on two generations of the same family. This morning, they printed Miliband Junior’s riposte to it all, but countered it with a bizarre editorial which reiterated their initial argument, which, for the record, seemed to be entirely based on an entry in the diary of a seventeen year-old Milband Senior in which he wrote that, “The Englishman is a rabid nationalist. They are perhaps the most nationalist people in the world . . . you sometimes want them almost to lose [the war] to show them how things are?” The sins of the father – if they are sins, that is – visited upon the son, then.

Some have countered that it is a little rich for a newspaper which openly supported fascism during the 1930s – I don’t need to put up a link to their now-infamous “Hurrah For The Blackshirts” headline here again, do I? – and whose proprietor courted Hitler until considerably after the dictator’s intentions became perfectly clear should be making claims of traitorism against somebody who spent three years during the Second World War in the Royal Navy fighting against fascism, but I’m not entirely sold that this direction is the one that criticism of the Mail should be taking. If this argument does have to be reduced to whataboutery, it would be nice to see the whataboutery being used having a degree of originality, and The Daily Mail clearly doesn’t care about its fascist past, and its commercial success both in print and online would seem to indicate that its readership doesn’t, either. As such, pointing out this fact, whilst undoubtedly funny, seems unlikely to cause too many people to change their entrenched opinions. It all feels a little like howling in a wind tunnel.

There is, perhaps. something more fundamental over which the Daily Mail should be attacked regarding its behaviour, and it is one that its readership may already have picked up upon and felt their stomachs turn a little over – small matters of democracy and common decency. “British decency” is a trope often wielded when the sort of people who wear Union Jack pin badges in their Marks & Spencers blazers puff their chests out and talk of what makes them “proud to be British.” They talk of “fair play” (usually invoking the ball tampering, dirt-in-the-pockets game of cricket in doing so) and “values” as if these are passed down our mongrel bloodline. It’s worn as a badge of honour, and if these values are worth anything much at all, it’s probably fair to argue to that the Daily Mail has soiled itself extremely voluably over them over the last few days. It may well be, strictly, legally speaking, correct to argue that “you can’t libel the dead”, but you can smear them and the rank hypocrisy of a national newspaper which responded to the widespread celebration at the death of Margaret Thatcher during the summer by running article entitled (in its own over-wordy-to-the-point-of-illiteracy way) ‘This bilious hatred and lack of respect for the dead is a disturbing new low in British life’ should be striking to anybody who comes across it. Taking the diary comments of a seventeen year-old Jewish immigrant and using them to attack that seventeen year-old’s son’s politics decades later is low behaviour by any moral compass, regardless of your political persuasion.

Then there is the small matter of the Mail’s clear implication that people of certain political persuasions cannot be patriots or loyal to a country, as if to criticise the machinations of a state is to criticise the country itself. Leaving aside the small matter of why they always seem to take this sort of thing so damn personally, it seems almost undemocratic to make such suggestion, and those people with the pin badges and the blazers are very fond of making the bold claim that Britain is the “mother of democracy.” From a personal perspective, I have little time for notions of patriotism and national pride – quite asides from anything else, just look at the sort of people you’d be allying yourself to if you make that The Thing About You – but I understand that it’s an urge that other people feel, and that some feel it quite forcefully. So far as I can see, if you wish to successfully attack the Daily Mail, you need to get under the skin of its core readership. And arguing that the self-proclaimed Most Patriotic Of The Patriotic actually frequently behaves in a way that may be considered fundamentally ‘un-British’ might actually hurt the newspaper in a way that would be more tangible than raking up the anti-Semitism of the 1930s yet again. This most un-British intolerance, we might well suggest to readers of the Daily Mail, is what you’re tying yourself to by associating with this rag. They’re not anything like defenders of the Union Jack, we might suggest. A considerable amount of the bile that they come out with is doing little more than putting a Union Jack waistcoat on defending the interests of big businesses that care about anything but the best interests of this small rock off the coast of Europe, which were all points made excellently by Alastair Campbell in a demolition of the Daily Mail’s deputy editor – bravery, apparently, not being Dacre’s strong point either – on BBC 2’s Newsnight last night.

