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You Spurn My Natural Emotions,You Make me Feel I'm Dirt and I'm Hurt. New Wave, New Men and Fragile Masculinities

King, MS (2015) You Spurn My Natural Emotions,You Make me Feel I'm Dirt and I'm Hurt. New Wave, New Men and Fragile Masculinities. Global Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, 4. ISSN 2319-8834


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This paper will argue that the post-punk new wave movement represents a stepping stone between the cock-rock masculinism (Brittan, 1989) of 1970s’ rock, the aggression and military imagery of punk (Hebdidge, 1978; Savage, 1991) and a more feminised (Cohan, 1993) angst-ridden set of masculinities at work in the music of the early 1980s. This ranges from the indie guitar rock outlined by Bannister (2006), Orange Juice, providing a good example, through middle ground artists such as The Smiths to mainstream acts drawing on the Motown tradition of songs about heartbreak such as ABC. Admittedly, visual representations of gender fluidity (Whiteley, 1997) were at work in the early 1970s’ glam movement (David Bowie, Marc Bolan and Roxy Music provide authentic examples) but the post punk movement saw the emergence and representation of a fragile set of masculinities. Set within the context of literature on men and masculinities (Whitehead, 2002; Hearn, 2004) and masculinities and popular music (Frith and McRobbie, 1990; Whiteley, 1997; Bannister, 2006), the paper will examine the relationship between these developments and the emergence of 1980s’ “new man” discourses (Nixon, 1997). The paper will examine three texts from the summer of 1978 (both audio and visual), a moment identified by the author as a key transitional point from punk through new wave to indie pop. These are Jilted John (1978) by Jilted John, Love You More (1978) by the Buzzcocks and Down in the Tube Station at Midnight (1978) by the Jam. Musically and lyrically these texts reference early 1960s’ Beatle-based pop music (Macdonald, 1994; Inglis, 1997). The boy-loses-girl angst of Jilted John (1978) with its ‘girly’ backing vocals (performed by men) is redolent of the early Beatle girl-group cover versions such as Devil in Her Heart (1963) and Boys (1963) [Bannister, 2000; Warwick, 2000] and its camp-but-not-gay vocals emphasise a return to the gender fluidity at work in much 1960’s pop music (Whiteley, 1997; King, 2013). Buzzcocks’ singer and composer Pete Shelley’s ‘out’ gay-ness is expressed in a matter-of-fact way, contained as it is within the context of the classic pop group line-up. Love You More (1978) represents a return to the two minute pop angst and fragility of The Beatles or Smokey Robinson. Paul Weller’s Down in the Tube Station at Midnight (1978) with its McCartney-esque narrative structure and content marks the start of Weller’s Beatle-rifling period (All Mod Cons [1979]; Sound Affects [1980]) as well as signalling a transition from the masculinist (Brittan, 1989) anthemic aggression of songs like In the City (1977) to a more personalised and crafted approach associated with the more feminised (Cohan, 1993) singer-songwriter genre (King, 2013). Weller’s juxtaposition of the song’s main male character with men who “smelt of pubs and Wormwood Scrubs and too many right wing meetings” provides an interesting starting point for analysis. The paper will also argue that Nick Lowe’s So it Goes (1976) is a major candidate for the source of 1970’s new wave and that the early work of the Stiff label, as well as being an obvious starting point for what was to become ‘80s’ indie pop, marks a significant development in the transition from masculinist (Brittan, 1989) rock and militaristic punk (Hebdidge, 1978; Heylin, 2008) to a return to more fragile versions of masculinities at work in popular music (Whiteley, 1997; King, 2013). This is in spite of its beginning in the highly masculinised pub-rock scene of the mid ‘70s. In addition to Lowe’s single, which launched the label, the boxed set of the first ten Stiff singles includes the All Aboard with the Roogalator EP [with a sleeve which mimics With the Beatles 1963)] and a single by ‘60s psychedelic stalwarts the Pink Fairies, while the early works of Elvis Costello and Ian Dury represent a return to a more feminised (Cohan, 1993) singer-songwriter approach (King, 2013) wrapped up in visual representations which provide a challenge to the traditional masculine rock star persona (Frith and McRobbie, 1990).

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