Culture Event Horizon

As part of my campaign to be a Proper Dad, I now have a 650 lumen light on my keyring. You know, just in case. It goes right next to the TARDIS (and the USB-A and USB-C keychain drives. It’s important to be prepared!).

Two different, but similar echoes this week. First: R.E.M. were on stage together for the first time this week since…2003? Although they didn’t perform. But it did lead to Tammy asking a question — are R.E.M. one of the biggest bands of the 90s to just seemingly disappear from the Culture? People who are younger than Gen-X or late-Millennial don’t seem to know almost any of their songs, which given the prevalence of Everybody Hurts back in 1993 just seems unthinkable. I’m guessing that back home, the only place you’d probably hear them on networked Radio these days is Radio 2, and even then only in a blue moon. There is not yet a 90s-based TV series willing to bring them back into the zeitgeist like Stranger Things did with Running Up That Hill or Saltburn has recently done with Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

This also ties in to other thoughts I’ve been having of late, of how Spotify has essentially created a context collapse in music culture. To take a big example — when I was growing up, The Beatles were this monolith that had to be investigated - sure you might hear one or two things on Radio 1, but to actually really hear them, you had to rifle through your parents’ record collection1 and they lived entirely separately in your head from what you were reading in Smash Hits or the NME. But now, it’s just what the recommendation algorithm suggests - an obscure Beatles album track can follow a 2024 new release and it’s just another AAC track to the algorithm - it doesn’t care one whit about the cultural impact of The Beatles at large; just that the neural network has decided that the salient features of Cry Baby Cry are what it thinks you need to hear next.

I’m not entirely sure this is a bad thing, either - I was so tickled when Life Without Buildings, of all people, suddenly became TikTok famous. It’s just different. But also, the experience of growing up in the UK with Top of The Pops and Radio 1, was a big difference from growing up in the USA with formatted radio stations and only a few nationwide music slots on late-night television. Imagine being in the 80s and not really hearing Fast Car or Back To Life on the radio. I do wonder what music Maeryn will end up listening to — I’m reminded of Mark Radcliffe once saying “if your parents like Belle & Sebastian, I’m sorry, it’s Norwegian Death Metal time.”

And now for something completely different2, oh wait, no.

Now, putting aside that Eric Idle complaining about income streams brings into mind a goose chasing him shouting “What about Neil Innes, Eric? WHAT ABOUT NEIL’S MONEY?", the attack on Holly Gilliam seems wildly misplaced. After all, under her aegis, we finally got the most comprehensive remaster of the Monty Python series that we will likely ever see.3 Albums were re-issued, and the BFI did a series of screenings for the 50th anniversary. But…nobody cares. Streaming has caused physical sales to dive off a cliff, and even the BFI shows were sparsely attended. The once-majestic stride of the Pythons across British comedy is just now…a bunch of old 16mm and videotape sketches, some of which hit, and some of which miss.

(we’ll never see a complete Not The Nine O’Clock News release, but that’s another story4)

Obviously, I don’t know the full details, but the issue to me seems that there is only so much blood you can squeeze from four series, a few albums, and the films, the most recent of which is 41 years old. Unless somebody has the rushes of series 1 ready to give to Peter Jackson, there’s not much you can do except clean them up, sell physical copies, and bung them up on streaming services. All of which Holly Gilliam seems to have done. And honestly, when you compare Python availability to the works of Peter Cook, Joyce Grenfell, and Spike Milligan (and the rest of the Goons), the Pythons come out so well. Trying to even source a Pete and Dud album these days is a frustrating affair — it’s all gone, and the loss of Network means that you’re not likely going to find Q on any shelves in HMV any time soon either.

The problem in the Python case isn’t availability; it’s that the potential audience has dwindled down to sad cases like me that desperately hoard YouTube VHS uploads of a live Sunday comedy show5. And maybe that isn’t enough for a Hollywood lifestyle anymore…but Neil never got that, did he?

  1. Well, okay, in my case, that was a little harder, as my parents wouldn’t have The Beatles or Bob Dylan in the house. So it’s a terrible example in my particular case, but I think in general it’s a good point. As for me, you can substitute Hounds of Love above. ↩︎

  2. (I see what you did there — Ed.) ↩︎

  3. Yes, Network is no longer with us. But the boxset came out in 2019, so not connected with their troubles. ↩︎

  4. I know John Lloyd says that it’d take too much work to be worthwhile, and I can imagine clearing the library footage might be a mammoth task, but I can’t help feeling that the real problem is a combination of “oh my God, we made Pamela strip off that much?” and Atkinson still being pissed that she was there at all. I lost a lot of respect for him when I found out he didn’t rate her one bit… ↩︎

  5. This Morning With Richard Not Judy was a programme that should not have existed, and yet somehow managed to last for two entire series and eighteen episodes. Aaaaah. ↩︎