Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Anglophilia



A running joke nearly my whole life has been that any time there's a band I'm listening to, someone says to me "gee, I bet they're British, right?" Hey...I can't help it! While I'm a proud and patriotic American, I cannot deny that the vast bulk of my listening tastes are musicians that hail from the UK. While not as much with books, TV, and film, I still do enjoy a lot of British books, shows, and movies. It's led me over the years to try and reflect on why this is the case...I've been to England three times in my life (1993, 1999, 2003) and thoroughly enjoyed every visit, but I don't think it's down to those travels since I was already an Anglophile before the first one.

As anyone who knows me personally or has read my writings here on this site or elsewhere, I'm a huge music fan (and I realize that's probably the understatement of the century). I'm a lover of jazz, blues, classical, and of course, rock music. And my tastes as far as rock music go run the gamut from classic rock to heavy metal to progressive, folk, indie, alternative, BritPop, and so on. Part of it is what I grew up listening to predominantly: classic rock (my parents' records) and UK indie/US alternative (from the 1980s and 90s, when I grew up). Being a musician myself has led me to be more open-minded and adventurous (to a point) with what I'll add to my listening palette.

But a funny thing happened, and this has stuck in my mind even though it was a seemingly unremarkable incident. Around 1999, I was a junior in college and was working in the laboratory during the summers to get experience and earn money (for those who don't know, I am a chemist). I had just bought some new CDs, and the one I put into the CD player in the lab (we chemists love to listen to music while we work) was the newest album from Supergrass. A graduate student who was in my group at the time said "let me guess, are they British?" When I asked him why he asked, he mentioned that it seemed EVERYTHING I played in the lab (The Smiths, Blur, Mansun, The Beatles, Suede, The Who, etc) was British so he just assumed. And that got me thinking, was he right?

A quick list off the top of my head of some of my favorite bands confirms it:

The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Mansun, Suede, Blur, Hendrix (I consider him British since he had to go over there to get famous and had British bandmates for most of that time, as well as basing himself out of London), Oasis, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Franz Ferdinand, Spacehog, Supergrass, The Bluetones, Radiohead, Beta Band, Black Sabbath, David Bowie, and so on. And while I'm a big fan of many American bands (Black Crowes, REM, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Allman Brothers, Rush, Spock's Beard, Dream Theater, etc) they are dwarfed in number by the amount of British bands in my musical pantheon. Why is this?

To encapsulate it in not-too-long-of-a-paragraph, I just like the "British sound" better. In my view, British bands, starting in the 1960s, created the perfect blend of American and British sounds and made it into a wholly new and original sound.  For some strange reason during the early 1960s, Americans had little or no interest in their own homegrown jazz and blues music, whereas the British, and especially the youngsters who would eventually emerge in the 1960s and beyond in all of those legendary bands, had an almost insatiable appetite for it. It took The Beatles and the subsequent "British Invasion" of rock bands in the early-to-mid 1960s to expose and influence American audiences to their own homegrown sounds. Beyond that, I've always felt as though British bands, even to the present day, have a very distinctive and original sound that amalgamates so many different influences, from rock, blues, and jazz to classical, British music hall, folk, and country. Also, the production of British records and the characteristic sound they all have is in marked (at least to my ears and a lifetime of listening) different from American records. Again, there are MANY American bands I am a huge fan of, but I do think, on balance, that the British are the are the kings in this field.

At the risk of this becoming too much of a music-centric post (which, of course, on this blog is such a rarity, he says sarcastically), I also want to touch on my enjoyment British TV and film. In general, I tend to not watch a lot of TV and I can count my favorite shows on one hand (within the last several years, only Burn Notice and The Walking Dead are "must-watch" TV for me), but over the course of my life, I've really enjoyed a lot of British comedy, which are still shown on local PBS stations. I grew up as a big Monty Python's Flying Circus fan, first because my parents were fans from its original airing, and later because I grew to enjoy that brand of absurd/farcical humor, which is uniquely British, on my own. Their Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie remains a favorite of mine to this day as well. As for British comedies, I watched whichever was shown on our TV stations, from Keeping Up Appearances and When Time Goes By to Are You Being Served? and Yes Minister and many more. I also was and still am a big fan of British cartoon series like Danger Mouse and Wallace and Gromit, and strange as it was, I remember (mainly for nostalgia purposes), Bananaman, too! More recently, I've enjoyed The Office (UK) and several other British series, made easier now by having them available on Netflix.

Overall, I wouldn't say I prefer British pop culture to American pop culture, but I do think that compared to most Americans it makes up a larger percentage in my life than it does for most. Obviously, it's all down to personal preference and with music, certainly, I *do* prefer British sounds, on balance, to American sounds. Of course, at the end of the day the #1 deciding factor in whether or not I will like it is: IS IT GOOD? And that's something I, or you, should never forget.






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