Perhaps, for the normal people who read the Daily Mail – and they’re not all monsters, some do it from habit, others for the competitions and so on, and to suggest otherwise is an over-simplification which does argument’s against the paper’s influence and reach little good – this will be a turning point. Perhaps this time Dacre has gone too far. Even in a political environment as infantilised and polarised as ours has become over the last decade or so, it feels as if a boundary has been crossed, and with little evidence of contrition on the part of the Daily Mail in today’s edition some will start to re-evaluate whether they should be spending their money on such poison. The clear gulf between Labour and the extremist right press is now also such that the opposition should probably forget about appeasing – for the want of a better word – these editors and press barons from now on. If politics grows up a little in the run-up to what may well be another tight general election, perhaps the overbearing influence of this small group of individuals can be reined in. There will be more to this needed than merely shouting “Nazis!” at them, though, however satisfying that may be.

You can see Alastair Campbell making a fool out of the deputy editor of the Daily Mail on Newsnight last night here:

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Desert Island Discs: Part Three – “A Kiss To Build A Dream On” (Louis Armstrong & The All-Stars – 1951)

At this remove, I’m not sure exactly how good my dad was at playing the trumpet, but he was certainly good enough to play in bands when he was a teenager in the early 1950s. At some point, however, the demands of real life – and, quite possibly the reality of living in a block of flats – got on top of him and his brass, and the trumpet was put away. By the middle of the 1980s, however, we were living in a house in the middle of nowhere and, as sure as the fact that his hair was, by this time, grey rather than the “dark brown” that he always claimed at that time, out the trumpet came again. Almost every evening, at about eight o’clock, he would disappear upstairs to play for half an hour, or an hour, and it would always end in the same way, with what was clearly the break from a solo from some unknown song. Mission, it always felt, accomplished.

About five years ago, he was suddenly – and quite unexpectedly – taken ill and was required to have a heart bypass operation. It’s the sort of event that makes you take stock and reflect upon somebody that has been with you for the whole of your life, and in a fit of semi-introspection, hidden away amongst my music collection, I found and listened to a double CD compilation of Louis Armstrong songs. Always a favourite of his, I thought. There must be something in this. At the end of the first side came “A Kiss To Build A Dream On”, and there, at the end of of a short solo about two-thirds of the way through that song, came a moment that made the hairs on the end of back of my neck stand on end. It was that break, the same one with which my dad had finished his practice sessions, at which he played for no-one and nothing apart from his own enjoyment and love of playing a musical instrument.

Dad, thank providence, made a full recovery from that scare, but that song has stuck with me over the years since then. It was written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby (who wrote the lyrics and music to “I Want To Be Loved By You”, most famously performed by Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot”, respectively) with Oscar Hammerstein (of Rodgers & Hammerstein fame) in 1935, and the involvement of such names is obviously a badge of quality in itself. The best-known version of the song, recorded by Armstrong and his All-Stars in 1951, is a sparse arrangement of piano, bass, drums, trumpet, clarinet and trombone, beautifully weighted with Armstrong’s husky voice and Kalmar’s sumptuous lyrics – “When I’m alone with my fancies… i’ll be with you,  Weaving romances… making believe they’re true” – rightfully taking centre stage.

A musical pioneer in the 1920s who enjoyed an easy listening-inspired revival towards the end of his career, Armstrong remains a contentious figures in some eyes. He was long considered an “Uncle Tom” figure by some, particularly within the civil rights movement, but this is an issue that a books have been written about, and it perhaps suffices to say that I’m a little relieved that I don’t feel the need to investigate it here. Perhaps it’s for the best to say that it doesn’t really feel as if it’s the place of this lower-middle class, white, middle-aged man to throw accusations of anything at somebody who grew up in the poverty of uptown New Orleans during the era of segregation, as the grandchild of slaves. After all, politics and music can make for uncomfortable bedfellows. You’d be surprised – or, perhaps, unsurprised – at how unpalatable a lot of the opinions of your idols are.

My selection of this song, however, isn’t about the politics which hung over the life of the man who most famously recorded it. It’s about how a crucible of long-dormant emotions can be brought back to the surface by a handful of notes played on a musical instrument after twenty-odd years of being layered upon by the mundanities of everyday life, and it’s about the strength of love as an emotion, be it through familial bond or the desire for a simple kiss to allow an imagination to run riot. Listening to this song, you can be this young knave, alone with his fancies, weaving romances and daydreaming about his sweetheart, and if you’re stuck alone on a desert island for the whole of eternity, you’re going to have a lot of time for daydreaming.

