It’s a rule of life that grown-ups shouldn’t understand the music of the young, ever since Little Richard enraged the old with his incessant, cryptic cries of ‘A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a- lop-bam-boom!’ I remember bitterly when, during my adolescence, my father – a highly respectable communist factory worker who would have preferred to vote conservative rather than take an oath in front of a woman – took a mysterious taste for all the scandalous acts that I was mad about. , from Roxy Music to Sparks . Driven to find increasingly unhealthy combos, the final straw came when, one Sunday morning, I was lying in bed when I heard the strains from my precious album Velvet Underground – WITH THE ANDY WARHOL BANANA COVER! – floating down the stairs. I had never moved so fast in my lazy little life.
“It’s about the drugs!” And male prostitutes! And a thing called SADO-MASOCHISM! I shouted at my father.
The dog looked sad.
“I don’t care what it is,” my father shrugged with magnificent carelessness. ‘I just like the tunes…’
Mute in frustration, I walked out of the room and back upstairs, only to have my father’s cheerful, Wurzel-like voice follow me mercilessly: “Oi’m…waitin’ for me man.” !
He was ahead of his time; in the following decades the rise of the “Kidult” saw men, in particular, unwilling to put away childish things. While Oasis and Blur may have bickered, they had one thing in common: they were liked by teenage girls (“Liam!”, “Damon!”) and middle-aged men alike (“Noel! “, “Graham!”). But things have changed, according to the Guardian, where 36-year-old Daniel Dylan Wray wrote, “A 2015 study of people’s listening habits on Spotify found that most people stop listening to new music at age 33; a 2018 report from Deezer had him at 30…in his twenties, the idea that people’s appetite for consuming new music on a regular basis would be turned off like some kind of faucet was ridiculous. However, now that I’m 36, it’s hard to argue with. Most people can’t stop discovering new books, movies, podcasts, or TV shows. Still, the music seems to be something that escapes most often.
I can tell Mr. Wray why; it’s because modern music is (to almost borrow a title from Blur) rubbish. And it’s not a pet peeve of retirees – it’s a fact. Think about it. During my teenage decade, the 1970s, I was blessed with the glory days of – deep breath – glam rock, Philly, Motown, disco and punk. The biggest male and female artists of the 1970s – if you combine sales, credibility and sheer star quality – were probably David Bowie and Diana Ross. Now? Adele and Ed Sheeran.
Of course, music goes through the doldrums, like anything else – but the crucial element of the wake-up reprimand is what makes this crisis different. For the first time, young people are having less sex and using fewer stimulants than their elders, instead spending long periods of time squatting in front of their keyboards, sullenly interfering with themselves; Woke and Covid between them created Generation Killjoy. Punk, disco and glam would all be problem in a way now – too white, not the “right” kind of black, too light about the genre – but when I think of the pop music of the past that today’s youth would least approve of, I think to ZE.
ZE Records was started in New York in 1978 by Michael Zilkha and Michel Esteban, Zilkha a 24-year-old entrepreneur (his father, an Iraqi Jewish immigrant to Britain, has been Mothercare) and Esteban a 27 year old French artist, mentored by the legendary John Cale, and the boyfriend of a young Anna Wintour. This combination of dirty money mixed with both avant-garde and haute couture would yield an incredible number of well-bred young Americans pretending to be French – and lots of brilliant music, a fearless fusion of punk and disco. Their best acts were “Was (Not Was)”, Cristina Monet (the Zelda Fitzgerald of pop) and Suicide (with the most creepymusic never recorded, Nick Hornby writing of ‘Frankie Teardrop’ that we would only listen to it ‘once’). You had never heard anything like ZE – but you knew you had waited your whole life to hear it.
‘Mutant Disco’ was what they called their disparate stable; today it would be criticized as cultural appropriation by woke rebukes. ZE’s main hitmaker was Kid Creole who, along with his extremely culturally inappropriate backing singers, the Coconuts – usually dressed in grass skirts – became a regular on top pops in 1982, his lucky run ending with the prophetic name “There’s Something Wrong in Heaven”. Born August Darnell, of West Indian and Italian descent, in the Bronx. “It was a great place to grow up,” he told the coup de grace in 2011, ‘because it was full of every ethnic group known to mankind…I learned early on that one ethnic group is not better than another…you will never find of pure music in Kid Creole – I call that bastard music. That’s what makes it exciting.” He was a former English teacher who, in 1974, together with his half-brother Stony Browder, formed Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, which combined swing, Latin and disco to great effect. He was also producer of Don Armando’s Second Avenue Rhumba Band, led by the best female voice of the time, Fonda Rae, a blonde black woman of incandescent beauty. Although ZE had flashier and more successful acts, for me it’s Rae (who never recorded for them but was briefly a Coconut) that sums up the best of the era, with songs like ” Deputy Of Love” and “I’m An Indian Too” – his voice, effortless and selfish, revels endlessly, like a kitten on a keyboard or a baby finding its feet. These were the great years of color-blind music – the exhilarating freedom to choose life lived in any nuance before minds closed and fingers wiggled and warnings to stay in one’s own lane. A time of curiosity and trust, where rules were made to be broken and reprimands were made to be shocked.
ZE closed in 1984 – it was only active for six years, which makes its reach all the more remarkable. The icy genius of Suicide is now composing the soundtrack of a perfume ad; Cristina died of Covid. Many on the left now espouse ideas of cultural purity that would shock the Aryan Brotherhood. And if you Google “Ze” you’ll find things like this on Dictionary.com:
‘pronoun (occasionally used with a singular indefinite pronoun or singular noun antecedent in place of the definite masculine he or the definite feminine elle): “My friend didn’t want to go to the party, but he had a great time!
Does ze, though? How was the music? Did ze approve or should have had a warning before Fonda Rae started singing “Touch Me”? Was it so beautiful and so bad that it made you sad? Never mind, in five years, the pronouns will have taken the path of antimacassar. But the beautiful music of mutant disco will play forever.