Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Happy Ever After Is at the End of the Rainbow

Via LGM, this news comes as a genuine blow: Andy Gill, guitarist of Gang of Four, has died at the all-too-young age of 64. Emma Goldman famously said, "If I can't dance I don't want to be in your revolution." I have no doubt that Emma would have been a huge Gang of Four fan- the band combined trenchant satire, lefty politics, and an amazing groove. Andy Gill supplied the jagged guitars which formed a counterpoint to bandmate Hugh Allen's funk-inspired bass lines and lead singer Jon King's biting, juvenalian lyrics and haunting melodica playing.

I consider the band's first album (Entertainment!) to be essential listening. During the Iraq War, I compulsively listened to the album after watching the nightly news, while pounding away at a heavy bag... it was a good way to sublimate the wrath that I felt at the time. The opening track, Ether, was written about 'The Troubles', but with a quick edit, it could have been about Operation Iraqi Liberation, swapping out Gitmo for Long Kesh and Mosul for Rockall:

While singing songs of righteous rage, the band also managed to combine their anger with humor, such as describing a bikini-clad actress on television as 'dressed for the H-bomb' in I Found that Essence Rare (perhaps my favorite song by the band):

This humor comes to the fore in To Hell with Poverty, which perfectly showcases Andy Gill's discordant guitar playing:

In later releases, the band toned down the dissonance to produce some danceable music, but the leftist satire remained a key component of even their most 'commercial' sounding songs:

Sadly, the band's material remains as topical as it did back in the late 70s:

It is fitting that Andy Gill was touring until the end of his life, his message being so necessary in these dark and stupid days. The message that history is not made by great men is important in a day and age when stupid, venal men are in charge over much of the world:

I'm going to spend much of the overnight shift listening to Andy's music, and the message conveyed in the songs he helped to craft. It's not a comforting message, but it is a challenge to act for positive change... and it's danceable as hell. This is the sort of music that Emma Goldman would approve of- what better tribute to Andy Gill could there be?

ADDENDUM: I think I found that better tribute, from Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello- "His jagged plague disco raptor attack industrial funk deconstructed guitar anti-hero sonics and fierce poetic radical intellect were formative for me,"


John said...

This was a death that mattered and which diminishes us all much more than some gleefully-anticipated politician's deaths. Keep in pogo-ing!

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Oh, yeah, he was one of the greats, musically, socially, and politically.