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Desert Island Discs: Part Two – “Rock & Roll” (Led Zeppelin – 1971)

I guess the thing about Led Zeppelin is that there are, well, one or two things that you have to get past if you’re going to get to the good stuff. Surely there can be no-one alive who really enjoys the twenty-eight minute long live version of Dazed And Confused which appears, taking up the whole of one side of the vinyl version, on the soundtrack to The Song Remains The Same, whilst some of the lyrics make this listener quite grateful that the guitars and drums were as loud as they were. Consider this affront to poetry from The Rover, a track from their 1975 album Physical Graffiti:

Oh how I wonder, oh how I worry and I would dearly like to know
I’ve all this wonder of earthly plunder will it leave us anything to show

And our time is flyin’ see the candle burnin’ low
Is the new world rising, from the shambles of the old

Wade through this sort of thing, the occasional forays into “comedy” songs, the stories about the way they treated groupies, the nagging suspicion that this was a band that was built for hormonal teenage boys – and, no matter how I may appear at times, I am regrettably no longer a teenage boy – and a small number of other minor irritations, though, and you might just be looking at the greatest rock band of all time. The really great Led Zeppelin songs, the likes of Kashmir, Whole Lotta Love or Heartbreaker, for example, allow you to set aside these concerns and wallow in the sheer visceral thrill of pounding drums and extremely noisy guitars.

If you’re stuck on a desert island, there are going to times when you need to scream, primally speaking, and there are few other songs pulsate in quite the way that Rock & Roll does. It crashes in with a drum introduction from John Bonham lifted from Little Richard’s Keep A-Knockin, it’s a straightforward twelve bar blues rock song but with the volume turned up as loud as it possibly can. Jimmy Page’s guitar solo gives the impression of having been made up on the spot whilst under the influence of considerable amounts of very hard drugs, though the fact that he repeated it throughout the whole of the 1970s indicates that the the mildly chaotic nature of it was intentional, whilst Robert Plant’s voice stretches to its uppermost – he had to drop the pitch a little after just a year, so vocal cord-shredding was it – and, in a rare moment during which such a thing actually is appropriate, a short drum solo from Bonham at the end.

But you know, you can deconstruct and you can deconstruct. In the case of this particular entry, though, perhaps all you need to do is sit back in a large comfy chair, put on some high quality headphones, turn the volume up and lose yourself in the noise for four minutes. It’s almost worth enduring The Crunge, the excerable funk pastiche that closed the first side of the otherwise quite listenable Houses Of The Holy, for the good shit, and Rock & Roll is as good as the shit ever got for Led Zeppelin.

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Desert Island Discs: Part One – “I Can’t Explain” (The Who – 1965)

Perhaps this is an exercise in extreme narcissism, but hey, at least it’s narcissism with a degree of self-awareness. We’re all aware of the concept of “Desert Island Discs”, I presume. Since 1942, the BBC has been interviewing a bewildering array of people and asking them to name the eight songs, one book – The Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare excepted – and one luxury item that they would take away to a desert island should, for some reason, these circumstances ever come to pass. Now, unless my life takes a really most unexpected turn, I’m never going to be invited to share my selections with the nation, but if I’m going to commit whatever the hell it is that I’m thinking about at any given time to the internet, I might as well do it here. So here are my eight. Well, the first one of them, anyway.

Number One: “I Can’t Explain” – The Who, 1965

There are moments in everybody’s past which, if you close your eyes and focus for just a second, you can remember as if they occurred yesterday. One of the most vivid memories of my childhood came early in the evening of an anonymous summer’s evening in 1985. I had never given any great indication of being musical. My attempts at learning the acoustic guitar came to an abrupt end after something approaching twenty minutes, whilst picking up the trumpet – which I had half-hoped, with the sort of logic that only a twelve year-old can muster with any great conviction, I may have developed some sort of genetic disposition for, considering that it was what my father played, and played very well – ended with a feeble succession of rasping noises and the feeling that if I did this much more, one or more of my lungs may make an unexpected bid for freedom. That summer’s evening in 1985, though, everything changed. I don’t remember what the specific television programme was that I was watching, but the grainy, black and white clip embedded above appeared before my eyes and things would never be the same again. “That,” I remember thinking to myself, with eyes suddenly like saucers, “That is what I want to do.” What I was watching was a clip from an American television show called “Shindig!”, which was recorded in London at the height of the mid-1960s British Invasion, and the band that I was watching was The Who. Well, specifically, what I was watching was the drummer, Keith Moon.

