"We were never being boring" PET SHOP BOYS
The American Dream is rampant and infamous, but for the longest time and in much of the greatest art of this century, there was a still more potent 'English' Dream, a dream of Arcady in Albion. It has propelled English culture high and low for a hundred years.
This is the history of that dream. The dream ripples through the films of Powell and Pressburger, the symphonies of Vaughan Williams and Elgar, the children's stories of CS Lewis and the poetry of Housman. But the English dreamer soon blinks wake in the hard daylight of a new real England, not a remembered one, and, as the century picks up speed, motoring towards the bright lights of suburbia and consumerism, the urban crashes into the arcadian and explodes into the art of Evelyn Waugh and Rosamond Lehmann.
Outsiders redouble the energy: Wyndham Lewis and Ezra Pound blast the stony-faced stasis of interwar English culture to smithereens. Then here are Britten and Jarman with their war requiems; Auden and the Pet Shop Boys with camp subversion; Roxy and Bowie courting androgynous confusion; Ralph Steadman and Lindsay Anderson all Hogarthian in their mockery; Dexy's and the Pop Group showing off true mavericks' intensity; John Cooper Clarke and The Fall doggedly bilious with Lancastrian brilliance; and The Last English Pop Star and nameless, faceless Jungle - all of them tussling with Englishness, with 'their' England, and with the shock of the New: teenagers, lifestyles, drugs, promiscuity and other intoxicating substances.
In this brilliant, unprecedented book, Michael Bracewell, as deft, lizard-quick and unsentimental a cultural critic as England has, follows her century-long relay race with her identity, showing us when the baton passes from literature to music to film to painting to poetry to pop and back again. Ignoring fake distinctions between high and low culture, disrespecting fixed ideas and false resolutions, Bracewell strives to give us - perhaps is the first ever to do so - the essence of the Englishness of English culture in the twentieth century.
Here is the English pop sensibility stripped bare.