I was aware of the concept of the drums as a musical instrument, but this was something else altogether. This frail-looking, bug-eyed boy behind the drum kit was stealing the show, rendering both the guitar and the bass guitar all but inaudible, effortlessly throwing his arms around his kit, making a noise like nothing else I had ever heard before. Within a few weeks, I had managed to badger my parents into allowing me to empty my Post Office savings account to buy a set of my own, a silver, Premier jazz kit which I would go on to own for the next five years. In 1995, with real life having invaded my life to a frankly intrusive degree, I sold the kit which had replaced the kit which had replaced the kit which had replaced the kit that I’d bought when I was so much younger. It took ten years for me to admit to myself that the itch hadn’t been fully scratched, and I bought one in 2005. Mid-life crisis? I was only thirty-two. This excuse was a little thinner last year, when I complemented this by buying an electronic kit, for bashing around on without incurring the – what would be thoroughly deserved – wrath of the neighbours.

There’s one caveat to this selection, though. It has to be the live version of this song, as seen above, that goes to this desert island with me. Fortunately, there is an audio recording of this available on the soundtrack to the documentary “The Kids Are Alright”, and it blows the socks off the studio version, which had become The Who’s first hit single at the start of 1965. This version was recorded with the American producer Shel Talmy, who had previously produced, amongst others, “You Really Got Me” and “All Day And All Of The Night” with The Kinks, but somehow managed to suck the life out of one of the most naturally energetic bands of the era. Indeed, there’s a case for saying that the studio version of this song was only even performed by The Who by the skin of its teeth. Jimmy Page, most famously later of Led Zeppelin but then a much sought-after London session musician, played the rhythm guitar, while the harmony vocal trio The Ivy League provided the backing vocals in preference to the rather more rough and ready efforts of Pete Townshend and John Entwistle. Townshend was reportedly so infuriated by having these session musicians replace him and his band-mates he was heard to remark, “I don’t know why he doesn’t just get fuckin’ Clem Cattini [one of the most notable session drummers of the era] in to replace Moon and have done with it.” As it was, Keith Moon was turned right down in the mix for the final version anyway. Within a couple of years, relations between Talmy and The Who had deteriorated to such an extent that they all ended up in court, with Townshend writing a song about Talmy called “Waltz For A Pig”, which was credited to “The Who Orchestra” but was actually recorded by The Graham Bond Organisation and ended up as the B-side to “Substitute.”

How might my life – or at the very least my musical taste – have been different had it not been for those two minutes during the summer of 1985? I’m not necessarily a great believer in The Butterfly Effect (although Back To The Future makes a compelling argument in favour of it), but most of the rest of the songs that I write about here will have been informed by this one chance discovery from almost thirty years ago. I never successfully correctly identified twelve different types of brandy with a blindfold on, lost a tooth in a cake fight with Peter Noone from Herman’s Hermits or played a glass drum-kit full of goldfish on American television. I have, however, lived well beyond the thirty-two years that Keith Moon could manage, and I’m grateful for that. And after all these years, although my hair is now starting to give up its battle with staying the same colour as it has been for the previous forty-one years and my waistline is starting to take on a life of its own – one that involves steady expansion – as well, I can click on that video, shut out the outside world, and for a couple of minutes I’m twelve years old again. It’s something that I have learned to enjoy much more as I’ve got older.

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Miss America & The Dog Whistling Of The Political Right

Before you get to the racism, of course, you have to wade through the sexism. The concept of a beauty pageant is so wrong and offensive on several different levels – the reflex reaction to hearing that such things still even exist is to say “Really?” – that it’s difficult to believe that they still exist, but almost four and a half decades after protestors held up placards, shouted, blew whistles, and threw smoke bombs and stink bombs at host Bob Hope during the 1970 Miss World Contest in London, while that particular competition was still An Event, they are still with us. So, there’s a hurdle to have to jump to before we even get to the hoo-hah surrounding the awarding of this year’s Miss America award to Nina Davuluri, a young woman of Indian descent.

Davuluri was crowned at the end of the event, which was held in Atlantic City on Sunday night, amid considerable – and, some might say, predictable – discontent from some. In the run-up to the competition another of the competitors, one Theresa Vail, had received considerable attention. For those of a certain socio-political persuasion, Vail was much closer to the ideal of what a “true” American should be. She hunts, she shoots guns, she’s a sergeant in the military, she has tattoos, she is blonde, and… she is white. However, on the night of the competition, having won a nationwide “America’s choice” vote to proceed to the final from the semi-final, she failed to make it into the top ten out of the fifty-three entrants.

This was, of course, the cue for a predictable burst of racism and ignorance from some. Davuluri was described by several as “an Arab” (a comment which itself plays to a familiar stereotype itself, that of the American with no knowledge of the geography of the world beyond their own borders), whilst others chose to decry the concept of somebody with brown skin being handed such an award five days after the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks of 2001, and others still chose to go with an altogether more insidious trope – “this is America.”

The racists, it seems, may always be with us, and their arguments range from the subtle as a sledgehammer to something slightly more nuanced, and it is this that makes the “this is America” argument so dangerous. “This is America” so what? “This is America so only people with white people can be considered beautiful”? “This is America so shooting slow moving animals in the woods is hot“? Many Americans may have grown up with the idea that their country, perhaps more than any other country in the world, is a cultural melting pot made up of travellers from the four corners of the earth, an idea that Nina Davuluri is living of. It would seem, however, that for some only a certain, narrow definition “is America.”

It’s possible – likely, even, perhaps – that the organisers of the Miss America pageant are of the opinion that there is no such thing as bad publicity, and that this particular controversy is just what the dying phenomenon of the beauty contest needs. On the other hand, however, the organisers might just be a little uncomfortable with the sort of attention that their competition is receiving at the moment.

Either way, it doesn’t appear unreasonable to argue that this is a controversy entirely of their own making. Theresa Vail had spent the last couple of weeks being championed by the nuttier of the American political far-right. She appeared on Fox News – one Fox commentator, Todd Starnes, a man so mediocre in apparently every respect that he alone proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the cookie cutter angry old white men of the American right will never be the solution to anything – stated on Twitter that, “The liberal Miss America judges won’t say this – but Miss Kansas lost because she actually represented American values.”

But that, of course, is perhaps the ultimate point of all this. For the likes of Fox News, the scared old men with their stars and stripe pin badges and their tunnel vision on the idea what a “true American” should be, there is nothing that can’t be foamed at the mouth over and attacked with arguments that are riddled with logical fallacy. Ultimately, their argument is a simple one, and it’s known elsewhere as the “No True Scotsman” argument, which might be characterised as an appeal to purity as a way to dismiss relevant criticisms or flaws of an argument, the most famous example of this which runs as follows:

– Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

– Person B: “I am Scottish, and I put sugar on my porridge.”

– Person A: “Then you are not a true Scotsman.”

In the weird and creepy world of the American political right, only people who blindly support the armed forces can be “true Americans” and only people who go hunting can be “true Americans.” One might even expand this to its logical conclusion, that only white people can be “true Americans,” although there are few, even amongst these people, who would ever say this openly and explicitly? Why bother, when you can dog-whistle through implication just as easily and stop short of actually uttering those words? They have seized the opportunity to politicise all of this, to turn it into another outlet for their familiar attacks on “liberal” America.

It isn’t all bad news, though. On the one hand, we already know that angry, old, white America has lost the last two presidential elections in that country, the second of which defeats came with the country’s economy in a bad way, which we might have expected to prove fertile ground for their brand of insularism and fear-mongering. They may well shout the loudest and they may well generate the most headlines, but those defeats might well tell us that their numbers are in decline. On the other, with a new breed of feminists having come through in recent years who are shining a harsh light upon the misogyny that many women continue to face to this day, perhaps the spotlight will now turn again to the small matter of why it should be that such competitions as Miss America continue to exist in the twenty-first century.

By Way Of Introduction

Oh, hello. My name is Ian and if you’re reading this, the chances are that you fall into one of two categories: either you’re a person off the Internet who has found this site as a result of something related to the bloated, sprawling mess that 200% has become in recent weeks, or you’re a person who has had the dubious honour of meeting me in person – for the avoidance of doubt, the previous few words are to be read with dripping sarcasm – and feels that taking a few minutes out every couple of days or so to read what I have to say.

So, why am I subjecting myself to even more of this torture? Well, the short answer is because I need to vent. When I started writing in semi-seriousness a few years back, I chose the subject of association football because it was something that I knew a little about. But after seven and a half years worth of that, it all starts to feel a little stale. My increasingly middle-aged brain is starting to seize up with thoughts of Luis Suarez signing autographs with a swastika and the like, and it needs an emollient.

It needs a little corner of the Internet in which I can fulminate and ruminate, a space where I can fulminate and ruminate on subjects that don’t involve twenty-two men in shiny polyester shirts that are covered in adverts, chasing a pig’s bladder around a patch of grass and occasionally stopping to shout at each other. What will I write about? Whatever on earth I like and, you never know I might even be able to persuade a couple of others to pitch in as well. You might be interested in some of it, you might be interested in none of it. No matter what, though, I’ll try to keep it entertaining. Or angry. Or perhaps both.